[EDITORIALS]Stop corruption in academia

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[EDITORIALS]Stop corruption in academia

Prosecutors plan to investigate a professor of engineering at Seoul National University who is accused of swindling a government office out of 100 million won ($100,000) from a research grant. It is hardly news that a university professor has misappropriated money for research activities. This merely showcases deep-rooted corruption in academia. It is said scholars joke that the Korea Research Foundation Fund is for whoever finds it first, as are donations and subsidies from businesses. This time, it seems that even a professor at Seoul National University, the most prestigious university in Korea, is not above such practices.
The methods used to misuse funds are diverse. The funds most commonly exploited are those paid to graduate students for their labor. Professors use various excuses to withhold the money from them, such as saying that they need it to rent a venue for a seminar. They also inflate labor costs by including students who didn’t take part in a project, then appropriate the balance for their personal use. Swindling meager research subsidies from students, who depend on these professors for recommendations for employment, is not what an educator should be doing.
There are other methods, such as getting false receipts from suppliers of research materials, or pretending to pay for materials with a credit card, then getting a refund from the supplier. We are shocked at the serious level of corruption at universities. Indeed, this is why a student sent a letter to the Korea Independent Commission Against Corruption and posted it on his university’s Web site.
The problem can’t be solved by leaving it up to professors’ consciences. It is necessary to establish a monitoring system that can stop this corruption. The current system of settling expenditures after a project is closed should be changed. By computerizing the system, donors should be able to check details of expenditures whenever necessary. Professors involved in corruption should be punished. Investigations by prosecutors and police should be strengthened, and universities must take stricter punitive actions. So far, universities have punished these professors with pay cuts, suspensions, reprimands and warnings. The courts have been lukewarm, imposing fines or suspended sentences. Meanwhile, the students who accused the professors were often driven out of school. The government must create a comprehensive plan to stop this vicious cycle.

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