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At KAIST, rebellion boils over president

Mar 24,2006
Faculty members of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology are stepping up their campaign to deny Robert Laughlin, the president of the university, a second two-year term. The board of directors is scheduled to decide on Tuesday whether to renew the Nobel laureate’s contract.
Yesterday, all 20 department chairmen signed a petition saying they would resign if Mr. Laughlin did not step down by Monday. On Thursday, the KAIST Faculty Association held press conferences at the school’s Daejeon campus and in Seoul, bluntly opposing his reappointment and citing their reasons for opposing an extension.
On Wednesday, three of the university’s four deans resigned because of their opposition to the president’s reappointment.
Mr. Laughlin’s contract extends until July 14. Under the terms of his contract, his term will be renewed automatically unless he is notified that it will be terminated.
According to a recent survey conducted by the school’s faculty association, about 90 percent of the 409 professors said they were opposed to an extension. The rest were neutral or did not answer, the association said; no one championed an extension. The KAIST Alumni Association also told a review committee on the board to take care in considering an extension.
The faculty association accused Mr. Laughlin of negligence in his administrative duties and failure to carry out three obligations as laid out in his contract: the development of a “vision” for the school to develop into a globally known research institute, finding funds to develop that plan and attracting top-notch students and distinguished scholars.
Citing press conferences and anecdotes, the professors complained about Mr. Laughlin’s alleged “negative comments” abroad about KAIST and Korea in general. They challenged the accuracy of some of those comments as well as their propriety, and accused Mr. Laughlin of a lack of integrity and leadership.
”For instance,” said Yoon Choon-sup, a physics professor, “at meetings, Professor Laughlin wouldn’t listen to people who had opinions other than his. When people didn’t agree with him, he would say, ‘I am the president of KAIST. This is an order. Period.’ He also told professors that his opinions were right because he was more famous than they, because his name could be found more often in Google.”
In an e-mail to the institute’s faculty members, Mr. Laughlin said he had been asked by the school’s board of trustees not to make any personal comments until they make a decision. “I will not state my position at the board’s request, but I will say I hope for a positive conclusion,” he wrote.
Mr. Laughlin has said at public and private events that he would not mind serving another term because the government paid him too much to refuse.


by Wohn Dong-hee


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