[OUTLOOK]Time to evaluate the professorsThe belief is now widespread in Korea that we are in the midst of a wave of moral collapse and ethical confusion. A lack of moral leadership is apparent not only in the government but in industry, the media and elsewhere. University professors have been actively involved in the veritable explosion of interest in the relevance of ethical considerations throughout most sectors and social classes.
For example, professors have asked political leaders to consider whether their decisions are made to benefit their own political interests or those of the people. Given the spirited discussions initiated by them, it is indeed ironic that professors have until recently been relatively silent on the subject of ethical questions concerning their own principles, policies and practices.
While they have been critical of other professions, they have deflected criticism of themselves by raising the mantle of academic freedom.
Traditionally, it has been expected in Korea, as in other countries, that colleges and universities be founded and operated according to relatively high standards of moral and ethical obligation, principles and codes of behavior. Institutions have never tolerated plagiarism, academic sabotage or falsification of research data.
They have never allowed gross abridgements of academic freedom, incidents of sexual harassment, the selling of grades, or the use of physical violence as a means of settling disputes and conflicts on campus.
The time has come, however, for serious scrutiny of the ethical posture and behavior of the academic profession itself. Indeed, there are few aspects of contemporary Korean higher education that do not exhibit signs of ethical confusion. On topics as disparate as admissions and graduation, curriculum development and research, faculty recruitment and grade inflation, or external consulting and administration, there are some thorny ethical issues that universities need to confront.
Perhaps the area in which Korean higher education is particularly vulnerable to charges of ethical abuse relates to the research mission of professors. For example, some professors are cheating their institutions and the students by pushing for lighter teaching loads to devote more time to writing research papers destined for journals created solely as vehicles for these otherwise unpublishable articles.
Many professors are grappling with the problems associated with government or private-sector funding of research that arise when a given sponsor imposes a demand for secrecy on scientific inquiries. That is completely inimical to the tradition of open investigation and the sharing of research findings so crucial to the discovery of new knowledge.
The faculty recruitment practices at some colleges and universities are another troubling area in need of ethical review. These practices may include the hiring of faculty who are in no way qualified but who are selected because of social connections, monetary contributions, or even academic and social class backgrounds.
Another less than totally ethical practice is the failure of some institutions to provide truly open competition for academic positions. Sometimes a department decides on a new faculty member even before the vacant position has been placed on the open market for an official competition.
A third important area of ethical responsibility has to do with extra-institutional service. In Korean higher education, two out of three academics now engage in some form of paid or unpaid consulting during the year. And consulting constitutes the primary or secondary source of supplementary income.
Although a significant segment of academia engages in paid consulting, most professors try to balance consulting with their teaching, research and other institutional obligations. But when consulting activity becomes a top priority for faculty members, they are less dedicated and involved in their other responsibilities.
It would be nice to view the concerns as an illuminating exercise, one that will lend support to the collective determination of Korean higher education institutions to pay attention to ethical standards, particularly at a point in Korean history when fears are being raised of a moral collapse in society.
The credibility of Korean higher education rests on the ethical standards of professors. Korean higher education must take the initiative in addressing such charges now to avoid future repercussions. Failing to deal with the problems now will only exacerbate them and bring on external regulation and sanctions.
The most positive course of action would be to raise such issues openly and aggressively and to promote decision- making enlightened by ethical reflection. In practical terms, two basic steps are required. The first of these is to change the criteria by which faculty performance is evaluated.
All forms of evaluation, including government evaluation for financial support and institutional faculty evaluation for promotion and tenure, must go beyond merely calculating faculty-student ratios, counting the number of articles and books published, and tallying faculty workload, and instead pay more attention to the ethics, values and integrity of faculty performance in teaching, research and service.
The other necessary step is to develop a code of ethics. At present, few Korean institutions of higher education have developed their own code of ethics, including enforcement provisions, for their members.
* The writer, a professor of education, is the vice president for administration and development of Yonsei University.
by Lee Sung-ho