Grievance against the Economics Department Blocking Economics PhD Faculty Members in the Social Science Division from Teaching Economics Courses


Timeline, Short Explanations, and Documents


Carsten A. Holz

22 December 2020


Summary: In late 2013 I initiated a grievance against the Department of Economics at HKUST for systematically blocking economics PhD faculty in the Social Science Division from teaching economics courses. This was followed by a (second) grievance against HKUST President Tony Chan in May 2014 for abusing his authority in the (first) grievance. The matter ended in June 2014 with an agreement on how the HKUST administration would resolve the grievance—and then never did resolve it.


4 December 2013.

I lodge a formal grievance against the Head of the Economics Department in the School of Business and Management (SBM) to the Dean of SBM about the Economics Department blocking me from teaching a particular economics course, and, more generally, blocking economics PhD faculty in the Social Science Division (SOSC) from teaching economics courses. Here


14-17 January 2014

After not hearing back from the Dean of SBM within the time limit set in the Grievance Procedures, I take the formally prescribed next step and forward my grievance to the President of HKUST. A flurry of emails unfolds, including emails with reference to talks between the head of SOSC and the Economics Department (which I explain do not address my grievance). Here


21 January 2014 – 5 February 2014

The SOSC Curriculum Committee meets with a corresponding committee of the Economics Department in late January to discuss the issue of economics faculty in SOSC being blocked from teaching economics courses. The head of SOSC summarizes the result on 24 January; a representative of the Economics Department then has their own take as to what has been agreed, on 5 February. Here

The head of SOSC meets with me on 24 January 2014 to explain to me the agreement reached and I make the point that this outcome is not acceptable. When the matter is brought to the SOSC division meeting in June, I put my arguments in writing. Here


6 February 2014

Around this time there is an effort at division and school level to restructure the postgraduate student program and, for the economics discipline in the division, I produce a proposal for a postgraduate program in economic development China. It is shared with all economists in the division and discussed by email and in personal meetings, leading to a final proposal. Here

The division head commented at the time “I agree with [one faculty member’s statement] that we probably don't have the in-house capacity to deliver this on our own at this point.  The EVPP [Executive Vice-President & Provost] seems open to cluster hiring proposals that span more than one department/division/school.  It's probably worth talking about this more internally among the economists.  Also, as you know, we still need to sort out teaching in economics [emphasis added].” (I never heard of the proposal again.)

7 February 2014

(1) The President informs me by letter (here) that the “University’s Staff Grievance Procedures are not the appropriate mechanism to deal with this matter.” He does not inform me what is the appropriate procedure.

(2) The President (falsely) claims that a meeting of the two departmental curriculum committees has led to a consensus.

(3) The President refers me to the Committee on Undergraduate Studies: “If you have any question, you could contact Dr David Mole, Associate Provost (Teaching and Learning), in his capacity as Secretary to the CUS for advice on the appropriate academic procedures to follow.”


14 February 2014

Ad (1) of 7 February 2014: I argue that the President’s dismissal of my grievance as “not the appropriate mechanism” is illegitimate and point out his failure to provide access to what he calls “appropriate academic procedures to follow.”

Ad (2) I write to Dr David Mole requesting to be informed of the regulation relevant to my grievance. After not receiving an answer, I resend my email on 27 February 2014. Dr David Mole responded on 28 February 2014 with “Since this is rather a formal process, it has seemed best to allow the President an opportunity to determine the next step – including any contribution I might make. [This is after the President has ended the grievance.] I understand that this will be resolved very soon, and I look forward to the opportunity of explaining how the approval process for undergraduate courses works.”

The documentation for both items is here.


17 Feburary 2014

I apply for sabbatical leave.


13 March 2014

The President sends me a letter (here) re-asserting that my arguments do not fall under any grievance procedures—while still not providing evidence, nor citing the procedures under which they fall (let alone giving me access to these non-published procedures)—and that Dr David Mole [who earlier referred me back to the President] is ready to give me more specific advice. I never hear from Dr David Mole.


8 May 2014

I lodge a grievance with the Council Chair against the HKUST President for abusing his authority in handling my grievance against the Economics Department (here).

The Council Chair responds by email on 16 May 2014 with “I would be much obliged if as suggested in the "Staff Grievance Procedures", the matter could be resolved between the parties informally.”


Approximately 2 June 2014

I am informed that my application for sabbatical leave has been approved after a special meeting of the division head, dean and Provost. (All other applicants’ applications for sabbatical leave were approved months earlier). Human Resources confirms the approval on 12 June 2014.


2-6 June 2014

The President and I (and an assistant to the President) meet on 2 June 2014. My personal record of the meeting (written immediately afterwards) is that “He [the President] will ask the Provost to call [the head of SOSC] and the ECON head to his office and to see how the matter can be resolved. If it cannot be resolved, he as President of the Senate can set up a special committee to look into it.”

 I receive the President’s memo of our meeting and it has virtually nothing in common with what we had agreed to at the meeting. I respond.

