How the 'SKY' universities dominate

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How the 'SKY' universities dominate

The elite 3 rule in government and industry

The February issue of the Monthly JoongAng contained an article about the three universities -- Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University -- whose initials form the acronym SKY and represent the top echelon of higher education in Korea.

The article seeks to define each school's character and how it has shaped the careers of graduates who are leaders in Korean society.

It also describes which segments of Korean society -- industry, government, academia, the arts -- have been most influenced by the 700,000 graduates that these schools have sent into Korean society during a 100-year span.

According to the JoongAng, Seoul National University graduates have dominated the government sector, providing 43 percent of all ministers outside those at the Ministry of National Defense, which tends to hire from military colleges. Graduates of the three SKY universities accounted for 55 percent of all ministers, other than defense. In business, graduates of the elite trio made up 71.1 percent of the CEOs of the 100 largest Korean companies, measured by sales.

Due to their concentration of power, these schools' graduates prefer to get things done through the old-boy network, rather than by official channels. The Joongang argues that this pervasive attitude influences many companies' tendency to promote graduates of these schools to senior positions.

Companies adopt a similar policy for fresh recruits, says the article, since they want to groom personnel who may be useful in the future for building valuable connections.

The article concludes that the current educational system is strongly oriented around this SKY culture: Students study like mad to become the rulers or risk being ruled for the rest of their lives.

U.S. Army addresses teen death issue

In a separate article, the Monthly JoongAng interviewed Colonel Michael R. Helmick, commanding officer of the U.S. Army's 2d Division engineering brigade, the unit responsible for the deaths of two teenage Korean girls last June. Measures taken after the fatal accident were also discussed, and opinions on the current status of anti-U.S. sentiment were gauged.

Colonel Helmick, who took over the brigade's command right after the accident, explains precautions that have been taken after the incident and comments on the wave of anti-U.S. sentiment in Korea. He said that anti-U.S. demonstrations are part of the democracy that American soldiers are here to protect, a critical point in educating American soldiers stationed in Korea.

On the U.S. military court's acquittal of both American soldiers involved in the vehicular accident, the colonel expressed regrets that not enough information about the court process was made available to the Korean public, to help people understand it better.

Colonel Helmick viewed much of the anti-U.S. activity as a natural reaction by Korean college students. He said the rallies reminded him of his college days, when his opinions differed greatly from those of the establishment.

The colonel said he hoped that Korean soldiers in the Korean Augmentation to the United States Armed Forces -- most of them college students -- will act as a cultural bridge after their discharge to explain the function of American forces in Korea.

In a separate article, of which this interview was a part, the reporter pointed out that some of the information on the accident floating around on the Internet contained falsehoods which young students took at face value. The monthly magazine also interviewed several soldiers, who cited frustration about being confined to their bases for more than two months but also expressed sadness about the incident.

Little fear of coup d'etat

An article in the Monthly Chosun deals with the uneasy atmosphere in the Korean military. At the start of a new government here, changes in military leadership are customary, out of a latent fear of a coup d'etat.

In a sign of the army's reservations about the new administration, the Chosun notes that one quarter of 500 retired generals have registered with the Grand National Party, while hardly any affiliated themselves with the ruling Millennium Democratic Party.

The article explains that the once-worried army has begun to settle down. Officers are reassured by President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's decision to keep the existing prosecutor general, which hints that the heads of each armed service will keep their seats as well.

A speech Mr. Roh gave late last year to a gathering of military commanders caused some ripples in the military establishment, however. At the convocation, the article states, Mr. Roh asked them whether any long-term plans had been drawn up to cope with a possible reduction or withdrawal of American forces. According to the Chosun, the overall consensus inside the military was that the question's timing was inappropriate, although the question itself was not.

The monthly magazine also delves into the Korean army's preparations for changes such as the shortening of the mandatory military service period, which was one of Mr. Roh's election promises.

In light of the continuing anti-American sentiment in Korea, the Chosun writes that a military which firmly believes American forces on the peninsula play a vital part in the security of Korea is keenly monitoring President-elect Roh's attitude toward the United States.

In addition, it reports that reform within the army has been going nowhere for the past 10 years, and proposes reforms that it hopes to see take place under the new government.

Squeezing ex-presidents

The Shindonga, a monthly, published an article that dealt with the collection of penalty fees assessed against former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo.

In April 1997, the Supreme Court sentenced Mr. Chun and Mr. Roh to life imprisonment for bribery and imposed fines of 220.5 billion won ($188 million) on Mr. Chun and 262.8 billion won on Mr. Roh.

In December that year, both presidents had their prison terms commuted. But the monetary penalty was not rescinded.

At this stage, both men cumulatively owe about 244.5 billion won; Mr. Chun has to pay the bulk of it -- 189 billion won. But the article pointed out that due to a three-year collection limit, he might get away without paying another won.

The article explained that in order to extend the collection period, the court must track down Mr. Chun's real estate or bonds, which are the only assets that the court can seize under the order. Should these assets be found, by law the collection period is automatically renewed for another three years.

The government was able to execute this procedure in 1997 and a second time in May 2000. The article concluded that this May the collection period will end unless new assets are found. The chances of that happening appear to be slim. The prosecution suspects that most of Mr. Chun's wealth takes the form of bearer bonds which have no name on them and are almost impossible to trace.

Included in the article is a comment by an ex-lawyer of Mr. Chun who hinted that additional assets belonging to the former president will be as hard to unearth as they were during past years of investigation. All that could be collected, he said, has been found.

by Brian Lee
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