"CityU and I"
-Pursuing academic innovation is the right Way
Since assuming the presidency at CityU, I have received invitations from various research institutes, schools and universities, government departments and business enterprises to deliver lectures or give talks on science, research and teaching. These invitations provide valuable opportunities for me to share my administrative experience and explore my vision on internationalisation with the community, based on my personal experience in institutions of higher learning in the US. In addition, as a president, I also have responsibilities for promoting CityU, leading a world-wide search for talents through faculty and student recruitment, and engaging in fund-raising for the University.
Based on different sources of feedback, CityU is firmly recognized as a progressive university with outstanding achievements. It has been making impressive progress on all fronts, a view expressed by our different stakeholders, including the CityU Council, international university ranking organizations, the University Grants Committee's academic audit panel, our academic peers, students, alumni, faculty and staff. They are our driving force. In particular, our faculty and staff, students and alumni have been making immense contributions quietly and steadily to build this great university.
Don't be left poor with nothing but money
Before I came here, I imagined Hong Kong to be a society where people were ready to set things right when they saw something had gone astray. I admit that most of my preconceptions were influenced by films starring Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. I also saw Hong Kong in my mind's eye as a city where people were chivalrous knights who never failed to help the poor, the weak, the injured and the wronged. These ideas stemmed no doubt from stories I had read about the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen.
I also expected Hong Kong to be a place of tender caring as embodied by well-known actress Josephine Siao Fong-fong. And after my interview when I was still a university student with Professor Ch'ien Mu, the renowned historian, educator and philosopher, I believed that Hong Kong would be an ideal haven for learned men and women of letters who cherish our humanity.
It goes without saying that, as a colony for some 150 years, Hong Kong is a place where heroes and gangsters from all walks of life gather, and where one can see the polarising disparity between the rich and the poor, as in other metropolitan cities. Generally speaking, the society of Hong Kong has roots that are still relatively shallow due to insufficient understanding of Hong Kong's culture and history, and opportunism tends to prevail. Present-day Hong Kong, having freed itself from its colonial shackles, is confronted with an increasingly complicated world where different interest groups and sectors compete fiercely to maximize their own individual benefits. This city has yet to learn to move toward becoming a truly democratic, united and autonomous society, stumbling as it goes along to forge its post-colonial history. At this moment, the society is at the fragile "infant mortality stage" of its life-cycle, to borrow a term from reliability studies.
Despite this situation, I see that Hong Kong has embraced immigrants from all corners of the earth for about a hundred years. This diversity partly explains why the collective IQ of Hong Kong people is outstanding and their average expected life-span is particularly long. In a way, Hong Kong is a Mecca for world talents where fame and success are often within their reach.
But there are also some Hong Kong citizens who take money too much to heart. Perhaps this mindset results from the fact that Hong Kong is a city of immigrants. I do not ignore the role money plays in our lives: It is important for our daily living, enhancing our scientific research, educating the young and advancing social well-being as a whole. But I do hold the view that a university should be above all an institution of higher education where academic mission, and not monetary reward, should be the first priority. University faculty and staff in Hong Kong generally enjoy better terms and conditions than many of their counterparts in the world, which enable them to concentrate on their educational mission. As I have reminded our students on many occasions, as educated people we should not exploit our position to obtain benefits for ourselves or to resort to confrontational and destructive means to press our demands. We should be seeking to improve and add value to ourselves to enhance the reward and recognition we think we deserve.
"Make yourself virtuous before you endeavour to make yourself capable." This guiding principle is well acknowledged both in ancient and modern times. Chinese children are taught important rituals from a young age so that they will not deviate from propriety and will be instilled with a sense of virtue and justice as an integral part of their character. Chinese traditional culture emphasizes virtue and justice as the cornerstones of a harmonious society where we can all thrive together. Otherwise, people would never seek to identify themselves with their community or display any team spirit. If we all are willing to play by the rules and respect the common good, we will create a stable environment for individuals to realize their goals. The same principle works for a university community. Otherwise, we will be running counter to what I perceive to be the Hong Kong spirit, and failing in our role and responsibility as educators.
The story of a boy
Before concluding, I would like to share with you a story.
One day, petrol was found to be leaking from the fuel tank of an expensive car parked in front of a resort. A well-dressed man was looking agitated. "Can anyone help me tighten a loose screw under the car?", he asked the throng of people gathered around his car.
"If you offer a handsome reward, someone will do it for you," said a woman by his side. Hearing this, he produced a $100 note. "Whoever is willing to help me, this will be the reward," he said.
A young boy stepped forward. "Let me give it a try," he said.
The well-dressed man instructed the boy what to do. He crawled under the car, tightened the screw in no time, and crawled back out, looking at the man expectantly.
But the woman who had suggested offering the reward stopped the well-dressed man from handing over the $100 note. "It's too much," she said handing over a ten dollar note. "Ten dollars is enough."
The man took the ten-dollar note from the woman and handed it to the boy, but the boy shook his head. Shamed by the hooting from the onlookers, the man added another ten dollars.
But the boy still shook his head. This made the man somewhat angry. "Do you think this is still too little? Either $20, or nothing at all."
"No, that is not my point. My teacher told me that we should not expect any reward when helping others," the boy replied.
The man, puzzled, said, "Why are you waiting then?"
"For you to say 'Thank you,'" the boy said.
Often we forget the importance of conveying our genuine appreciation through saying a sincere "Thank you" to the many others who have helped or served us, which can mean a lot more to the recipient than monetary reward. To me, the Hong Kong spirit is embodied in the sense of righteousness exemplified by Sun Yat-sen; the tender caring virtue of Josephine Siao and the humanistic aspirations harboured by Ch'ien Mu; and above all, the gracious altruism demonstrated by the boy who simply expects a "Thank you" from the man who benefited from his help.
The right Way is to pursue academic innovation to realize our educational goals while refusing to be infatuated by wealth and high position, or to be defeated by poverty and hardship. This, perhaps, is the essence of internationalisation that we should promote at CityU.
August 13, 2013