Hong Kong University of Science & Technology and the Social Science Division
This webpage started in summer 2006 as a HKUST blog thinking about department matters. I received plenty of feedback from colleagues in private (only) and changed the blog into a HKUST webpage (easier to manage). The purpose of the webpage is to document my experiences in exploring how this university operates and to comment on university matters. I did some minor editing in summer 08 and 09. Two pieces up front evaluate. [To my homepage ]
Evaluative pieces
The Hong Kong Model of Academia (March 2008)
For job applicants: what's special about SOSC, HKUST, and Hong Kong academia (10 Nov. 06+)

Incentives    Creating incentives for faculty to retire on the job (14 July 06+)
Department head selection
     (a) Proposal to have department heads elected by faculty (13 April 07+)
     (b)The practice of department head selection and the meaning of "consultation" at HKUST (16 July 07)
Senate   Fake Senate(13/18 Sept. 06)
Privacy rights   Where are my privacy rights? (14 July 06)
Shifts in faculty structure  Where have all the (foreign) professors gone? (26 June 07)
HKUST governance (or absence thereof)  The HKUST "executive system" (June 09)

Academic review at HKUST/SOSC
Concrete cases (mine) that I can fully document:
    Floating salary bar review (14 July 06+)
    Promised but not implemented salary increase in summer 2007 (June 09)
    Full professorship review (6 Sept. 08)
Annual review (general)   Annual "merit" review (June/Sept 08)

Social Science Division
The illusion of a "social science" division   The great interdisciplinary fudge (13 Sept. 06+)
Options for the future   SOSC options (24 Sept. 06+)
Seminars    Are we really a research university? (13 Sept. 06+)

    HKUST = Hong Kong University of Science & Technology
    HSS = School of Humanities and Social Science
    SOSC = Social Science Division
    VPAA = Vice-President for Academic Affairs
    UASC = University Appointments and Substantiation Committee

Names of dept. heads, deans, VPAAs

Creating incentives for faculty to retire on the job (14 July 06, mini-revision Sept. 08)

    On 1 Oct. 2002 we had a first salary cut, and on 1 January 2005 the third, for a total of approximately 10%. On all three occasions I was asked to sign a statement to the effect that I am happy to have my salary cut. The division head on at least the first two occasions issued a veiled threat: "If you don't sign..." with my memory saying there was a hint at dismissal if I don't sign.

    In spring 05 we were asked to switch to a new salary scale (sign a new contract). Previously, a good researcher (and decent teacher) enjoyed a salary increase every year. The new salary scale allows for a salary increase at most every two years, and the salary increase depends on the availability of funds to the dept. If I were to stay at HKUST until retirement, and if my performance would have been continuously OK under the old system, this means a minimum of twelve salary cuts in comparison to the original contract. Given that funding appears not available for the Social Science division to increase salaries (as far as I know, didn’t happen in summer 05 except for two persons, for very specific reasons), the new salary scale is set to imply two dozen salary cuts in comparison to the original contract.

      Even in a best?-case scenario of a salary increase every four years, I can earn more money, on average every year, from now until my retirement nearly 25 years down the road, if I stop doing research and simply teach one course in the self-financing program every year. In terms of research, I reduce my time input by, say, 2000 hours a year. In terms of teaching, I teach one extra course, in the self-financing program, say, plus 100 hours. I have 1900 more free hours and more pay.

      The pure economic cost-benefit analysis comes out so unambiguously in favor of a major shift away from research into whatever consulting opportunities are available, that it will be fascinating to see how much of this massive shift in financial incentives will be counterbalanced by innate research instincts—or the desire to be able to leave HKUST.

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Department head selection

I propose to the Senate that department heads are elected by faculty members (as is the norm at North American universities of similar ranking as HKUST) and I provide evidence that HKUST's current consultation process in the selection of a new dept head is fake.

(a) Proposal to have department heads elected by faculty (13 April 07, 10 Oct. 07)

13 April 07:

On 26 March 07 I submitted a proposal to have department heads elected by faculty to the Senate. This means I sent it to the President, who has to approve the presentation to the Senate. Following e-mail and phone conversations with the administration, the proposal is now first going to the University Administrative Committee and then possibly to the Senate in June.

Here is the proposal, and here is a write-up in support of the proposal.

10 October 07:

The President informed me orally in June 07 that the University Administrative Committee decided not to take any action.
(The UAC comprises the president, the three vice-presidents, the four deans, the director of finance, a secretary, a non-administrative member of the Senate [by invitation] and a department head nominated by the Senate [by invitation].)

According to the President, the VPAA would write up some proposal to the University Council regarding the institution of "Founding Department Heads" (that seems to go back to the founding of the university), which did not seem related to election of dept heads but to ending some practices of the start-up period of the university. Separately, the search committee for dept heads would in the future inform dept faculty of the rationale behind their decision.

A later letter from the President to me, documenting our conversation, makes *no mentioning* of any proposal to the Council or of informing dept faculty of the rationale behind the search committee decisions.