The President’s memo, with my response, is here.


6 June 2014

For a SOSC faculty (division) meeting I comment on the result of the January meeting between SOSC and the Economics Department (here, as equally with the 21 January 2014 entry above).

The minutes of the division meeting contain this passage:

Prof Holz briefly explained the captioned under Attachment 4.  Reaction from other colleagues are welcome and hope to reach divisional consensus on this issue.

Prof [X] suggested that we start with a broader view of offering economics courses to the university community and said he would bring this to EVPP [Provost] on jurisdiction especially since all schools should be allowed to offer core courses. Moreover, courses can be listed under SOSC instead of ECON and ECON would be free to discourage their students in taking SOSC Economics courses. [As of 2020, all students in SBM, as well as all students across all schools at HKUST who minor in SBM, are systematically prohibited from taking the one introductory economics course that has always been and still is being taught by SOSC.]

Prof [Y] worried that this would create a trap to students taking economics courses and that we shall inform the Chair of CUS on this. [This has either not been done, or has had zero effect.]

Prof [Z] heard that the teaching evaluation of ECON courses are far below SOSC and some faculty would like to compare it.  Some suggested that the Chair review their teaching evaluations. Others suggested focusing on defending the right of SOSC’s economists to teach economics courses rather than comparing teaching performance with ECON.

There was no divisional resolution, no follow-up, and no consequences.


11 June 2014

In an email to a senior colleague I write “as of right now, the original agreement [between the President and me, achieved at the meeting] doesn't exist any more. (Quite astounding to me what has happened since my meeting with the President.) -- I just received another email from the President and his revised summary again does not match my recollection of what we had agreed on, and he keeps adding new items that he seems to think I have to agree to. -- This feels quite depressing and it may take me a while to figure out how to respond. On a personal level, I doubt he is sincere about my grievance.”


10-15 June 2014

I am not sure I can fully reconstruct the series of revisions to the President’s memos. The final (third) version offered by the President is probably this one here. My email responses to the President’s memos in this period are here.

      This likely final version of the President’s memo includes:


1.         It would be best for the EVPP [the Provost], who oversees all academic affairs for the University, to bring ECON and SOSC together to see whether a compromise can be made over the 2 units’ disputes on economic course offerings; and

2.         If a compromise is not possible, then SOSC or Prof Holz himself could consider bringing the case up with Senate, which is the statutory supreme academic body of the University, starting with the Committee on Undergraduate Studies (CUS). CUS is authorized by the Senate to monitor and review procedures, quality and performance relating to undergraduate studies.

3.         If the issue at stake is still unresolved at the CUS level, then either SOSC or Prof Holz himself can appeal to the Senate which is the final academic authority to make a ruling. The Senate Chair [the President] will make a decision on the actual arrangement for the final appeal proceedings.


Ad (1) If the EVPP ever brought ECON and SOSC together, I wasn’t informed of the meeting nor of the outcome. Nothing ever changed; my original grievance has not in the least been addressed.


Ad (2) I had contacted the Secretary of the CUS before (4 months earlier, see 14 February 2014, above), to no effect.


Ad (3) This statement is false. A note of mine at the time reads: I checked everything that I could find re the Senate on the HKUST website. Nowhere is there any mentioning that a faculty member can bring anything to the Senate, or to the CUS. Not even the Senate Standing Orders have any such mentioning. Since I am not a member of the Senate, I cannot bring anything to the Senate. From the regulatory framework that I have access to, I conclude that a faculty member has no right, nor are there any procedures, to bring any matter to the Senate or CUS.

My experience as a member of the Senate a decade earlier taught me that in HKUST’s fake faculty Senate my initiative (that decade earlier) is quickly and easily stifled by top level management. Thus, even if engagement with the Senate were possible for an individual faculty member (which it is not), it would be pointless.


17 June 2014

The President reports back to the Council Chair that “We have an agreement on how to proceed. The first step is for the EVPP to try to mediate between SSOC and ECON, and failing that we’ll find a way to bring the matter to the Senate.” (Here, as part of the email exchange with the Council Chair).

      To repeat: The EVPP (SHYY Wei) has never tried to mediate, or if he has, I was not informed. There has been no change in practices. The matter was never brought to the Senate.




At no point did any HKUST administrator engage in the substantive matter of my grievance (except at the division level, where it was eventually abandoned). It was always only about how to run circles around a HKUST faculty member who had the audacity to speak up about grave unprofessionalism and unfairness. My grievance was treated like a petition to the emperor who would easily dismiss or ignore it. (HKUST’s grievance procedures are mandated by the Hong Kong government.)

I experienced the HKUST administrators involved as uninterested in creating and upholding a professional environment at HKUST and instead pre-occupied with protecting their fiefdoms and avoiding responsibility. I concluded that there is no point wasting one’s time with HKUST administrators. Professionalism (and justice) cannot be achieved from within this system.