Timothy O'Leary 26.4.17

HKU Council hears concerns over V-C Search Committee’s gender imbalance

May 02, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

In a meeting last Tuesday, the University of Hong Kong’s Council heard concerns about gender imbalance in the Search Committee for HKU’s next president and vice-chancellor, according to Head of School of Humanities and Council member Timothy O’Leary.

“I raised the topic, they are aware of it,” O’Leary said. However, he could not comment on the ensuing discussion or whether a decision was made.

Council has not announced any changes to the Search Committee’s composition since last Tuesday’s meeting. A number of Council members declined to comment, citing confidentiality rules.

The recently formed Search Committee is tasked with looking for candidates to replace HKU’s outgoing president and vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson. It is made up of an appointed Chairman and three academic members, all of whom are male.

On April 20, the Women’s Studies Research Centre and staff concern group HKU Vigilance—the latter headed by O’Leary—issued a joint statement calling on HKU to “redress this imbalance by co-opting 2 female members to sit on the Search Committee.” It also asked for the Committee to be “instructed to consider suitable female candidates.”

O’Leary explained the intention behind the proposal is to show that HKU is “open, welcoming, and accepting” towards female candidates. While it is not necessarily about finding a woman to replace Mathieson, he said one of the goals is to make that option “more likely.”

Puja Kapai, associate professor of law and convenor of the Women’s Studies Research Centre, wrote in an email that a diverse committee “signals improved decision-making overall.” Perceptions can “impact confidence in the integrity of the process,” she said, and the proposal is about the Search Committee being seen as fair.

In an email response, an HKU spokesperson said the three academic members were elected, and eligible male and female members “had had equal opportunities in running as candidates and participating as voters.” For this iteration of the Search Committee, only chair professors were eligible to vote or run as candidates. All elected Committee members declined to respond to hKUDOS enquiries.

O’Leary argued that the university ought to balance elections and the need for female representation. “Procedurally it would have been possible for Council to simply co-opt—in other words just to add—an extra one or two members to that Committee,” he said.

HKU Council not bound by existing gender balance policies

The statement from WSRC and HKU Vigilance refers to a gender balance policy at HKU: in a set of guidelines meant for faculties and departments on recruiting senior staff, it states “at least 30% of the voting members or at least two voting members of the search/selection committee should be female.” However, this policy does not apply to Council or its subsidiary committees, such as the Search Committee.

An excerpt from "Guidelines for Faculties/Departments in Handling Senior Staff Recruitment/Selection Arrangements," issued by HKU's Human Resources Section

An excerpt from “Guidelines for Faculties/Departments in Handling Senior Staff Recruitment/Selection Arrangements” issued by HKU’s Human Resource Section, which was cited by HKU Vigilance and WSRC in their joint statement. For full document, see link (alternate link)

O’Leary acknowledged that, as of now, there is no gender balance policy that binds Council. Nevertheless, he stressed the importance of having Council—not just the Search Committee, but its entire governance framework—comply with updated norms on gender equity, which he hoped could be achieved by Council’s own initiative.

“What we have is a situation where, within the university, at the lower levels, gender balance is now an accepted policy and is carried out. But at the level of Council those expectations and demands are not being met,” he said.

Kapai said the WSRC is awaiting a response from Council, and remains “hopeful” that their recommendations will be taken on board.



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Law and literature student at HKU.


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