The President's reason for not having dept heads elected by faculty members, in my understanding, is that faculty members (or, the "university") are "not mature enough." (The term "mature" is his.)

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(b) The practice of department head selection and the meaning of "consultation" at HKUST (16 July 07)
Currently, faculty members play a trivial role in the selection of the department head.

AP18.0 on the appointment of department heads says that the search committee “shall perform the following functions” (2.3) which include “(e) to schedule interviews of the finalist candidates, including a seminar open to faculty members and students of the department; the candidate shall meet with the following groups of personnel during the interview: … the Dean, VP-AA, and the President; faculty members of the Department in groups; any faculty members of the Department individually...” The committee then also performs the function “(f) to solicit feedback, preferably in writing, from those with whom the candidate have interacted.”

AP18.0 makes no statement to the effect that anything has to be done with this feedback.
One time I checked what happens to this feedback. In the course of a recent search for department head I privately organized a vote among faculty (by secret ballot). That vote overwhelmingly ruled against the search committee’s decision. This can mean two things.
(i) The majority of the search committee ignored the feedback.
(ii) The feedback received by the committee differed from what the vote said.

Whatever happened, the search committee made a choice that faculty members very clearly did not share.
(The vote then appears to be reason why the appointment did not go through.)

Here's another example for "consultation" a la HKUST:

The South China Morning Post on 9 Nov. 06 carried a letter by some faculty and students of SOSC writing that in the HKUST decision to award Tung Chee-hwa an honorary doctorate in social sciences "the faculty, staff and students of the university's division of scoial science were not directly consulted." The HKUST president, Paul Chu, replied in a letter on 10 November that [a] "The honorary degree committee ... consists of elected members from each of the four schools, including the School of Humanities and Social Science" and that [b] during the nomination and endorsement process "there are ample opportunities for deliberation and views to be heard and debated." -- (a) The HSS representative was never elected; at best, an email from the dean may have come around "If I don't hear from you otherwise, it is assumed that you agree to the appointment ..." but my rather complete email system doesn't even have evidence of that. (And the annual list of committee members lists school-level committee appointments but not the school's representative to the honorary degree committee. I had to find out from an outside news blog on the internet who our "elected" HSS representative was.) (b) There was no deliberation of Tung Chee-hwa that was open to faculty members of SOSC. The first time I heard about the honorary doctorate in the social sciences for Tung Chee-hwa was after the deal had been done and it had been publicly announced.

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Fake Senate (13/18 Sept. 06, editing in June 08)

The HKUST "Senate" is an extension of the VPAA's office and does not represent the faculty (the norm at North American universities).

68% of the Senate members are appointed directly by the VPAA or by an intermediary appointed by the VPAA.
6% or 30% of the "Senate" members are elected by faculty.

Contrast this to, say, Cornell University (where I got my PhD): 100% of the members of the Senate are elected by the faculty, with the exception of the university president who is a member but not elected by faculty. (Factual details below, from http://web.cornell.edu/UniversityFaculty/FacultyHandbook/HandbookParts/1.0final02.pdf, pp. 12-23.)

-- The HKUST "Senate" --
Membership Number Appointed by
President + 3 Vice-Presidents
Dean of each School
Heads of academic departments
Directors of: Applied Technology Center, Technology Transfer Center, Library, ITSC, Student Affairs
Science, Engineering, Business & Management Schools each elect 4 members 
supposedly elected --- potentially de facto appointed by Dean, who is appointed by VPAA*
HSS: School elects one
supposedly elected --- potentially de facto appointed by Dean, who is appointed by VPAA*
Full-time academic staff elect
-> real election!
President of Students’ Union
-> real election?
UG students elect
-> real election?
PG students elect
-> real election?
Two co-opted full-time acad. staff members
Total 53

For the current membership see the Academic Calendar 2006-07, pp. 583ff.

* My records, for HSS, suggest that in most years when we "elected" our Senate representative, we indeed had a chance to nominate. (In one case, where a replacement was needed for a remaining term, the dean appointed, and sent an e-mail asking for comments.) In the most recent election of 2004, we had one nomination (by the dean?), and then no voting ("If there is more than one faculty nominee for a position, an election will be held."). I have the impression that the vast majority of faculty simply don't care, so that the election process isn't much of an election.

Cornell Senate

[http://web.cornell.edu/UniversityFaculty/FacultyHandbook/HandbookParts/1.0final02.pdf, pp. 12-23]

Apart from the university president, it comprises:

[i]   various (specified) officials of the University Faculty, where the University Faculty basically consists of all faculty, one-faculty-one-vote, with the University Faculty officials elected by the University Faculty;

[ii]  nine members of the University Faculty, elected by the University Faculty;

[iii] Constituency members elected by the various schools and academic departments. -- While “election” is not defined at this location (p. 18), the election procedures outlined on p. 16 for the Dean (head) of the University Faculty is unambiguous about this being a real election. The concept of a fake election may not exist at all in the Cornell context. The re-definition of the term “election” in HSS at HKUST (and HKUST in total?) as "appointment made by some executive," him/herself appointed by some higher-level "executive" appears unique to HKUST (and certain regimes ruling various countries).

