The best one for the jobThe Professors Association of Seoul National University is reportedly trying to open the post of university president to outside figures and to change the election method from a direct election to an indirect one. The association is an apparatus that evaluates and decides major issues within the university. Recently, it sent out opinion surveys to 3,300 informed persons, both inside and outside the school, and if the majority favors the change, it will be finalized around June after a hearing. The professors’ voluntary reform effort is likely to create a substantial consensus.
As a way to resist the government’s unilateral appointment decisions of national university presidents, direct elections spread on campuses in the early 1990s.
As a result, universities gained improved autonomy, but it had serious side effects. The factional strife among professors broke universities apart, and money took on as big a role as politics in some ugly university elections.
Presidents fail to implement drastic reforms to curry favor with professors and are criticized for having weakened the competitiveness of the universities.
Among the Seoul National University presidents in history, the only figure appointed from outside the school was a foreigner in the 1940s. It is widely known that any organization that limits its pool of candidates for the highest position to insiders will fall into paternalism, have trouble with reform and end up stagnating. In an era of intense competition, not only leading universities abroad but also some Korean universities are using all their might to bring in exceptional presidents. Some schools are not at all reluctant to name a figure from the business sector as president.
Hopefully, Seoul National University’s transformation efforts will spread to other colleges and universities, starting with the national universities. Korean higher educational institutions are facing more than a handful of problems, from globalization and financial expansion to educational and research reinforcements.
As long as it catches a mouse, it is a good cat whether it’s black or white. Anyone who can manage the university properly, improve the financial conditions, support education and research and reduce the tuition burden of the students should be invited to lead the school. Only then can the school grow into an internationally acclaimed university. And national competitiveness will grow proportionally.