Kaist’s gold standardThe Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, or Kaist, recently denied 15 of 35 professors who applied for tenure. The tenure system exists in all colleges but in most schools, professors are evaluated based on their years of employment instead of on research accomplishments.
But as the institute strengthened its evaluation procedures for professors’ academic accomplishments, young professors passed the review while many professors in their 50s failed. It is a revolutionary step for KAIST to end the outdated practice.
It is depressing that our colleges have low rankings among other nations, despite our being the 12th largest economy in the world.
It is doubtful whether Korea has a college ranked within the top 100 in the world. Colleges blame the failure on budget shortfalls and government regulations. Although the claim makes sense, colleges should take considerable responsibility as well.
A school’s competitiveness comes from its research accomplishments. But under the current circumstances in which most professors are guaranteed tenure whether they try hard or not, who would devote themselves to research? This is why there are too many “polifessors,” a coined word referring to professors who seek political careers and neglect their teaching and research duties when a presidential election is approaching.
Seo Nam-pyo, president of KAIST, emphasized “internal reform” as a way for a college to become world-renowned. That’s absolutely on target. No matter how good the outside environment, an organization will decay if it is corrupt inside.
That is why a high-performing organization is hard on itself. Harvard University in the United States awards tenure to only 20 percent of its overall professors. But our schools are lenient with themselves.
Many professors at national universities oppose a proposal to make schools into school corporations because they do not like competition and want to keep their job until retirement. Fortunately, several colleges, including Seoul National University, recently launched internal reforms that include strengthening evaluations of research and lectures by professors. But this is just a beginning.
It is impossible to strengthen the competitiveness of schools when both good and bad practices exist. The bad will blot out the good. That’s how society works.
Colleges should adopt competition and begin internal transformations. Hard working professors will make our colleges more competitive. They should learn from KAIST.