[VIEWPOINT]The private school law fails the public

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[VIEWPOINT]The private school law fails the public

Some faculty members of Kyungin Women’s College caused trouble in 2000 by inciting students through spreading a rumor that the founder and chairman of the board of directors had swindled some 10 billion won ($10.4 million) from the school fund.
The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development failed to prove the financial irregularities, but still dismissed the chairman.
Some people in the ministry, on a far-fetched mission, insisted there were flaws in the board’s operation. The ministry appointed a temporary director.
Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the actions taken by the ministry were wrong. The chairman of the board and those in the management were found innocent, while six professors and one administrative staffer were given prison sentences for libel, impediment of business and violence.
Naturally, the chairman of the board should be reinstated to manage the school, but in reality, it’s not that easy. Some faculty members and the temporary director are against such a move and the Education Ministry takes a lukewarm attitude to them. It sounds absurd, but this is the reality.
The revised private school law will be implemented this month, making it more likely that similar incidents will happen.
That is because the law changes the requirements for the dispatch of a temporary director, from “when it is not possible to achieve the original purpose of the establishment of the legal entity” to “when a serious obstacle to the operation of the school has occurred.”
Depending on the situation, the education ministry can dispatch a temporary director if some faculty members or outside directors cause trouble. In such cases, it would be very difficult for the founder of the school to get back the right to run the school.
The government now has a stronger grip on private schools and outside influence to interfere in the management of the private schools has become stronger. Therefore, private schools claim that the revised private school law is designed “to rob them of their schools.”
The new law makes it much easier to appoint a temporary director. At a recent public debate, Jhe Seong-ho, a Chung-Ang University professor, pointed out that “It is unfair that the temporary directors are paid, while the other regular directors, except the permanent directors, are not paid.”
Moreover, the revised law allows temporary directors to spend school funds for operation and personnel expenses, although the accounts of the foundation and the school board are strictly divided to prevent the misappropriation of school funds by the school’s foundation.
This is a bad law, which legitimizes a loophole that allows the board to divert tuition fees for other purposes. A university president lamented that “the school where a temporary director is dispatched will be ruined.”
It is also doubtful that the temporary directors will work hard to normalize the operations of the school. There are 34 private educational institutes where temporary directors have been dispatched. Temporary directors have managed Yeungnam University for 17 years and Chosun University for 18 years. Temporary directors still manage 10 colleges or junior colleges which have restored normal operations.
The revised private school law lifted the restrictions on the temporary directors’ term of office. So there is no reason for them to withdraw from their position early on their own accord.
Large numbers of pro-government figures have been made temporary directors.
Now that the number of temporary directors will increase further, sycophants will swarm around the administration. Private educational institutes will quickly become bureaucratized. It will be difficult to prevent power abuses by the education authority, the unjustifiable intervention of politicians and the involvement of impure elements.
I don’t mean to protect some private schools that have violated law.
Some private school founders have behaved like despots and have broken the law.
Because of this, the revised private school law strengthens the power of various components of the school, such as the university council and school operation committee.
Corruption at private schools should be punished strictly. But who will run the private schools if the foundation for their survival is undermined?
When we lost our sovereignity to Japan and the government couldn’t afford to invest properly in public education, private schools trained talented young people with private funds. And even now their role is enormous.
The reality we face is in contrast to that of advanced countries such as Germany and Japan, where private school founders are held in the highest esteem.
I have already pointed out many problems of the revised private school law. Private school corporations have filed a petition of complaint to the Constitutional Court. Even in the Education Ministry, some expressed their view that the revised law has many unconstitutional elements.
Let’s turn our eyes to the newspaper law that became tatters after the strict ruling of the Constitutional Court.
Isn’t there a high possibility that the revised private school law will become like that? Many private schools have already declared that they will boycott the new law.
So, the unnecessary confusion will continue. When there is confusion in the education policy, the students pay the price.
Revising the poisonous clauses in the revised law is the responsible attitude of a ruling party.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Day-young
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