Dear Professor Mathieson,
Cancellation of the Majors of Astronomy and Mathematics/Physics
I refer to my letter dated 22 March 2017 requesting you to review and reverse the decision of the Dean of Science Faculty on the cancellation of the two above-mentioned Majors. I am awaiting your reply.
In the meantime, a number of issues have emerged. They deserve your attention and urgent responses lest damage is done to HKU.
Firstly, the cancellation of the two Majors has apparently not been deliberated nor approved by the Science Faculty Board. That it was announced by Professor Matthew Evans as fait accompli is jumping the gun and ultra vires.
Secondly, on being questioned by students, Professor Matthew Evans apparently stated that the cancellation of the two Majors would not result in any cutting of staff or courses. But he had previously said openly that “teaching niche programmes is I am afraid too inefficient”. If efficiency is indeed the key consideration, then I am afraid delivering two less Majors with the same resource is terribly inefficient on the part of Professor Evans.
Thirdly, the Physics Department has spent several years in building up a strong research team in astronomy as part of its strategic development plan. In making the decision to cancel the two Majors in haste, Professor Evans has blundered by:
(a) failing to appreciate and understand this established strategy,
(b) failing to recognise the immense investment in time and effort to build up this strength,
(c) extinguishing students’ enthusiasm in this fast-growing academic area, and
(d) demoralizing the astronomy team to the detriment of the University.
Professor Evans has been in post less than one year. To rush into the present decision without due consideration and consultation is bad practice with undesirable consequences.
Fourthly, secondary school students have already made their choices under the JUPAS system for 2017 entry based on information available from universities at the time, including the existence of the two Majors. Cancellation at this point in time could generate complaints from potential students about HKU misleading them and causing them to make wrong decisions. Making the decision now is therefore bad timing.
In the light of these issues, it is obvious that the action taken by Professor Evans to cancel the two Majors NOW is improper and ultra vires, poor resource management, poor academic judgment and poor timing. His move is very damaging to HKU.
You are requested to investigate into whether the cancellation of the two Majors has gone through proper procedures within the University. You are also requested to reverse quickly the cancellation of the two Majors, to ensure that the academic strength of the Physics Department is reflected in undergraduate education at HKU.
We urge you to act quickly to defuse the situation by announcing to the public that the two Majors would continue to be offered by HKU.