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Where are my privacy rights? (14 July 06 (with a mini-revision 7 Sept. 08))

My employer in all likelihood has full knowledge of (and administers) my medical records.

     The HSBC health insurance recently wanted more details on a referral letter by a doctor in the HKUST clinic from me. The request, with all original documentation attached, reached me via campus mail in the typical recycled envelope that we use in campus mail. This suggests to me that it came from the personnel office, and that HSBC freely shares all my medical information with the personnel office. I now assume that whatever I put in the health claim collection box on the 5th floor outside the personnel office, is opened, read, and filed by the personnel office.

    If it is indeed the case that the HKUST personnel office has free access to my medical information at HSBC, as I am near-certain it does, then this violates my most basic understanding of privacy. --- Princeton University has an established, explicit policy that the university does not have access to faculty members' medical information.

    If the personnel office doesn’t like my medical record, it could pass the information on to the VPAA/dean/division head, who could then fire me at four months’ notice. According to my reading of my contract, he doesn’t even have to give an explanation as to why he is firing me. (I have heard one vague rumor that firing in connection with illness has indeed occurred at HKUST. I have no evidence.)

      While I feel that privacy re medical information is simply a basic freedom, if the VPAA/dean/division head really must have full access to my medical information, then the counterweight, given the incentives this creates for him, is real tenure.

      I sent a registered letter to HSBC on 24 May 06 asking for confirmation that they share my medical information with the HKUST personnel office, and as of mid-July have not received a response. (As of 2008, I have received a non-response saying something to the effect that they are complying with the rules.)

      I have written to the Consumer Council of Hong Kong inquiring if it’s OK with Hong Kong law for my employer to have full access to my medical records with the health insurance company, and they referred me to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Data. I had already written to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Data independently, and they say that I “may like to ascertain with the insurance company concerned in relation to their compliance with the requirements of the Ordinance” (full e-mail here).” 

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Where have all the (foreign) professors gone? (Jan. 07 -> 26 June 07)
The table below reports faculty numbers for fall 1996, fall 2001, and fall 2006 in all academic departments.

Comparing the 1996 and 2006 values:
(1) The number of faculty declined from 425 to 406 over the ten-year period.

The data cover all regular faculty in all departments. Visiting / adjunct / research positions are excluded.

For comparison, according to the 1997/98 university fact book, enrollment in fall 1996 was 5,600 UGs and 1,107 FTE PGs. According to "HKUST: Facts and Figures," enrollment in 2006-07 (as of January 2007) was 5,772 UGs and 3,228 PGs. I.e., the number of PGs has tripled, or the number of all students has risen by 34%. (A separate table in this source gives 1,693 part-time students, which presumably are all PGs and may be counted as half a FTE only, which would imply 2381.5 FTE PG in 2006/07, implying an increase in total student numbers of 22%.)
(2) The number of non-Chinese non-Korean/Japanese/Vietnamese faculty fell from 96 to 63.

I didn’t want to try to figure out what exactly was a K/J/V name, so I combined them all with the Chinese names; the number of K/J/V faculty seems very small, single-digit to teens.
The frequency of names that can be unambiguously identified as pinyin names increased from 99 to 152; the case of pinyin last names combined with English first names is not included in the pinyin category.
In SOSC, we have/had four searches in 06/07, with 12 (or 13?) candidates being interviewed. Out of the 12 candidates, one is Japanese, all others have Chinese names.
Nov. 1996
Fall 2001
Fall 2006
Absolute number of faculty members
(1) Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese names
of which: pinyin name
(2) All others
(1) Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese names
of which: pinyin name
(2) All others
Full/associate/assistant professors (or corresponding UK-titles); adjunct/visiting/research positions are not counted.

Caveat: I categorized names quickly, so I can’t guarantee the numbers down to the last digit, but there should be no bias, and no major error.

Sources: University Communications Directory November 1996, Fall 2001, and Fall 2006.

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The HKUST "executive system" (June 09)

In September 2008 the VPAA issued a consultation paper (here) on “Department Head and Faculty Governance” which explicitly states that the university follows an executive system.

For the department head, this means: “Department Heads will continue to assume an executive role.”

For faculty members, this means no decision-making authority whatsoever. “… the role of the Departmental Standing Committees is essentially advisory in nature.” The terms of reference for the full faculty meeting (division meeting) are to “make recommendations on major decisions for the Department,” to “discuss matters to provide guidance to the various Standing Committees” (no word about "binding"), to “receive periodic reports…”, and to “provide a forum to foster communication with internal staff and external parties.”

The consultation paper speaks of a governance structure which is “accountable with checks and balances” but contains not a single check or balance and no mechanisms of accountability (there is no "check" in any form, there is no balance of power because all power is vested with the executive, and there is no accountability since no action can be taken against any executive).

