[Campus Commentary]Students victimized by law school falloutAt the beginning of the semester in early 2007, Jong-min, a friend of mine who is studying for his B.A. in law at a university in Seoul, was informed by the school that some of the lecture courses he had registered for will not be available for the time being.
The school’s explanation was that the full-time professors for those classes had quit and moved to other universities preparing to establish U.S.-style law schools.
There were no apologies to the students from the professors or the school, even though the semester had already begun.
Soon, the vacancies were filled with part-time lecturers.
Only three full-time law professors were left in Jong-min’s school. Not long after that happened, a week ahead of the mid-term examination period, one of those part-time lecturers suddenly vanished without notice.
It turned out that she was offered a full-time job at a university in one of the Jeolla provinces because that university lost many of its law professors, as well, and needed someone to fill the vacancies.
With very few exceptions, this domino effect has become a significantly serious problem for students majoring in law in all of the universities today.
According to legislation from the Presidential Committee on Judicial Reform, one of prerequisites for the new law schools here is to have at least more than 20 qualified professors. To meet the requirement, universities intending and preparing to establish law schools are competitively and aggressively hiring many professors from other schools. As a result, students are already becoming victims, even before the introduction of the so-called advanced law school system.
Schools and students are bound by a tight contract. Students pay tuition fees of more than 3 million won ($3,270) on average per semester. In return, schools give quality educational service through the professors they employ. When professors leave the school and do not teach any more, they can be replaced with substitutes, such as part-time lecturers, to help the school out of its temporary incapability.
The contract between students and the professors, however, is not fungible. That means the syllabus a professor presents before the beginning of classes is an offer asking students whether they would accept it; when students accept the offer by signing up for the class, it means that they like what the professor has to offer and want to learn from that particular professor with that exact syllabus.
Consequently, the departure of the professor causes a breach of the student-professor contract.
Obviously, it is a professor’s responsibility to deliver. This is what they teach at universities and at law schools, through such topics as promissory estoppel and the principle of fulfilment in good faith. It is a pity that these breaches are happening; obviously there are flaws in the importation of a law school system just for judicial reform.
I do not think this law school system is a preposterous idea as long as it is aiming for more thorough and professional legal education. Education has to move on to the next level, elevating its standard of quality. However, we should not tolerate or disregard problems occurring now.
*The writer is a reporter for The Kwangwoon Annals at Kwangwoon University, Seoul.
by Han Yu-na