A chat with vice-chancellor Kao

by Midori Hiraga

Professor Charles Kuen Kao has held the appointment as the third vice-chancellor of The Chinese University of Hong Kong since 1987. He will leave the post in July 1996.

To fill the vacancy, the University Council last December established an ad hoc "Search Committee for the Appointment of the Next Vice-Chancellor".

In addition to the chairman of the Council, the committee has six other members nominated by the Council and the Senate.

To bolster the recruitment process, an advertisement was placed in local and overseas newspapers in January and February.

It is expected that three months will be needed for shortlisting the candidates after the April 30 closing date. Subsequently, the number of candidates will be further narrowed down by interviews, so that the committee will have some ideas about the quality of the candidates by the end of this year.

Finally, the new vice-chancellor will be appointed by the University Council, with the advice of the Search Committee.

During the course of recruitment, participation by students has been a controversial matter. Mr. Tam Chun Yin, ex-president of the Student Union at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said, "I consider this selection process too conservative, just like a secret to all the students and lecturers.

"The vice-chancellor selection policy influences all parts of the university, so everyone should have the right to know about the candidates and the selection process."

With the search process now approaching its halfway point, Varsity interviewed Professor Kao to solicit his views on the selection of his successor, and to learn what his plans are after leaving the vice- chancellor's office.

Q: What do you think of The Chinese University of Hong Kong?

Kao: When I came here, one of its attractions was its huge number of good teaching members and enthusiastic students. So I decided to create a even better environment for the teachers to show off their potential. I think this is my job to make the university to reach a high international standard, in a bid to catch up with the growth of Hong Kong.

Another unique advantage of this University is that we retain strong Chinese traditions, and at the same time, expose students highly to Western cultures. Hence, students actually acquire knowledge in a fresh, and perhaps a creative, way which combines both cultures. This is our strength, and we should maximize this strength.

Q: When does your official term end as the vice-chancellor of The Chinese University of Hong Kong?

Kao: I originally intended to retire in July 1994, when I reached the official retirement age of the University at 60. But the Univer- sity Council asked me if I would continue for two more years. After considering many factors, including my age, I accepted the request. So July 31, 1996, will automatically be the date for my retirement.

Q: Could you name some of the candidates who have applied for the vice-chancellor job?

Kao: No, because I do not know. I doubt if anybody knows it at this moment. I must say that, being the serving vice-chancellor, I should not involve myself in the recruiting process, in case there are any conflicts of interest.

Q: How do you feel about students' participating in the selection process?

Kao: I support their intention to participate in the issue. However, there are some practical prob- lems. The confidentiality of certain affairs is extremely important. How can we share the information about the candidates with all the students?

Even if the students promise to keep the secrets, I do not believe they can. So, in the end, I decided not to support direct student participation. I, on the other hand, support the stage-by- stage continuous solicitation of opinions from students, as well as other bodies.

Q: What qualities do you want your successor to have?

Kao: It is very difficult to say. To do the job as a vice-chancellor, one has be very honest. You see, if a person comes and tells what he should do without honesty, what would happen if he was re- cruited? So honesty is very important to me.

In addition to that, ability, leadership, and interpersonal communication skills are also necessary for this job. But these are difficult to define, and we have to measure them by appli- cants' careers records.

Q: Considering the University's reputation, in the period before 1997, and the relationship Hong Kong has with China, what kind of person should it be?

Kao: Choosing the right person does not depend on his particular connections, or specific advan- tages that the person brings. Those are of secondary impor- tance.

We cannot say that because one person has a lot in China, he might be able to deal with China with background advantage. Whether he fits this University or not, is not known either. So I think the basic tool he has to have is a skill in both English and Chinese, to the point of being able to read and write.

Q: Have you ever received any pressure from mainland China while you are working as the vice- chancellor?

Kao: No, I haven't.

Q: Do you think there will be any influence from China on the selecting process?

Kao: I do not see any pressure from mainland China at this moment. The person who will be inter- ested in this job would have an interest in the developments in this area. I think he should have interest in helping Hong Kong to play a better role, that is to train people to fulfil the require- ments of our society in the future development, the growth of Southeast Asia and the growth of the world.

Q: During your term, what have you done as a Hong Kong affairs advisor?

Kao: The Hong Kong and Macau office want people to advise them. They call on meetings every now and then and ask questions. My job is to answer questions in the field of education and technology, and sometimes slightly broader questions, like the importance of the Basic Law.

My term as the advisor has not ended yet, so if they invite me to continue, I will consider. My term will end some time later.

Q: After the retirement, what would you do?

Kao: At this moment, I do not know. I think I should give myself a break first, because this is a very intense job.

Q: There are some rumours that you are applying for the vice-chancel- lorship of the Hong Kong University, is that true?

Kao: Me! No way! I am too old to apply for any other jobs now. Why should I go to Hong Kong University? I would not think of it.

Q: Are you planning to stay in Hong Kong?

Kao: No, because, first, I cannot afford the life in Hong Kong, for I do not have any property. Second is my connection with various other areas, particularly in industrial activities, not only in Hong Kong. Therefore, on the contrary, my connection with Hong Kong and its activities will not break off so sharply.

Q: Do you want to go back to China?

Kao: I do not want to go back to any place specifically. My life has been spent in four places: China, Hong Kong, England, and the United States _ 15 years each. I do not have any feeling of which is my homeland.

Q: How do you feel about China?

Kao: As a Chinese, one has certain attachment with China. So, I am proud of seeing Chinese people contributing strongly to the growth of the prosperity of the world. Everybody should do something for the world.

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