The consultation paper is discussed at a division meeting and nobody sees any problem with it.

I experience the HKUST executive system as a shirking of responsibilities by executives and a penalization of faculty members for the failures of executives.
Much of this webpage, especially the entries on academic review, provides evidence of the HKUST executive system in practice. Examples directly addressing the executive system are here.

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Floating salary bar review 04/05 (14 July 06, update 7 Sept. 07)
I was up for the triennial salary review under the salary scale in effect through spring 05, and built into my contract at the time. (I was later asked / forced to sign a new contract at different conditions.)
The decision for promotion was
        unanimously in favor at the division level,
        unanimously in favor at the School level,
        and the division head explicitly supported that I pass the salary bar.
The dean denied the promotion in a way that I think violates university rules.


I appealed [here] on grounds of the dean violating university rules.

The VPAA replied that the appeal is too late -- not within the [I think] 3-week period specified in the original letter informing me that I am not allowed to pass the floating salary bar. (The original letter used the term "should," not the term "must." There is no elaboration on the term "should," or on what constitutes an exception to the "should.")


For me

The dean's decision, as of fall 2008, costs me USD 15,000+ per year.

If the dean had approved my floating salary bar review, I would have been guaranteed two annual increases in salary rank. Compared to my current salary rank, that's one more. The second increase in salary rank would have meant USD 11,000+ more home financing allowance from the Hong Kong government. (I am currently paying USD 22,000+ per year out of my salary for rent, on top of the home financing allowance.) The extra one salary rank increase compared to my current salary rank would have cost the university on the order of USD 4,000+.

[July 09] My contract with the university includes an allowance equivalent to the price of one plane ticket per year to my place origin. In June 09 I suggested to transform this allowance into salary. This would bring my salary to a level which triggers the additional USD 11,000+ home financing allowance from the government. The university declined. In other words, the university freely rewrites my contract four times in a row, every time to *my detriment* and to the university's advantage, but is unwilling to revise my contract when it means a big benefit for me, at *no* cost for the university.

On how HKUST operates

Apart from the violation of university rules as I laid out in the appeal, the event has a couple of additional twists.
      Under the new salary scale in effect since 2005, a salary increase can only happen if funds are available. It seems that only two faculty in my division received a salary increase in spring 05, and I was one of them. This implies that the dean, who stated that my performance was not good enough to be promoted under the old salary scale, at the same time concluded that my performance was superior to the performance of everybody else in my division (except one colleague, who happens to also have been up for review in 04/05 under the old system).
      If this were to look a bit funny, then the only other logical conclusion that comes to my mind is that the dean did not make a performance-based decision in the first place, despite university regulations explicitly setting out performance-based criteria.
      (i) One scenario could be that the dean has his own, personal motives.
      (ii) Another scenario would be that the dean and the VPAA together conspired to bypass university rules: the dean created a pretext to not promote under the old scheme, where university rules require him to judge based on performance, and the VPAA then happily accepted it (ignoring the statements by the other three bodies involved in the review process). Rumors are that no faculty in the university was promoted under the old salary scale in spring 05 (the year just prior to the introduction of the new salary scale), which supports the conjecture of deans and VPAA plotting on how to set up the faculty and bypass university rules.
    (iii) It is obviously also possible that the VPAA simply orders his appointees to violate university rules, and his appointees follow his orders.
    The division head, when informing me of the results of the review, mentioned that Dean Tay asks me (or “suggests,” I can’t remember the exact phrasing) to refrain from viewing my review file at the VPAA’s office, i.e., not to make use of the rights conferred to me by Hong Kong law.
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Promised but not implemented salary increase in summer 2007 (June 09)

At a faculty retreat on 8 June 2007 the dean informed me that the VPAA had given instructions to increase the salaries of the economists in the Social Science Division (in contrast to the salaries of the faculty members in the other social science disciplines) and that I would be receiving a salary increase in this review round.

At the conclusion of this review round, less than one month later, I did not receive a salary increase. I was not given any explanation as to why the promised salary increase had not happened. Thus, I do not know if the VPAA changed his mind, or if the VPAA (who signs off on salary increases) singled me out for not receiving a salary increase, or if the dean, who later got upset with me about the vote on the new department head that I organized (and wrote emails that I find not suitable to reproduce here), blocked the salary increase, or ...

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My review for full professorship, 2007/08 (6 Sept. 08, 12 Nov. 08, June 09)
My 2007/08 review for full professorship comprises:
(1)   External letters: 5 strongly positive external letters
(2)   Division review: 3 'Yes,' 0 'No'
(3)   School review: 1 'Yes,' 2 'Abstain'
(4)   Dean: "he deserves to be promoted to Full Professor"
(5)   University Appointments and Substantiation Committee (UASC): 4 'No,' 2 'Yes' (document stamped 'Confidential')
(6)   Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA): 'No' (document stamped 'Confidential')
The UASC and the VPAA give three reasons for rejection.

