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Friday, April 21, 2017, 11:39

Schools must discipline, not indulge, immoral behavior

By Chow Pak-chin

The first week of this month proved eventful for the University of Hong Kong (HKU), though not entirely pleasantly eventful. In a matter of a few days, the prestigious university that was once and long revered for its unparalleled output of academic talents and elites found itself encumbered with scandals, and a subsequent public outcry directed toward a glaring display of moral decay.

Schools must discipline, not indulge, immoral behaviorMaking headlines first was an incident involving an HKU student, a candidate in the hall of residence at St. John's College, running for the halls' council election. The victim was believed to have had hot wax poured over his lower body, an assault which he had posted on Facebook but which had soon been deleted. The victim pulled out of the race after the attack, and three students were ordered to leave the hall of residence, while 19 others were temporarily suspended. But little time was spared for the HKU to breathe even a quick sigh of relief, because, a few days later, another case of bullying claimed headlines, this time with hard evidence: a 19-second video showing a man wearing a hoodie with "HKU" and "Chemistry" printed on it striking the back of a male student's head with his very own penis - yes, penis. That was not all - captured also in the video was laughter and profanity, with one among the crowd egging hoodie on, saying: "Hit his face."

What is disheartening and alarming about these two incidents is not just the deplorable acts of the young people, supposedly among the promising youths that will help build the future of Hong Kong, but the fact some netizens have called such behavior "hall traditions". While most seem to disapprove of such acts, some undergraduate students are said to have received text messages telling them not to accept any interviews, or pick up any phone calls without caller ID. Whoever the senders are, they obviously think such behavior is intolerable by the university's moral standards, then how is it reasonable to call the behavior "hall traditions"?

Speaking of "hall traditions", I would like to comment on this. As a graduate of the Department of Medicine at the HKU, I would like to shed light on how hall traditions were back in my day. The "U Hall Spirit" back then was relatively virtuous and innocent, with an overall emphasis on unity. At the hall of residence where I stayed for five years, we had two weeks of orientation for freshmen. The purpose of orientation was to help a new resident get to know all his fellow residents. This was all done through what we called "room visits", where we would have casual, friendly chats. I would be lying if I say we never teased any of the new residents but the way we did it was mostly harmless, and in no way was it comparable to the ragging that has become prevalent at orientation weeks at universities city-wide these days. To make sure it was all just inoffensive fun, we laid down rules such as absolute intolerance of physical contact. Once the orientation was over, the new residents would be given recognition by all existing residents of the hall, and were said to have graduated to be "seniors". There was a strong sense of brotherhood and camaraderie among us hall mates, and that was probably the reason that the idea of inflicting physical harm or wreaking psychological havoc on our peers very rarely crossed our minds.

As medical students, we had an exacting dress code to honor, at almost all times. During ward rounds we were required to don the white coat; denim jeans were out of the question. In addition, all male students were required to wear a neck-tie, and female students were not allowed to wear any kind of trousers, so it was skirt or dress at all times. Yes, there were these rules that resembled religious rituals for HKU medical students back then. Come to think of it, I am grateful that those rules were in place, as they imparted in us the respect for ourselves, for the teachers, and the patients whose lives and well-being were entrusted in our hands.

Looking at the recent indecent incidents, I can't help but wonder where it went so horribly wrong that young people - even those blessed with a high level of intelligence, enough to be admitted to the HKU - have succumbed to such a despicable level of moral decay. From their personal attire and demeanor to the little respect they show for their professors and lecturers, much less the education invested on their behalf, many students these days exhibit poor manners, decorum and etiquette. It seems to be that the fault lies with everyone, from the students themselves to the lecturers, tutors, the deans and the principals - everyone has adopted a lax approach to moral and ethics, not to mention discipline. Somehow, despite the numerous sleepless nights they may have had, they have been convinced that this is okay, that this level of disrespect for oneself and society as a whole is acceptable. Surely, they would have to find it acceptable to justify the temporary suspension of 19 residents and expelling three residents from the hall as proper punishment? If I must be honest, these students should not just be suspended or expelled from their hall of residence - expulsion from the school and even reporting to the police should be considered.

In the past few years we have seen an emotional outcry and clashes - violent and less so - staged by the city's youths. There was "Occupy Central", the Mong Kok Riot, the chaos that took place when students broke into an HKU Council meeting and clashed with the members, and the indecorous incidents that have become annual happenings at the city's universities come orientation week. Discipline and education on socially acceptable standards and behavior come from one's family, the schools one goes to, and the society one lives in, where public opinion and mass media have the responsibility to steer young people toward the right path. My suspicion is that schools - from primary to tertiary educational institutions - are not doing their job in reining back students who have deviated from the socially accepted code of behavior, and the mass media - instead of shining light on how society works - collectively rationalize students' and young people's violent confrontations and riotous behavior with fancy slogans suggesting bravado, as if disrupting social order and hurling bricks at police officers can be justified in the name of "justice" or "freedom of speech", hence mobsters are suddenly glorified as "freedom fighters".

Without distinct guidelines and pointers on morals and ethics, as well as social etiquette and decorum, we cannot expect our young people to grow up to be responsible, respectable adults, and we are all doomed. It's about time those who have the duty to educate their offspring, their students and their readers go back on track and start instilling truly virtuous values.

The author is vice-chairman of Wisdom Hong Kong a local think tank.

 
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