[VIEWPOINT]Humanities support makes senseThe World Cup soccer fever did not bypass Korean colleges. I had a hard time completing my semester because I had to skip lectures voluntarily and involuntarily. Answers that I received from students on final examinations were obviously the result of less studying compared to answers on mid-term exams.
Some of my students even submitted a blank piece of paper that said, "Sir, I apologize for not studying. I had to spend all my time cheering for our national team. Nevertheless, I am proud that I was born in this country." Was that a smooth reaction or a display of imbecility? Those professors who decided to fail these students, certainly fighting their instincts to salvage them, probably are embarrassed by the government's generous gesture of reinstating driver's licenses and eliminating black marks on driving records. Well, the government wants to remind us that this is an age of great unity among Koreans. Thus, those professors who failed their students for not studying now seem like louses. Teaching has never been easy.
Soccer, however, has also been greatly educational. Everybody knows the importance of basic physical strength and the appreciation of one's ability apart from his or her regional or family background. But the World Cup was an opportunity for people to become keenly aware of how important and difficult it is to actually put that knowledge into practice. How great it would be if the appreciation of fundamentals and the disregard of regional or family background could be expanded to other areas of society?
In this regard, the Korea Research Foundation's plan to support the humanities and fine arts is, though belatedly, meaningful in that it will contribute to the physical strength of the fundamental study of humanities.
Even in engineering and science departments, which are better off than humanities, a prevalent sentiment is that investing in fundamental sciences is what only advanced countries can afford, thus Korea should concentrate on applied sciences and technology.
The government has realized that if the basics are not strong, Korea can neither be a leader in applied sciences nor technology, and it won't be easy for anyone here to make much money. Of course, the government's initiative may invite criticism that this generosity comes from the impending presidential elections. Skeptics scoff at the plan, saying the money will eventually be split and devoured by concerned institutes. But this time it seems that systems and processes the foundation set up in reviewing the applications for the support of research are fair and much improved. The scholarly fields that have been marginalized from government benefits are also included in these considerations. I hope the foundation will run the projects for a long time while securing a stable budget and resolving problems.
I have one more suggestion to make. Perhaps the government or the foundation can construct a building in a location that is easily accessible. Moreover, the government should fill that building with study rooms and other facilities, including a small library that has electronic access to archives of major universities and public libraries, and conference rooms.
Why not let those who hold doctorates and are wandering from college to college selling their knowledge for a pittance use the building to publish papers or translate reference books, and pay them subsidies?
The current system requires college professors to hire unemployed holders of Ph.D.s, which is not a bad method to help those poor scholars. But I have heard that some with doctorates complain that they were mobilized for research that is not related to their majors because of personal ties. A large number of colleges located in the provinces have given up submitting applications for government subsidies because they cannot find Ph.D.s to work there.
So, I propose that the government take action to separate support for a Ph.D. and support for research. If young scholars are brought together in one place, their energies will certainly create innovative ideas. In the beginning, it will cost money to invest in the building, but in the long run it will pay off.
There are so many things the government can do to strengthen the fundamentals.
The writer is a professor of anthropology at Kookmin University.
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