[EDITORIALS]An academic tragedyA university lecturer who described himself as “a man in a box” has committed suicide. Even though they are conferred with a doctorate, university lecturers in Korea cannot pursue an academic career if they are not employed as professors at an university. Thus, a lecturer is “a man in a box.” It is well known that lecturers are paid far less than the minimum living cost of urban households, even if they teach at a number of universities. Because they are employed as temporary help on a daily payment basis, they are not paid during vacation periods. Because they are not regular employees, they are not covered by employee health insurance and they cannot be a member of the university’s reserve forces, which makes it easier for them to fulfill reservist service. They are not even protected by Korea’s education law.
The responsibility for mass-producing such lecturers is with the Education and Human Resources Ministry and universities. Universities do not employ a designated number of professors. In many universities, classes taught by lecturers add up to more than 70 percent of the total lectures. Even at Seoul National University the ratio has been as high as 60 percent. The Education Ministry allows universities to employ a professor only when they employ three lecturers. To take advantage of such a narrow employment opportunity, lecturers rely on their school and personal connections. Their service to professors plays an important role in placement as well. Some 45,000 university lecturers suffer from this unstable status.
The world is moving toward a knowledge-based society. But the progress of our society will be mired by the absence of scientists. When students hear about one of their teachers taking his life because he failed to gain tenure, how many of those students will want to pursue an academic career?
In order not to blur intellectual assets that the nation cultivated with a lot of investment, corrective measures should be instituted at earliest possible date. Universities and the Education Ministry, which have evaded the problem for a long time, should be held accountable.