Departing KAIST head blames board of trustees
Speaking out in an interview for the first time since his contract was not renewed, Robert Laughlin, president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, was unrepentant.
“My time at KAIST has been quite clean. If I had the chance to do it again, I wouldn’t do anything differently,” said Mr. Laughlin, who is leaving his position after getting strong opposition from the faculty. “The board (of trustees) was absolutely inconsistent,” he said. “Its messages to the faculty and to me were different.”
Mr. Laughlin, a Nobel laureate, who has been criticized in the past for making negative comments about KAIST in lectures outside of Korea, told the JoongAng Daily on Friday that miscommunication was a major issue.
“When there’s a big problem, people try to find a way to avoid it by not talking about it. I used very open language. It turns out that, in Korea, it makes things more complicated, but I think talking about the real problem is healthy.”
On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously not to renew Mr. Laughlin’s contract, which ends in July. The decision was made after the faculty opposed his contract renewal and all 20 department heads along with several deans offered letters of resignation to protest keeping him in office.
The departing KAIST president demurred from discussing the accusations leveled against him, saying, “This was a strike. In strikes, not everything is true.”
Mr. Laughlin admitted that he regretted allowing circumstances to develop the way they have and said his approach was perhaps too blunt for Koreans.
He also noted that Korean educational institutions do not have strong institutional rules. “I don’t know if Koreans need the foreign idea of legalizing all relationships, but for some things, it’s needed,” he said.
He emphasized that Koreans shouldn’t think of his dismissal as a failure; rather, he said the idea of bringing in a foreign president was radical and creative, and Koreans should be proud to have been willing to take the risk. “Korea is gaining a reputation as an innovative country. A lot of eyes in Japan and China are watching us. People want to see what works or not,” he said.
He added that the talent in KAIST is already world-class, but communication problems must be overcome. “The basic things are in place, but the board must talk with faculty. A marriage counselor can only do so much,” he said.
by Wohn Dong-hee