One is based on false information, the other two (with one consisting of two sub-points) are inconsistent with the facts and established policies.

The UASC and VPAA's explanation of the rejection together with my response (my evaluation of their explantions) is here [permanently removed, 29 Sept. 08].
The VPAA informs me that making confidential personnel information available to the public is "inappropriate."
    I understand that an applicant who is evaluated negatively should be protected. This instance is the opposite: the VPAA insists that the *evaluators* need to be protected.

        Evaluating faculty members is a core function of a university.  The highest-level officials of this HKUST refuse to make public how they "evaluate" faculty members.
A revised file that does *not* cite from these two reports is here. [Addenda: IPEAcad. review]--- Many details on how HKUST operates.

In my response (the above file) I show, among other things, that
(1) I am being discriminated against in my research performance in that a better performance is expected of me than of all full professors in SOSC and of Francis Lui in the economics department (who sits on the UASC), and that the UASC contradicts itself as to what the requirements are (it breaks earlier assertions/ guarantees);
(2) I am being penalized for teaching assignments that are determined by the department head, i.e., which are not under my authority but under the authority of the division head (and that my explicit preferences have always been along the lines advocated by the UASC);
(3) the VPAA penalizes me for not violating university rules on PG supervision;
(4) the evaluation of my services is built on false information.

My original application is here: CV, research, first update to research, second update to research, teaching, service.


The only form of appeal allowed at HKUST is an appeal on procedural grounds.
The members of the appeal committee are selected and appointed by the VPAA.

I appealed on two grounds:
(1) some of the information I submitted was suppressed by the administration, while
(2) false information was admitted.
The appeal is here.

The response I received from the VPAA, dated 4 Aug. 08, reads "The [Senate Standing] Committee [for Academic Review Procedure] concludes by a unanimous vote that there is no procedural ground to uphold your appeal. According to the University's policy and procedure (AP24.0), this decision to deny your appeal is final."

There is nothing further. The committee did not refute any of the procedural faults that I raise.

In June 09 I find a webpage titled "Frequently Asked Questions on Academic Review Policy and Procedure" that seemingly invalidates part of my appeal, yet it would seem illegitimate to base a university decision that is regulated in a formal regulatory framework on an unannounced, highly imprecise FAQ item outside the formal regulatory framework, and, furthermore, to do so discriminately as (other) FAQ items that are to my immediate benefit are not being enforced. [Details here.]

Meeting with the VPAA

I asked to meet the VPAA to find out how exactly he would have liked my performance to be different.
We met on 10 Oct. 08. He promised a written statement after meeting with the dean.
(The dean, in the review process, wrote: "I believe that he [Carsten Holz] deserves to be promoted to Full Professor.")

The VPAA's written statement is dated 4 Nov. 2008 and stamped "confidential." It urges me to be "more proactive and constructive in committee service."
My understanding was that I would receive concrete suggestions on what the VPAA would like me to do. Instead, the only concrete item in this letter is that in 2006 I refused to review a psychologist. I refused because I am unable to evaluate the quality of a psychologist's research publications. I was in that position before, participated in the review, and decided then that I will not do a fake review again.

My response to the VPAA's statement is here. [I may, by mistake, have sent the VPAA a hard copy of the only slightly different penultimate write-up, then corrected with a soft copy sent to his secretary.]
It's a criticism of his response and of the whole review process that ends in pointing out that the division review committee has evaluated my internal service as "very good." At HKUST  "there is a VPAA who states that he doesn't like my internal service to this same division (and the school), who doesn't care what the division review committee says in this respect, who doesn't specify what he wants, and who regards this as so overwhelmingly important that professional service, teaching, and research pale in comparison."

--- Separately, a senior colleague asked me to meet him. When I did, he entered a harangue that is not reproducable (on such issues as how can I dare to appeal against the reveiw decision), in a language and tone that is inacceptable.

Subsequent internal "service"

With the results of this "review" for full professorship in hand, I withdrew from the Senate and from my committee assignment in the division.
The written rationales that I have provided for withdrawing from internal "service" at the time are here.

Request for the UASC to clarify its evaluation principles

On 19 Sept. 08 I asked the UASC to clarify on three issues:

(i) Are HSS faculty members evaluated along disciplinary or interdisciplinary lines?
(ii) Are the performance requirements for full professorship time-independent or are they adjusted depending on, for example, time since PhD?
(iii) Does the UASC expect the applicant to provide some form of citation index? (Not listed among the university's requirements, but quite likely part of the actual, partly unknown, non-codified rules.)
The full text is here.

The UASC did not acknowledge receipt of my email and as of nine months later has not responded.
I.e., critical information on what is expected of the applicant --- with the possibility of vastly different and contradictory expectations of the applicant at different stages of the review process, and of different applicants from the same department --- is not being made public.

