By Ying Chan
30 October 2020.
This is a follow-up to my article “A communist party member for a top job at HKU?” (Medium 26 October, 2020), updating latest developments, including HKU Council’s decision to appoint Professor Shen to the VP-PVC position.
“I am not a communist party member……It was an oversight by the webmaster of the respective websites,” Professor Zuo-Jun Max Shen, vice-president and pro-vice-chancellor (research) designate at The University of Hong Kong, said in a statement released through HKU shortly after the University Council voted 21–1 to approve his appointment to the position at its meeting Tuesday evening.
Prof Shen said that he has not served on a party committee at Tsinghua, contrary to original announcements on official websites of the university.
The statement, which was read at the council meeting, disclosed for the first time that Shen was responsible for deleting his name from official announcements about his election to a Tsinghua party committee.
“After I read the (news) reports, I immediately contacted Tsinghua and they have rectified all information about me on their websites,” Prof Shen continued in the statement. “I later found out the error started years ago when I, as the department chair (of Tsinghua), was mistakenly assigned to the party committee.”
Separately, Sara Yang, assistant dean of Berkeley’s engineering faculty, said in a public message that Shen has “voluntarily share with us that statements saying he is a member of the Communist Party are incorrect.”
The explanation was accepted by Arthur Li, chairman of the University Council, who said in his own statement that doubts about Shen “have been satisfactorily clarified and that all allegations are found to be unsubstantiated.” See Li’s full statement here
Professor Peng Gong, dean of Tsinghua’s Faculty of Science, was appointed as the Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (academic development) at the same meeting.
Moving on with unanswered questions
While the HKU leadership has accepted Prof Shen’s clarification, and is ready to move on in the aftermath of the council vote, a few questions remain unanswered.
Q1: Why and how would a webmaster commit such an “oversight” in misstating that Prof Shen is a member of a party committee at Tsinghua? What were the sources of the misinformation for the webmaster?
Q2: Why would Tsinghua’s top party committee, the highest governance authority at the university, erred twice in its 2014 and 2017 official announcements about Prof Shen’s election to the party committee? How did it happen?
Tsinghua University has kept silent throughout the saga, and has not offered any explanation concerning the errors. There is no indication that HKU has contacted Tsinghua for clarification.
Using verified information on official websites
Media reports on Prof Shen’s alleged party affiliation have prompted dismissive remarks from Prof Shen’s defenders. But the sequence of events shows that the media, including this writer, have based their reports on verified information posted on official websites. On the matter of the party affiliation, the media have not resorted to rumours or unsubstantiated claims. The following timeline shows how their stories were published BEFORE alterations were done to the websites.
At 1:46 pm, references to Shen’s party membership was deleted from a Tsinghua website, according to records registered by the Internet Archive.
At 8:07 pm, HKU responded in a statement to media enquiries that “the University will only announce personnel appointments after all the procedures are completed. It is not appropriate for the University to comment at this stage.”
The cryptic statement added that “parts of the media reports are inconsistent with the facts,” but did not elaborate further.
At 4:10 PM on Saturday 24 October, Nathaniel Lei, the undergraduate representative on the Council, posted an open letter on his Facebook to request Professor Xiang Zhang , Vice-Chancellor and chair of the Search Committee, to postpone voting on the candidate to allow time for further due diligence.
HKU did not issue further response till after the Council meeting on 27 October, Tuesday.
On 27 October, Tuesday, University Council met and voted to appoint the two PVC/VP candidates.
In the aftermath of the meeting, HKU released a flurry of statements, including an announcement of the council vote, a message by council chair Arthur Li, a message by president and VC Xiang Zhang, separate statements by Professor Shen and an assistant engineering dean from UC Berkeley, as well as a rebuttal to critics by Prof Gong Peng, the second PVC/VP appointed at the meeting.
Professors Shen and Gong will take up duties at HKU on 1 January, 2021.