CUHK has made great strides in many aspects under your leadership in the past seven years. What are you most happy with?
It’s difficult to choose from such a wide array of work. But if I have to name but one, the establishment of the I·CARE programme is what I cherish most dearly. The programme aims at enhancing students’ whole-person development by helping them to identify their goals and establish their values, and by engaging them in exploring social issues. I have been told that since its launch in 2011, I·CARE had gone beyond the CUHK campus to reach students from other universities in Hong Kong, the mainland and overseas, who participate in its events through the Internet and various channels.
Do you think CUHK has kept abreast of the fast-changing global trends and the rapid development of higher education?
CUHK embraces changes and promptly responds to developments and needs in the new era, without forsaking our traditions and core values. Examples are plenty. We provide an e-learning environment which encourages students to be more self-initiated in learning and extend learning beyond the classroom. We promote cross-disciplinary learning which answers societal needs; the newly established Department of Biomedical Engineering which will contribute to medical and in particular geriatric care is a typical example. We embark on forefront research on the relationship between climate change and human health, and the application of big data to finance and logistics. This year, we offered Hong Kong’s first university-wide induction programme in entrepreneurship and innovation, which is open to undergraduate students of all disciplines ranging from medicine, law to education.
You said in your blog that your greatest satisfaction and frustrations come from the students. Can you elaborate on it?
Students will always be my first priority. A university will be losing its focus if it doesn’t put students first.
Shortly after I assumed office, there was a hot potato for me──the arrival of the Statue of the Goddess of Democracy on campus. Then came several years of harmony with the students, until in recent years when our views differed over some issues. I cherish the moments of watching the World Cup final with students on the University Mall, or chatting with them over the dinner table. I hope that I am not only their teacher but also their friend, and I’m glad that some student union officers still keep in contact with me after graduation. Regrettably, early this year I was criticized harshly by students after I expressed views on some political issues and social disputes not to their liking. It pains me but I have to accept the bitter truth that I am not going to be a teacher to please everybody. When it comes to right or wrong, there is no compromise. I must make my stance clear without being wishy-washy.
On the personal front, what changes have you experienced during your vice-chancellorship?
One visible change is that I have lost close to 40 pounds. It all started unplanned. After the Occupy Central Movement, I had lost my appetite for quite some time and always took oatmeal over proper meals, which resulted in a loss of about 10 pounds. Friends from the Faculty of Medicine who noticed this change advised me to do some exercise to avoid muscle loss. They also taught me how to remain healthy on a weight loss diet. Last year, I was registered for the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2017 to run with the CUHK team, my first and last chance before I step down. In order to accomplish the 10-km mission, I started my training in running, and was happy to find that it was much easier than I thought with my excessive pounds gone. My weight dropped further with more running, and I was surprised to find that conditions of my knees, heart and blood pressure began to improve. Exercise has slowed down my ageing, or even rejuvenated me slightly. I am not that old after all. That’s really encouraging.
What would you like to say to the students and staff before you go?
I would like to give my sincere thanks to all staff, especially the Vice-Presidents, Deans and colleagues in senior management. Without their concerted effort, support and trust, I would not have achieved what I have done. I usually look at the big picture and give directions. It’s my teammates who hammer out the details to perfection. I’m weak with numbers. Fortunately, the efficient and reliable bursary and personnel teams have saved me from those tedious tasks.
My gratitude also goes to the University Council and the alumni. An e-mail or a telephone call during hard times, a donation to I·CARE...every act, big or small, has left a deep impact on my heart. And there are the students. We have shared happy and unhappy moments through which we have all grown to be better. You have inspired me a lot by your innocence and passion, and the daring pursuit of what you think is right──a few things you have taught jaded adults like me.
This article was originally published in No. 509/510, Newsletter in Dec 2017.