The VPAA told me orally on 10 Oct. 08 that the UASC passed my email on to him. (I asked for the UASC's criteria, not for the VPAA's.)
The VPAA informed me that requirements for full professorship are time-independent. They are absolute standards.
--- This does not match what I hear from a member of the UASC in private, and this does not match what a colleague tells me about other departments ranking the candidates they submit to the UASC for promotion to full professorship (the university regulations say nothing about 'ranking,' and according to AP 9.0 there is no quota for promotions to full professorship [implicit, and in the interpretation offered in the FAQ "Promotion" item 1]).
--- The VPAA's statement also means that, since, separately, he finds my research record good enough for full professorship, from now until retirement I need not do any more research in order to obtain full professorship at HKUST. (A confidential written statement from the VPAA following our meeting omits all reference to the requirements for full professorship.)

I was not given answers to the other two questions I raised, neither orally, nor in writing.

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Annual "merit" review (June/Sept. 08)

(1) I do not know how my research is being evaluated.
    I do not know how the quality of my publications is evaluated: how specific journals are being compared, how journal articles are compared to book chapters or monographs, and how peer-reviewed journal articles are compared to non-peer-reviewed publications.

(2) I do not know how the research quality of one faculty member is compared to that of another faculty member.

(3) I do not know how teaching is being evaluated, and how it is weighted compared to research.
When Bian Yanjie was division head, he suggested a 40-40-20 rule, teaching-research-"service." I do not know if that suggested rule is still intact.

Ad 1-3: We have a "merit review" system that does not tell faculty members what is considered merit by those who decide on merit, and that does not provide faculty members with the information necessary to identify if X is more merit-ful than Y.

(4) I do not know the rules according to which the division head appoints the review committee members (a private choice of the division head?).

(5) I do not know the balance of authority between dean, division head, and review committee.
    (If final decision-making authority rests 100% with the dean or the division head, then what's the point of having a review committee?)

Specific points for illustration

(a) Suppose a journal citation index were consulted. How does the top area studies journal (first rank in area studies list) compare to the 36th-ranked journal in the economics list? -- They both have the same impact factor.
(b) The core teaching information available in the merit review is the two student evaluation summary scores and class size with response rate; these are in good part a function of the department head's decision as to what each faculty teaches at what level, i.e., theses are partly endogenous to the department head's decision making and cannot convey any information about the reviewee per se. (As to how meaningful the response rate is: a 25% response rate came with a nomination of me by the students of that class for a university teaching award.)
(c) Relying on two summary questions in student teaching evaluations --- teaching evaluation forms which I furthermore find fundamentally flawed --- to draw significant conclusions on a faculty member's teaching quality is unacceptable to me. I can accept very high values as an indicator that this professor may be doing something right (which then requires further inquiry), and very low values as an indicator that this professor may be doing something wrong (which then also requires further inquiry). Everything in between I am unwilling to give any importance in any way. HKUST, in stark contrast to the universities in the U.S. that I am familiar with, seems to blindly go for the one and only quantitative measure of teaching it can obtain, in total disregard of its (limited) meaning.
(d) How can teaching across non-identical courses be compared? (At Cornell Econ, only the teaching evaluations of the half-dozen intermediate micro courses and, separately, of the half-dozen intermediate macro courses are tabulated. Everything else is apparently considered irrelevant.)
(e) University service is in large part endogenous to the department head and the dean. These two officials can systematically appoint or systematically avoid appointing certain colleagues. Why should this be counted as merit or de-merit for individual faculty members?
(f) How is a 3-0-3 publication pattern over three years remunerated compared to a 0-0-6 pattern? If the first one gets one salary increase in the first and one in the third year, will the second one get a double-increase in the third year (ruled out by AP 25.0)?
(g) The merit review committee appears dominated by the same people year after year. That group of people is not representative of the disciplines presented in the division.
(h) I wonder to what extent the review committee is qualified to evaluate those that it evaluates. Those being evaluated may well be superior in research to the evaluators. But the organization of the merit review follows a complex seniority system that ensures that the first-comers at UST determine the fate of UST.


I was a member of the review committee in the first "merit" review, when I didn't know yet how it worked. I concluded that this was not a fair process. (I phrased some of my objections in writing since the VPAA had promised to go very carefully over the notes of the first review process, but never got a response.) In subsequent years I didn't serve on the "merit" review committee. I also stopped submitting my file for review because I think this "review" process is unacceptably  flawed. This means I opt out of salary increases, except in spring 07, when I compromised, in the (mistaken) hope that I would get the one salary increase that saves me USD 11,000+ on rent through an automatic increase in the government's home financing allowance that goes with the higher salary rank.

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The great interdisciplinary fudge (13 Sept. 06, 19 Oct. 06, 26 June 07, revised 7 Sept. 08)

There is no social science in the Division of Social Science

I was curious about the PG course overlap in the five social sciences, as taught at a decent university. I chose Stanford U., because I know my way around that website (and our supposed model, Caltech, is ranked just behind Stanford in the recent Newsweek ranking).

