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Nobel laureate calls his ouster ‘political’

KAIST head says peace trumped reform

Mar 29,2006
Robert Laughlin, the Nobel prize winner recruited by the Science Ministry to be the president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, complained yesterday about the decision by the institute’s board to terminate his contract. He said, though, that he was glad the matter had been settled.
“I wanted to know what the board’s message for me was, and that message was that the government preferred peace over reform,” he said. Mr. Laughlin added that he expected the school to continue to sacrifice change in the future to follow a smoother path.
The board decided not to renew his two-year contract after a four-hour discussion Tuesday evening. The vote by the 13-member board was unanimous. Mr. Laughlin’s current contract expires on July 14, and would have been renewed automatically had the board not acted.
Mr. Laughlin was the target of a strong faculty campaign to oust him. A majority of the professors there had signed petitions calling for his ouster, several deans and department heads resigned and alumni rallied to the cause.
The main complaints about Mr. Laughlin were his abrasiveness, derogatory comments abroad about the school and about Korea, and an alleged failure to carry out his administrative duties.
His proposals to open pre-law and pre-medical curriculums at the school were also controversial; the institute is sharply focused now on science and technology.
The government, which championed Mr. Laughlin’s candidacy for the job, said it would respect the board’s decision. “What happens at KAIST should be settled within KAIST,” a Science Ministry official said. The board has offered Mr. Laughlin a consolation prize, a title of “distinguished professor.” Mr. Laughlin said he might accept, but would return to Stanford University in California when his term expires.


by Wohn Dong-hee


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