[Viewpoint]University presidents need new skills

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[Viewpoint]University presidents need new skills

In autumn of last year, a candidate who was designated as the deputy prime minister of education had to step down due to a plagiarism controversy. This year, a plagiarism controversy has already scandalized a Yonsei University professor, Ma Kwang-soo, and raised questions about the qualifications of the newly elected president of Korea University.
It is paradoxical that the more essays a scholar writes, the higher the possibility that he or she will be caught in a plagiarism controversy.
Therefore, there is almost no chance for a scholar to be swept into a plagiarism controversy if he no longer engages in research activities, or writes a very small number of papers.
Scholars who actively take part in social activities and have earned their name through academic activities are more likely to be swept in plagiarism controversies because they have to squeeze time out of their busy schedules to write something. Therefore, it has created a dilemma to the academic community.
Since the system of electing university presidents through a popular vote of faculty members was introduced in 1987, this kind of dilemma has been amplified in academia.
Even when the incumbent president was turned into a subject of gossip and the Catholic cardinal was criticized brutally by Internet users, Koreans never failed to show a polite attitude toward university presidents.
But the election system has changed the scholars who aim to be university president into politicians.
To be elected to a four-year single-term presidency, the candidates must “buy” the votes of professors.
Professors who indulge in research activities by hiding in their offices cannot buy votes.
No matter how high their personal and academic achievements may be, they have no time or will to intervene in the management of the university.
If somebody wants to be elected as a university president, he should go around campus diligently. Only when one maneuvers for more than four years in that way, can he become a “master of school politics,” well-known and recognized as an able man.
But the ability needed is not the philosophical wisdom required to lead a “city of intellectuals,” as in the academia of Plato, but the dexterity of a chief executive officer of a business conglomerate, who can promote efficiency and productivity to a complicated knowledge industry.
Such a situation became a universal trend in the universities of the United States and Europe. Renowned overseas universities became mammoth institutions by using cooperative relations between industries and the academic world at the end of the 1990s.
Although the size is relatively smaller, the universities in Korea have made remarkable growth, too.
The budget for Seoul National University, including that of Seoul National University Hospital, is around 1.6 trillion won ($1.7 billion).
Those of Yonsei and Korea Universities amount to about 1 trillion won each.
In order to manage institutions of this size, it is apparent that the chief executive officer of such an organization should be armed with more of a management-oriented mind than academic ability to operate such an organization.
Thus, the standard for rating a university president has become the person’s ability to raise funds.
In the war between universities, fund raising is not the only task that university presidents confront.
The more the universities put weight on the production of “useful knowledge,” the higher the dissatisfaction of humanists who pursue knowledge based on existentialism. They will complain that the university president has robbed the hands of the philosophers of the prescription and handed it over to the scientists.
University presidents today should be able to weld together the “internal politics” among professors who enjoy discussions hiding in their dens and the “external politics” of adapting to the fast changes that occur swiftly in the country and business world.
In the case of the president of Korea University, the truth behind the plagiarism controversy has not yet been clarified.
It is desirable, however, that the university considers changing the image of its president according to the requirements of the times, although it may hurt the pride of the university.
Shouldn’t the image of the university president be that of a guardian of intelligence, a skillful coordinator and a chief executive officer equipped with a driving force?

*The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Song Ho-keun
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