[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]Universities need pure studies for prestige
no solutions. I have discovered a truly remarkable proof of this, but I can’t write it down because my train is coming.”
This piece of graffiti is preserved on a wall of New York’s West Eighth Street subway station. It was scribbled by sombody a few years ago.
The original version of what Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665) wrote goes like this: “I have discovered a marvelous proof to this theorem, that this margin is too narrow to contain.”
The statement, written on the margin of a book, has hurt many mathematicians’ pride over 350 years.
Many young mathematicians spent their youths trying to solve the question, even though they were not sure whether the problem could be solved or not.
Then Andrew Wiles came across the story of the problem in his hometown library in England when he was 10.
Completely fascinated, he decided he would solve the problem. After 30 years of struggling, he finally proved Fermat’s theorem at the age of 40. He solved one of the most difficult mathematical problems in the world.
Think about what it means to be a scholar. How could it be possible for Mr. Wiles to spend 30 years of his life solving just one problem? Maybe it was human curiosity that enabled him to sacrifice himself to an un-guaranteed future.
The university is often called an ivory tower. However, this characterization is not quite accurate in today’s circumstances.
Practical studies, such as computer technology and engineering, have been displacing traditional or pure studies, such as psychology and chemistry, and universities are becoming stepping stones for careers and better salaries, not for setting oneself apart from the world.
Recently, most Korean universities have begun to aim to become globally prestigious schools.
However, they seem to have become insufficiently interested in pure studies. For example, BK21, the Brain Korea 21 project, which is a human resource development program initiated by Korea’s Ministry of Education, is mostly focused on practical studies ― particularly fields that give you instant outcomes. On the other hand, support for pure studies is relatively paltry.
A more serious problem is today’s students’ low interest in pure studies. The number of applicants to those subjects has been declining. As a result, some departments have closed down.
However, there has been no precedent in which a university without pure studies grew to become prestigious.
Look at the universities called prestigious nowadays. In hundreds of years of their combined history, they have produced legendary scholars.
A university campus should generate a scholastic atmosphere, since practical studies cannot grow unless they are accompanied by pure studies.
This writer hopes to see a piece of graffiti on my university campus that goes like this:
no solutions. I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, but I can’t write it down because my class is coming.”
*The writer is the editor of the Konkuk Bulletin, the English news magazine of Konkuk University.
by Park Joon-young