In 2000, when I was a first-year student at HKU, we were told the Faculty of Arts would be moved from the Main Building to make way for the Vice-Chancellor’s office. A protest followed and the MB has remained the faculty’s home since then.
That will change in 2012, when the university will celebrate its centennary and relocate the Faculty of Arts to a new building in the Centennial Campus. In other words, to celebrate its 100 years of tradition, the university will kick one of its founding faculties from its oldest building. Anyone can sense the irony in this. You celebrate traditions by keeping traditions, not discontinuing them.
I don’t know who will occupy the MB. One reason given for the relocation, according to here, is that the MB “lacks common gathering spaces for Faculty staff members to discuss projects or hold meetings”. Not very convincing, especially if another faculty eventually takes the building. The reason cited would make the MB unsuitable for ANY faculty. Why single out Arts? But the university (and Hong Kong) has a reputation of favouring “practical” subjects over humanities, and the eviction of Arts Faculty will only reinforce that reputation. (8 April 2010: While the university may have such reputation, the relocation of Arts Faculty is not necessarily an evidence of it. Neither is Arts “singled out”; both Law and Social Science will also move to the Centennial Campus. The suitability of the new building is disputed, but does it really have anything to do with whether Arts is disfavoured?)
The new building may provide more advanced infrastructure, but it can never replicate the tasteful atmosphere of the MB. The importance of such atmosphere to the study of arts and literature needs no explanation. It’s sad that future academicians and students will have to study Dickens and Shakespeare in a frigid structure devoid of human touch. But in the minds of the university’s administration, numbers and statistics override matters of taste. (8 April 2010: The words “numbers and statistics” may have oversimplified the issues considered in the planning of the Centennial Campus, although it’s true that aesthetics, being unquantifiable, are sadly seldom given due consideration.)
I miss the MB’s red bricks, granite, arches, ionic columns, heavy wooden doors, rusty window frames, palm trees, fountains, bench and breeze. I consider myself fortunate to have studied in such a classy environment. Future students of the faculty will be missing a great deal of this tradition, and the faculty will be stripped of a central piece of its identity. Sure, a new sense of belonging will develop at the new location, but much will be lost in the process.