The sacking of Eric Sautede continues to haunt the University of Saint Joseph (USJ).
Alumni of the university have handed a petition to the USJ administrators asking them not to turn the university into a tool to suppress dissident views, as well as solicit the reinstatement of the senior lecturer and political commentator.
The Times has also learnt that several prominent figures, including the head of the Tertiary Education Services Office (GAES) Sou Chio Fai and Bishop D. José Lai may be among those who have pressured the university to axe Eric Sautede.
The petition submitted last Friday was undersigned by 143 people, 72 of them alumni and 45 current students. It said that the signatories are “shocked and angered” by the statement made by the USJ rector Peter Stilwell, who claimed that the termination of Eric Sautede’s contract was due to his political commentary on current affairs.
The USJ’s alumni consider their alma mater to have violated the scholar’s rights and the Basic Law, as well as damaging the public interest.
Three requirements are also listed in the petition, namely for the university to defend the freedom of speech, cease the suppression of dissident views, as well as reinstate any staff members who are sacked because of public intervention.
Rocky Chan, a USJ alumnus, accused the university of violating the labour rights of Eric Sautede. He also believes that it is reasonable for a scholar to comment on current affairs. “If a scholar has lost his teaching position due to [his commentary], it may create alarm within society. It is especially concerning in that other academics or intellectuals may only express their opinions in an atmosphere of fear in the future.”
A previous academic staff member of the university commented that Eric Sautede’s sacking is just one in a long line of terminations by the current management of staff with “inconvenient views or associations.” “It’s just that Sautede’s commentary and demise at this particular time were of interest to the general public. It’s a case of blatant betrayal of academic and social principals that had a broader public significance.”
Rocky Chan pointed out that academic freedom and the spirit of critical thinking are essential for a university. However, through this incident involving the sacking of a scholar, Chan believes that USJ has trodden on these principles.
The alumnus also mentioned the speculation that the incident is related to the construction of USJ’s new campus. But he suggested that students and staff would rather stay in a place where facilities are not totally satisfactory than a well-built campus where people’s freedom of speech is suppressed.
“In this case, we think that the university [has betrayed or sold] its soul”, he remarked.
Rocky Chan then indicated that it is likely that they will write regarding the issue to the Catholic University of Portugal, which co-awards USJ’s diplomas and certificates. He called on the Macau Diocese to comment on the matter as well.
Bishop José Lai of the Macau Diocese, who is also the president of the Catholic Foundation of Higher Education that runs the university, told the local bi-lingual weekly newspaper, Plataforma, that while he recognized the freedom of scholars to express their opinions on political issues, the commenting, he claimed, has to be “done at the right time”.
José Lai also suggested that he respects the decision of the USJ rector and promised that he did not receive any request to intervene in the case.
Our sources, who requested to remain anonymous, claimed that Bishop Lai is among those who pressured the university into making the decision. They also hinted that the head of GAES, Sou Chio Fai, as well as members of the Catholic Foundation of Higher Education “may have exerted some pressure” on the rector too. “Let us say that if not involved they were at least supportive of the sacking.”
They singled out the bishop’s nephew, Dr Benjamin Chan Sau San 陳守信, a director at the Monetary Authority, who presides over the fiscal council of the Catholic Foundation and “has close links with Mr Lau Pun Lap, Director of the Policy Research Office.”
As for GAES, some scholars hinted in the media that the government bureau should intervene in these kinds of cases because academic standards are at stake. “Autonomy doesn’t mean giving a carte blanche [to the universities]. Autonomy implies accountability,” a scholar told our newspaper on the condition of anonymity.
According to its by-laws, read by the Times journalists, the entity that overseas higher education in Macau has no specific powers concerning the hiring and management of human resources, as GAES stressed in response to our queries regarding Sautede’s case:
“According to 11/91/M decree, higher education institutions in Macau enjoy administrative and financial autonomy, and the hiring of teachers is an internal matter of the institutions. MSAR never intervenes in the operation of higher education institutions in Macau and has always respected academic freedom and the autonomy of educational institutions.”
Eric Sautede was sacked on June 4 by Rector Stilwell on political grounds, and this will be his last week working at the university.
But the persecutory process started several months ago when he was released from his duty as Research Coordinator, managing public academic events at the Catholic-run university as it was recently exposed by Ponto Final. The Portuguese daily said it is believed that while he was organizing a public lecture with professor and published author Frank Dikötter, the university administration instructed him to suspend the event. An instruction Mr Sautede refused to follow.
Frank Dikötter is Chair Professor in Humanities at the HKU and has won several international book prizes. He is the author of “The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945-1957”, the second installment in the “People’s Trilogy”, a series of books that document the impact of communism on the lives of ordinary people in China on the basis on new archival material. The first volume, entitled “Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe”, also published by Bloomsbury, won the 2011 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, Britain’s most prestigious book award for non-fiction.
It is worth mentioning that Frank Dikötter had already visited USJ twice in the past to talk and present his books during the tenure of the previous rector. PC/JPL (UPDATED)
Bill Chou: UMAC contract yet to renew
Professor Bill Chou of the University of Macau (UMAC) said that he has taken the university’s disciplinary action against him to the Commission Against Corruption (CCAC) because of the lack of an appeal procedure available within the university. The scholar also claimed that the university has yet to sign a new contract with him.
The scholar claimed that the Chair of the University Council, Dr Tse Chi Wai, has informed Prof Chou that he does not have the authority to handle the appeal against the disciplinary procedure, which the scholar said means that there is no way to launch an appeal internally.
“Dr Tse Chi Wai has advised me to launch a legal action [against the disciplinary procedure]. After communicating with my lawyer, I decided to do this”, Bill Chou said.
The UMAC professor suggested that he has already referred his case to the CCAC and will give the Commission more information regarding the lack of a channel of appeal to determine whether there is a case of maladministration against UMAC.
He also mentioned the recent comments on the Internet and in local media that asked him to disclose the documents relating to the procedure. Bill Chou said that he is bound by university regulations and has to keep the documents confidential as long as he is a staff member of UMAC.
Furthermore, Bill Chou has reiterated that the accusations against him, including his coercing of students to take part in political activities and his discrimination against students, are false and baseless. He claimed that the public will come to their own conclusion that UMAC launched the disciplinary action against him because of his involvement in politics.
Moreover, Bill Chou revealed that UMAC has yet to renew his contract. According to the relevant regulation, a new contract should be signed around three months before the old one expires. Nevertheless, the scholar claimed that he and some of his colleagues who are seen to be more vocal are yet to receive their new contracts.
He refused to speculate on whether he is likely to have lost his position, only claiming that if he is no longer employed by the university, he will seek opportunities elsewhere.
If he is to win in any future legal battle against UMAC, Bill Chou stressed that he will not change his way of conducting himself at the university because he determined that there are no complaints to be found in his teaching methods. JPL