Fear and control in Korea’s universities

Posted: August 19, 2012 in Ethical decision-making, Rights around the world

[This guest piece is by Kim Youngkon, President of Korea University Lecturer Union, about the long struggle against insecure work in higher education. I thought it provides a helpful backstory to my Samsung post, explaining the level of social conformity in South Korea. It is no wonder that unions have a hard time getting people to speak up if even the universities are places of control rather than free-thought.]

The University Lecturer Movement to Recover Status of Teachers in South Korea

By Kim Youngkon

Development dictatorship in Asian countries educated workers to be tamed to oppression & low-wages and trained technocrats to oppress workers and democracy.

Kim Dongay, before the Korean National Assembly

Recovering teacher status for university lecturers is one of three big challenges in Korea, along with the abolition of the National Security Law and the recognition of a labor union in Samsung [see earlier post].

University lecturers have staged a sit-in protest for roughly 1,800 days in front of the Korea National Assembly since September 7, 2007, to call for the revision of the Higher Education Act & restore their status as teachers.

Emergency measures still in place

Former President Park Chung Hee drove out the students and professors who criticized the dictatorship. He deprived faculty of the status of lecturer in 1977 (originally university faculty are professor, vice professor, assistant professor and lecturer). Then critical research, teaching and guidance of students was prohibited. Lecturers practiced self-censorship to maintain their lecturing jobs and to remain as full-time faculty.

Anyone who resisted would be suppressed or detained due to violating the National Security Law, the Anti-Communism Law and the Rebellion Law. More than 600 professors were fired from universities during the 1970s and 1980s. Their vacant positions were filled with conformist professors. Whistleblowing was impossible.

Meanwhile, students’ dreams were reduced to simply being full-time workers of large company. The number of students devoted to ecological sustainability, internationalism, democracy, peace, etc has dramatically fallen.

The power of lecturers, full-time professors and students to struggle were weakened; so the struggle of lecturers is prolonged. Over 36 years, the treatment of lecturers has become very poor.

The number of full-time faculty were 55,000 nationwide in 2011. Irregular professors who are adjunct professors, visiting professors, teaching faculty, lecturers, etc. were 135,000 people and lecturers were 85,000 people.

Irregular professors are two thirds of the number of all professors and are responsible for half of all lectures. They are lecturing 4.2 hours per week on average and wages are 6,000,000 KRW a year [$5,300 USD]. Full-time faculty receive a 100 million KRW per year [$88,000 USD] so the difference is tenfold or twentyfold.

The human cost

The lecturers have great difficulty showing resistance. 10 lecturers have committed suicide during the last 10 years.

  • Dr. Paek Junhui (34, Seoul National University, lecturer, Russian literature) likened his life in his suicide note that confined to project paper bondage as a life confined to glass box. He committed suicide by hanging at the rear side of Seoul National University in 2003.
  • Dr. Han Kyungsun(44, Konkuk University, lecturer, English) went to Texas Austin campus, USA and committed suicide in 2008. He earned a Ph.D. and raised a dream of professor and a sanctuary of the heart. His suicide note was able to opened to the public first time because he died at abroad.
  • Dr. Seo Jeongmin(45, Chosun University, Lecturer, Linguistics) wrote 54 articles for his advisor professor Cho during 10 years. Cho likely heir his faculty position to him when retired, but that was lying. Seo committed suicide in 2010. However, the police, an assistant professor at the ghostwriter of the practice teaching award has been cleared by the testimony of an instructor. However, the professor and lecturer testified the ghostwriting of articles is common practice. Cho was underwent clear from police.

Lecturers organized a lecturer union and have called for amending the Higher Education Act to restore status of teacher since 1988. They burned their doctor’s degree and began sit-in from 7 September 2007 in front of the National Assembly [pictured above]. Three months later the leading KIPU (KCTU, Korea Confederation of Trade Unions affiliate) abandoned the sit-in camp. Several militant lecturers have continued to protest and were expelled from the union. Lecturers, full-time professors, parent and students full-time faculty organized STIP (Center to Get Back Status of Teacher for Irregular Professor and Normalization of College Education) and KULU (Korea University Lecturer Union).