In the attached file [here] are the core courses in the Stanford PhD programs in each of the five social sciences. There could be a bit of statistics and linear regression model overlap between Poli Sci and Sociology (and possibly Psychology), but that's it. There is no overlap in any non-stats non-metrics courses among the five disciplines.

How is our "Social Science program" supposed to work when there is near-zero overlap between the five social sciences?

It doesn't. We have a sociology+ PG program: the file contains a comparison to the PG course offerings in SOSC in spring and fall 06. SOSC has virtually nothing besides sociology. A sprinkling of poli sci.

Practical implications

Take the example of SOSC 534, Quantitative Analysis in Social Science. SOSC 534 as taught in spring 2006 spends half the time on an intermediate undergraduate econometrics text on regression analysis, and then spends the other half on categorical data analysis, one among a dozen possible topics, and as it so happens the one that sociologists seem to be fascinated by, but that rarely appears in economics or psychology.

Take the example of SOSC 515, “Economic Growth in China” (1998). To retain the (only) two SOSC students in the course, I had to drop all economics and “teach” it at a non-economics level. All non-SOSC students except one then left the course. I never taught the course again because it neither made sense for the division to have such a course (with two SOSC enrollment, one of whom audited), nor did I find it enjoyable to teach a PG course on applied economics to students who couldn't deal with the appropriate literature.

In fall 2006 we had 5(?) PG students with an undergraduate background in economics. If we teach SOSC 534 as before, should these students get a refund of their fees (because this part of what’s relevant to their PG education in sociology, they already did in their mid-undergraduates)? Are we still offering them a PG education if we teach them what they were taught in their mid-undergraduates? Alternatively, suppose SOSC 534 is taught at a PG level for students with an undergraduate background in economics or psychology. That probably means that the other students will have no clue as to what is happening in the course. Do we want to give them all Fs in this course? (Or, rather, they’ll all drop out early on.) Is it fair to deny these PG students their sociology PG level education?

The division has never resolved this issue. The department head and dean typically don't see an issue and appear fine with a de facto sociology program under the disguise of "social science." The fact that I can't properly teach a course in my field is not an issue for them. The dean (June 08) simply says "we are not an economics department." Apparently he has no problem with the fact that we are de facto a sociology program.

With an overwhelming sociology bias in faculty numbers, the simplest seems to be to continue to go the sociology way. (This also means going for the lowest denominator, see http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2008/11/larry-vindicated.html with GRE scores by discipline or, equivalently, http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2008/11/chart-of-day-gre-scores-by-academic.html.)

--- Remember Ying-Yi Hong? She complained bitterly about the discrimination against psychology before she left for Illinois. By now (2006), the social science of psychology has ceased to be a factor in the division. Anthropology never was. Econ and poli sci are at the edge. Admitting non-sociology students means cheating the students. Hiring non-sociology faculty means cheating the new faculty (as long as they are not made aware of the fact that the division, at its core, is a sociology department), and it eventually means turnover, unless we run into a non-sociologist who wants to be a sociologist.

Nobody knows the meaning of "interdisciplinary"

The division has never resolved what it means by "interdisciplinary" and going to the dictionary for a definition of "interdisciplinary," SOSC is not interdisciplinary.

Why does the definition matter? For research, it probably doesn’t. Faculty with a background in different disciplines can (and do) work together on joint projects, and faculty may individually work in a discipline other than the one they got their PhD in. As long as the output passes a peer-review, there is no problem (except in finding suitable peers). The issue is teaching, when some faculty think students should somehow go through an interdisplinary (de facto sociology) program.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary:
    Interdisciplinary: “involving, or joining, two or more disciplines, or branches of learning.”
    So what’s a “discipline?” The dictionary only offers “branch of knowledge or learning,” which isn’t good enough for the purpose here.

I define a "branch of knowledge or learning" by (a) topic; (b) concepts / theories / ideas; (c) data collection method; and (d) tools of analysis. One dimension, (b), seems stronger than the others in that theories tend to be exclusive to one discipline.

Moving on to “interdisciplinary,” I would understand it as applying b-d (in particularly, b) of two or more disciplines to some topic (a). To me, therefore, an interdisciplinary program needs to systematically expose students to b-d (in particularly, b) of two or more disciplines. SOSC does not do that.

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SOSC options (24 Sept. 06, 9 Jan. 07, 14 May 07, revised 7 Sept. 08)
This section reduces several earlier (and lengthy) sections that dealt with the division's future.

Because it's still long, I put it in a separate file [here + proposal for economic development field]. I address:
    * SOSC currently means a career dead-end for most faculty members.
    * Sinology-type China studies is a dying field.
    * Thoughts on how SOSC can move forward.
    * When we developed the division's 2020 strategic plan in summer 2007, I worked out a concrete proposal for the field of economic development -- the dean then said it's too early to work on details (at the same time, he asked another faculty member to work out the details for the field that the dean would associate with, with the results not made public). As of June 09, the strategic plan seems to have been shelved.

