[VIEWPOINT]Global soccer and physics

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[VIEWPOINT]Global soccer and physics

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, which closed the application period to fill the job of its president last Saturday, is giving a fresh shock to domestic universities.
An American professor at Stanford University, Robert B. Laughlin, 54, has applied for the position at KAIST. He is a renowned scholar of quantum physics and a Nobel prize laureate in physics.
Many people say, “At this opportunity, we can once again see the improved international status of Korean universities.” The fact that a great scholar at a prestigious university found the possibility of development at KAIST means that its international ranking and that of other Korean universities as well has risen.
Seoul National University, KAIST, and Pohang University of Science and Technology are already receiving a lot of recognition in the world. Korean universities should take this opportunity to achieve another take-off called “globalization.” More than 10 years have passed since the trend of globalization began. The proportion of shares held by foreigners in our stock market has already exceeded 40 percent.
In addition to Guus Hiddink, the famous former coach of the South Korean national team in the World Cup, other foreigners also play impressive roles in economic, social, and cultural fields. But the globalization of universities has not been sufficient compared to other parts of the private sector.
The true significance of globalization can be found in a new culture created by the exchange of material and manpower. It can also be found in the shared vision among globalized people and in their competition and development to achieve global standards.
Our universities have been obsessed with “pure lineage” until now. In appointing professors, they customarily question whether a candidate has “pure blood.” They gave preferential treatment to their own graduates.
Those from other Korean universities, not only foreigners, were often excluded from appointments. There was even a quota system in place for appointing graduates of other universities.
When the appointment of professors is conducted in such a way, the appointment of a president is even more narrowly focused. Almost all university presidents graduated from the school they head. The main reason is that in advocating academic democracy, universities select presidents by elections. A faculty composed of graduates of the same university seldom supports graduates from other universities.
The strong point of appointing “pure blood” presidents is that they know the internal situation well because they have continued their human and academic exchanges. But as a result of being united, their academic research failed to become diversified. When people with similar ways of thinking get together, they are apt to fall into the same groove. It is difficult for them to make a drastic change in thinking, and it is difficult to criticize each other’s work too strongly because they know each other too well.
On the other hand, the advantage of appointing presidents from outside is that they don’t have any entangled connections and are not captives to the existing system. They can carry out their duties based on their own convictions without paying attention to others. But more important is the new visions that the presidents from the outside can offer and the new perspectives that their totally different culture can bring. Needless to say, the ideas of professors who worked overseas would be fresh and new. In many respects, they will awaken Korean universities.
Even if Dr. Laughlin is not appointed president of KAIST, we should overhaul the appointment system of our universities so as to open their doors to foreigners. We should actively look for leaders who will impose global standards, invite them to apply and give their applications serious consideration. Also we should give the presidents power to reform. University presidents cannot materialize their visions properly under present system, where universities have almost deprived their presidents of authority over budgets and personnel management under the guise of “democratization.”
The secret of success of the soccer coach Guus Hiddink was that all power with regard to soccer was given to him. It is necessary to create an atmosphere where presidents can run their universities with autonomous authority without the government’s intervention into their entrance examinations, school affairs and budgets.
Whether he is appointed or not, I hope the fresh thinking of Dr. Laughlin and KAIST’s vision in inviting him to apply will come to fruition in Korean society.

* The writer is dean of the College of Engineering at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Han Min-ku
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