Thoughts at the Lodge

The world is bracing for a new wave of COVID-19.  In this difficult time, and with online teaching continuing until the end of the semester at HKU, I’d like to reach out to ensure we stay connected.

Since February, my colleagues and I have been visiting residential halls, laboratories, and faculties whilst meeting students, academic staff, hall wardens and administrative heads.  We have also been communicating with off-site students online to keep in touch with the needs of the university community.  These efforts are vital as we try new ways to facilitate students’ learning.   

Standing tall for over a century, HKU has never had to rely almost solely on online teaching, the quality of which has become our top priority.  I have realized that this has been a mammoth change that has conjured up old ghosts such as ‘established practices’ and the limitations of our systems.  Together with my colleagues, I have taken the challenge up with a great deal of seriousness.

I am grateful for your candid feedback and determination to rise to ever-changing challenges whilst we tackle long-standing problems like limited WiFi bandwidth in student halls. With a website set up to continuously collect student feedback, I am pleased that we have now enhanced online teaching, ensuring meaningful exchange and interaction.  

In these trying times, we have faced many exceptionally challenging and complex issues, and sometimes with competing demands from our community.  We have dispelled misunderstandings on the topical issue of self-isolation arrangements, which are not determined by place of origin but the last country the students have visited.  We have also addressed frustrations with what some may have considered to be a delayed suspension of face-to-face classes – a significant decision made only after meticulous considerations and balancing of health risks against academic tradition.  Our dedication to serve every member of the community comes with a price, but we have chosen to put humanity first.  

To that end, our rapport will enable us to work as a team towards HKU’s next level of excellence.  Our students, professors and staff have been giving generously, pouring out their knowledge, advice, time and care.  These invaluable collective efforts also work to help the wider community cope with the epidemic.  Looking beyond the crisis, I believe the current heat will only make HKU and Hong Kong stronger. 

HKU has long been prized for its culture of openness and constructive debate. I am moved to see that much of the detailed feedback we have received reflects only our community’s eagerness to question the default and improve.  Regardless of race, nationality and ideology, the world is united in the fight against COVID-19, and ultimately, we shall heal together.  There is no room for prejudice or stigmatization, only an opportunity to rise above differences – to give, collaborate, lend support and constantly innovate for solutions.  The Senior Management Team and I thank you for your patience and trust as we navigate turbulent waters.  

As I walk around the campus these days, I would inevitably run into masked cleaners, guards and back-office colleagues quietly going about their duties.  I feel a surge of gratitude as I offer them my special thanks: it is their daily support behind the scenes that bolsters us to do our work on the front line.  

Nobody expected or wanted this pandemic.  In our current state of discordance, however, I find the century-long HKU spirit of resilience ringing louder than ever before.  Our constant quest for improvement and curiosity to explore continue to transform and elevate the university.  No storm lasts forever.  As we ride out this one together, we shall emerge stronger in confronting the unknown.  

Xiang Zhang
President and Vice-Chancellor