[EDITORIALS]Picking a college presidentThe recent conflicts occurring in several universities over the appointments of presidents point out serious problems in the way Korea selects the leaders of its universities. The current system of appointing presidents will not produce leaders possessing the skills to develop universities capable of competing in the international world.
With the sudden resignation of Lee Ki-jun in early May following allegations of mismanagement of funds, Seoul National University has come up with a list of 10 candidates to replace him amidst concern that the election campaign would overheat with so many candidates. Korea University also faces problems in the appointment of its new president; the school foundation and the association of professors have each chosen a different candidate. Other universities with president problems on campus are Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and the Kyungpook National University. Both universities are experiencing conflicts over students and nonfaculty unions demanding more representation in the appointment of presidents.
Most of the universities select their presidents through a direct election by professors, and that's where the root of all the confusion lies. The direct elections that were implemented in 1988, when a new wave of democracy swept the country, has shown serious side effects despite some advantages. There have been corrupt elections with bribes and illegal favors, contentions between factions and behind-the-scenes influences that compromised the office of the president once a candidate was elected. These problems rise from the president having been elected from within the university. The present system of president appointments blocks the way for capable and qualified outsiders from being invited to take on the job of leading the university to further development.
There are already a few cases of universities having appointed outsiders as their presidents, but the majority of universities still insist on their presidents being chosen from among professors who are alumni. It is a common thing in foreign universities to have an outsider as president. Harvard University is presently led by Lawrence Summers, who was the U.S. Secretary of Treasury in the Clinton administration, and the University of Nottingham in Britain has chosen a Chinese nuclear physicist, Fujia Yang, as its leader.
It takes more than just prestige and a good name to make a university president. The president needs administrational skills as well. Universities should get rid of their direct elections and not hesitate to invite qualified people from outside the university and even the country as their leaders.