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Are we really a research university? --- Seminars (13 Sept. 06)

HKUST is supposed to be a research university. Comparing the workshops/ seminar arrangements in SOSC to those in Stanford Econ (my sabbatical leave 03/04), Cornell Econ dept. (my PhD), or Princeton Econ (07/08), SOSC is not a department of a research university.

The Stanford Econ dept. has approximately 50 faculty with 9 different seminar workshops every week, i.e., 9 seminars every week (http://www-econ.stanford.edu/events/seminars.html). PG students must enroll in a seminar workshop in their field. Attendance at the seminar workshop varies; I have seen everything from 5 to 30. At a Stanford Econ dept. average 4-5 faculty per workshop, this would, for SOSC, translate into 4 or 5 seminar workshops/ seminars, one in each field, per week.

To me, that is important. The invitees are people who do research that some of us are interested in. These are people who we want to meet and talk to, people who review the papers we submit to journals, people we might co-author with, people who do research on similar topics as we do, people who stimulate discussion, people who we might be interested in inviting for a longer period. Without research seminars, we just live in our little cells with nobody to talk to. How often have you *discussed* your research, in some depth, with a colleague in the recent 6 months? My guess is 0 times. My count with division colleagues is 0 times. But I had several such instances with outsiders/ visitors/ seminar speakers.

The Stanford Econ dept. flies in people, in each of the 9 seminar workshops, and from what I have seen probably once every two weeks in each seminar workshop. SOSC flying in one person would exhaust the entire division’s entire one year’s seminar budget. [1] [i.e., note 1, at end of this section] We look like a research university run as a factory floor of machines: the machines have been bought, that’s it, and they better work. --- To overcome the geographic distance of Hong Kong from the loops in which  we are supposed to operate and publish (and in which I wish to operate and publish), our seminar budget needs to be even proportionally larger than that of a U.S. university to make up for the higher travel costs. We are looking at an annual seminar budget 50-100 times the current size.

At Stanford, faculty of each workshop meet at the beginning of the semester and decide collectively on who to invite over the next year (and planning usually goes across years). In the SOSC “division,” the division head at the beginning of the semester appoints a three-person committee --- the usual hierarchy/ subordination mechanism. There are considerations of limiting seminars to one event per two weeks (or more), so that enough faculty show up to make us "look good;" there's the idea of inviting "big names." Attendance is not a priority for me and I’m interested in people who do interesting research. The division could make it a requirement for PG students to attend seminars in their field, if the concern were attendance numbers, but the rationale against that was that PG students aren't qualified to follow these seminars... (which tells a lot about our PG "program").

The one “division” seminar that we have obviously suffers from the usual pressure towards sociology or poli sci "general interest" levels. When was the last time we had a psychology speaker or a mainstream economics speaker (working on China, if you like)? How does the “division” justify depriving the economists and psychologists of research seminars?

(1) There seems to be a dichotomy among faculty, often along discipline lines, about seminars as showbiz (because we are a university, we should have seminars, and the bigger the “name” the better) vs. seminars as research seminars (because we want to do good research, we have high-quality seminars, and that happens to also imply that we are a research university). (2) We are winging it very badly, both because the funds for a proper seminar workshop structure are way missing, and because we don’t have enough faculty in any field (except perhaps sociology), and no qualified PG students, to have seminars and attract speakers for much beyond sociology seminars and “general interest” seminars.

The SOSC seminar food budget (strictly separate from the seminar budget) is not even enough to feed all faculty at a restaurant once a year. --- Food cost is simply not an issue at Stanford/Cornell/Princeton.

[1] In 2005/06, about half the division seminars were financed by faculty through their DAGs, or by the division head (outside the seminar budget), or privately by faculty. I interpret this as a sign of a breakdown in the administration of basic academic activities. --- SOSC faculty can see how the 05/06 budget was spent at https://ihome.ust.hk/~sosem (https, use your regular password); for an audit of the 04/05 accounts I have a hard copy in the office.

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Names of department heads, deans, VPAAs

Department heads, deans and VPAAs change. Here is a list of who held what position when. I follow the university communications directory except in a couple of instances (where I think the August communications directory does not accurately reflect the situation in the fall semester starting September).
Division head Dean VPAA
Fall 03 Bian Yanjie Ting Pang-Hsin Chan Yuk-Shee
Spring 04 Bian Yanjie Ting Pang-Hsin Chan Yuk-Shee
Fall 04 Bian Yanjie William Tay Chan Yuk-Shee
Spring 05 Bian Yanjie William Tay Chan Yuk-Shee
Fall 05 Bian Yanjie William Tay Chan Yuk-Shee
Spring 06 Bian Yanjie William Tay Chan Yuk-Shee
Fall 06 Erik Baark Alvin So Roland Chin
Spring 07 Erik Baark Alvin So Roland Chin
Fall 07 James Kung Erik Baark Roland Chin
Spring 08 James Kung Erik Baark Roland Chin
President: Paul Ching-Wu Chu

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