Editorial:Dispute involving the HKU Students' Union Council should be handled with empathy

【明報專訊】Last week the Hong Kong University Students' Union Council passed a motion to ''[appreciate the] sacrifice to Hong Kong'' from the attacker who stabbed a police officer on July 1. The incident continues to smoulder. HKU announced yesterday (July 13) that it will no longer recognise the role of the Students' Union on campus. It will solemnly investigate the incident and take action against the students involved.

In the organisational structure of the HKU Students' Union, the Union Council's role is similar to that of a public opinion body representing all students. It co-operates with and supervises the work of the executive committee of the Students' Union. It is the third highest decision-making body after the General Polling and the General Meeting. The Union Council's motion that ''appreciated'' the attacker was theoretically equivalent to an expression that ''appreciated'' the attacker on behalf of all HKU students. Not only was it strongly condemned by the university's management and the public, but some clubs under or associated with the Students' Union also distanced themselves from it, stressing that the motion did not represent their position. Although the Union Council withdrew the motion and apologised afterwards and many Union Council representatives and executive committee members resigned, the controversy has not ended. The chief executive has said that the university should continue to follow up the incident. In the afternoon of the same day, the university announced that it would no longer recognise the role of the Students' Union on campus, saying that it would solemnly investigate the incident concerning the Union Council in accordance with university procedures and further deal with the students in accordance with the outcomes of the investigation.

The dispute involving the Union Council should be viewed and handled with empathy in two ways. Signs of local terrorism are growing in Hong Kong, and society must say a resounding no to violence and extreme ideas. The Union Council's motion ''appreciating'' the attacker was hardly acceptable because it glorified violence, it contained extreme content, it was outside the bounds of ethics, and it deviated from empathy. Some students have seriously improper moral concepts, and the university has a responsibility to follow up the matter and rectify it lest it become customary. However, when it comes to how to deal with the students involved, in addition to acting in accordance with the rules, the university should also show empathy.

The motion expressing appreciation was condemned by many sides. Three days later, members of the Union Council and the Students' Union withdrew the motion, apologised and resigned. Some people question whether the students involved have stirred up a hornet's nest and whether their decision to bow in apology as a remedial measure was only a way to get out of trouble as they were worried that they would be kicked out of the university or even arrested. However, no matter whether the apology was sincere or not, the reality is that the Students' Union has admitted that the motion was inappropriate and has publicly stated that the Union ''does not promote unlawful behaviour''. By doing so it is trying to rectify the unethical message it was conveying to the public before. A total of 30 student representatives voted for the motion that day. By becoming students in Hong Kong's best university, they must have fulfilled the aspirations held for many years by their families. If these students are expelled from university due to this incident, 30 families will also suffer alongside the students. Disciplinary actions need to reflect the seriousness of the situation. But it does not mean that the harshest punishment must be used. It will be appropriate for the university to act with empathy and handle the students involved in other ways rather than expel them.

明報社評 2021.07.14:港大學生評議會風波 兩個「同理心」是關鍵





■/ Glossary 生字 /

resounding /rɪˈzaʊndɪŋ/

very loud and continuing for a long time

customary /ˈkʌstəməri/

if sth is customary, it is what people usually do in a particular place or situation

a hornet's nest:a very difficult or unpleasant situation, esp. in which a lot of people get very angry and complain


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