立場新聞 Stand News

基本法(尚)未禁止我們討論任何意見 The Basic Law does not (yet) ban an idea from being discussed

2017/9/9 — 10:10

編按:中大校長沈祖堯日前發表公開信,認為港獨是違反基本法,並指「校園是學習的地方,不宜成為政治角力之所」,但學生討論港獨又真的違法嗎?方禮倫指,根據《基本法》第 27 條,香港居民享有言論自由,即使學生會的態度未算理想,不等於討論港獨是錯的。另外,堯發出一封這樣的公開信又是一位教育家應做的嗎?

On Thursday Joseph J.Y. Sung, acting in his capacity as Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, sent an open letter to all students, staff and alumni of the university.

In this extraordinary and therefore one must presume significant letter, that was sent whilst he was “attending an academic conference overseas,” he writes:

廣告

The idea of an independent Hong Kong is not only in breach of the Basic Law of Hong Kong but also contrary to what I personally believe. Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China; this is beyond dispute.

He then continues:

廣告

When discussing and debating political issues, our students should always do so peacefully and rationally, and conduct the discussion or debate in a respectful and patient manner.

Our campus is a place for learning. It should not be turned into a political arena.

Let’s maintain the learning environment peaceful for our students.

There are several worrying points to be made on both the content of this letter, and in the reasons it was felt necessary to openly distribute what may be read as a statement on the university’s position on discussing the controversial issue of Hong Kong independence.

Firstly, the letters principle assertion, that the mere “idea” of an independent Hong Kong is a breach of the Basic Law, is factually incorrect. The Basic Law does not and cannot under any existing provision impose a restriction on an idea.

Beijing does have the right to further “interpret” existing articles within the Basic Law, as it has done in the past. In course legislation may be passed that would make the act of promoting independence illegal, but no such legislation currently exists.

However, given that the assertion may constitute a breach of article 27 that guarantee all Hong Kong citizens freedom of speech, press and publications, it is surprising the Professor Sung would choose to be so forthright in his statement.

It is also somewhat hypocritical of Professor Sung to state not only his own position (or belief) on what is by definition a political subject, whilst also accusing students of turning the campus into a political arena. If he genuinely sought to calm down what was certainly a heated situation one would not expect him to so publicly have taken sides.

I do applaud Professor Sung for taking no nonsense in stating the obvious in regard to the behaviour of those students involved in the recent fracas. Their attitudes and actions have been unreasonable, irrational and disrespectful. Under no circumstance should a students at a university discussion or debate behave in a way that is physically threatening. However, it would in my mind have been an important addition if he had stated that both sides were equally culpable.

My greatest concern though is that Professor Sung seems to have momentarily forgotten the fundamentals of being an educator and scientist,

The basis of the scientific method is that the principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involves the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. By stating categorically that a position is beyond dispute, Professor Sung veers dangerously into dogma. What he has then done is categorically refuse to recognise a position may be tested. Every position, no matter how established, must be open to challenge.

Likewise in academia, to critically challenge an idea is central to our learning to understand a position, and in turn to test and further validate our own. This critical dialogue is why academic publications are peer reviewed.

Given his role at the university Professor Sung most also be aware of the issue of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” that has been an issue of contention at some US universities. By declaring safe spaces students have refused to being exposed to ideas that make them feel marginalised or demeaned. These positions relate to ones personal identity, whether it be religious beliefs, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

This form of student action has rightly been criticised from both within and outside the academic establishment as a threat to very fundamentals of education. As then US President Obama, in addressing the issue directly, said:

I don’t believe that when you become students at college you need to be protected from different points of view… that's not the way we learn.

The purpose of college is not just to transmit skills, it is also to widen your horizons, to make you a better citizen, to help you to evaluate information.

Education is not schooling. Universities are not a place for one-way learning, to promote a correct perspective or to transit a known answer; it must go further, by encouraging us to understand, through questioning and testing; and to reflecting on how we know what we know. We can neither be rational nor logical in a position if we are not permitted to question.

In the US the challenge to academia comes from within the student body, and in particular what has been termed the Illiberal Left. What seems to be happening at our universities is a sustained challenge from an Illiberal and Leftist Establishment. What unites them both is that they demand one narrative to be accepted as universal. They are both fundamentally authoritarian in character.

Jonathan Haidt, the social psychologist who has studied the rise in what he terms as vindictive protectiveness, has found that the perceived need for such authoritarianism is associated with rising political polarisation. It is both symptomatic and feeds the divide.

A more sensible approach might have been to privately inform both sides, the student union leaders and the Mainland students whose intolerance of an opposing view has led them to take offence over an issue that, when considered objectively, is closer emotively to being a challenge to the identity of Hong Kong people. The letter might have focused more on what we might expect from all university students: an open mind, and a willingness to be exposed to a variety of differing positions, many of which may be opposing, some of which may be new, and all of which may be critically engaged.

 

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