A plague of bureaucratsIn the United States, the best universities are covered in red ivy during the fall. Schools in Korea seem to be entangled in bureaucratic red tape instead. The reason is simple. Fifty-four national or public universities in Korea have incumbent or previous presidents who are former high-ranking government officials. The number would be higher if one counted those who began their professional life in academia and then worked in the government before becoming president. These figures were published as the result of research by Kim Kwang-woong, an honorary professor at Seoul National University. We wonder how these one-time bureaucrats with no experience of running universities can contribute to the development of education and research.
Because the government regulates universities, they like to use former government figures as shields. The schools with ex-bureaucrats in charge expect they will somehow make their way past the numerous regulations, and will have an advantage over others in receiving state grants. Universities do seek out such candidates, but government officials are aware of these perks and approach the schools with the support of their incumbent colleagues.
Bureaucratization of universities is problematic in many ways. Some government officials-turned-presidents never stop looking over their shoulders as they try to please their university colleagues. Others simply quit in the middle of their tenure once offered an opportunity to return to the bureaucracy. They regard the university presidency as a mere stepping stone to their next career. That is why some professors dabble in politics, only to return to academia as university presidents. If these things happen frequently, then professors who have worked hard for the good of their schools will lose heart, and the schools’ competitiveness will suffer.
Only when universities do not have to constantly worry about the government can we eliminate bureaucrats from our schools.
To do so, the regulations on universities must be relaxed and the government has to become smaller. The government’s meddling with the schools grew after the Ministry of Education increased the number of university-related agencies. Even the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development criticized the Korean government’s tight regulation of universities and urged it to reduce the role of the Ministry of Education .
Our universities cannot grow under this circumstances. We need men and women of vision running our schools, not bureaucrats.