The University of Hong Kong (HKU) has come under unprecedented pressure from Chinese government supporters to block the appointment of a liberal scholar, as Beijing tries to rein in freedoms a year after student-led protests rocked the city.
For more than a century, HKU, one of Asia's top universities, has served as a bastion of liberal education in the city that returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, producing many of its top bureaucrats, politicians and lawyers.
Hong Kong's constitution guarantees the financial enclave a high degree of autonomy denied in mainland China by its Communist leaders, including academic freedom, broad individual rights and an independent judiciary.
But Beijing supporters are trying to thwart the appointment of legal scholar Johannes Chan as a university pro-vice-chancellor.
Liberals see the bid to stymie Chan as part of a broad move to limit academic freedom at an institution whose students played a major role in the 79 days of protests last year that saw thousands take to the streets demanding full democracy.
Chan is one of Hong Kong's most distinguished legal scholars and a prominent human rights advocate. He was recommended for the top academic post last year by a university search committee headed by HKU's president and a global recruiting firm.
But the university's governing council, stacked with supporters of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government, has repeatedly delayed a vote on his appointment.