Korea University: sit-in tent before KU administration

Educational mass-production

The National Assembly amended the Higher Education Act and restored status of teacher to lecturer in 2011. However, this Act does not over-ride the Educational Public Service Law, the Private Schools Law or the Private School Teachers Pension Act. Lecturers are faculty in law, but not faculty in university.

The decree of amended Higher Education Act allows 20% of normal professors to be replaced with 1-year contract lecturer. This means the denormalization of regular faculty. The current University Established & Operating Regulations recommended 61% of legal normal professors employat 4-year colleges. If another 20% of normal professors are replaced with lecturers, the remainder will be only 41%.

This transformation will back the vision of Samsung-Sungkyunkwan University vision 2020: SKKU plans to replace all university professors with lecturers by 2020.

The number of students per classroom is already around 100. The number of students per professor in Korea is 37 people. The decree of University Established & Operating Regulations recommended a professor for 25 students in liberal arts & social science department, 20 in natural sciences/engineering/arts & sports department, 8 in medical department.

The OECD average is 15 students per professor.

Lecturers have no right to criticize and the numbers of students in a classroom are large. So lectures have tended towards “injection” lessons, not creative.

Student course evaluation is a relative assessment. President Chun Doowhan took power through the May 18 Gwangju Massacre and transfer evaluation of students from absolute assesment to comparative evaluation. He took this policy to make the students compete, not think democratically or cooperatively. Under this condition, professor and student are not able to discuss interactively.

Objectives of STIP and KULU

STIP recommend that the National Assembly revise the Higher Education Act and to apply the Educational Public Service Law, the Private Schools Law, the Private School Teachers Pension Act to Lecturers & to employ normal professor 100%. Lecturers who were ousted from KIPU organized KULU. There are Kookmin University and Korea University Branch.

KULU want to raise wage, pay during vacation, reduce class size and absolute evaluation in undergraduate course, employ full-time professor in graduate school in collective bargaining agreement with the University. KULU-Korea University Branch has had a sit-in protest in front of the main building since 15 Feb 2012. Korea University has suggested a raise of 3,000 KRW per hour. Current wage of per hour is only 51,800 KRW [USD 45] or 50,000,000 KRW per year [USD 44,000]. It is ranked 100th in Korea.

Kookmin University didn’t assign lectures to Dr. Hwang Hyoil for 2nd semester of 2012. He was laid-off twice. Lecturer wage of Kookmin is 40,000 KRW per hour and it was frozen during 2011-2012. Hwang resisted with a one-person protest.

Sungkyunkwan University (owned by Samsung) assigned lectures to Dr. Ryu Seungwan (45, Eastern philosophy) but canceled it some days later in 2011. He visited Dr. Seo Jeongmin’s funeral and was interviewed on the KBS program ‘Chase 60 Minutes’. His doctoral thesis “The Ideological Socialism” (2010, Sunin Publishing Co.) wrote of how the U.S. military hanged Kim Taejoon (president of Kyungsung University, former body of Seoul National University). For this reason Dr. Ryu was fired. He has been staging a personal resistance in front of SKKU main building since August 2011. He also opened a free street classroom and lecture.

Development dictatorship in Asian countries educated workers to be tamed to oppression & low-wage and trained technocrats who oppress the workers and democracy.

Similarly to South Korea, Indonesia under Suharto and the Philippines under Marcos stripped the status of teacher from lecturer. In Malaysia, academic freedom is constrained under the 1971 Universities and Universities Colleges Act, and a compulsory agreement signed between students, lecturers and universities/college administration, dubbed the ‘AkuJanji’ (I pledge).

Sit-in tent in winter

  1. Kim Youngkon says:

    Thank you posting this article at here.

  2. marksolock says:

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  3. Hwan says:

    I’m not happy with this story. As soon as possible the law concerned to lecturers and University should be revised in the National Assembly of South Korea. I absolutely support their struggle.

  4. […] Fear and Control in Korea’s Universities 19 August 2012 […]

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