[Outlook]University tit for tat

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[Outlook]University tit for tat

Last year, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology raised standards for evaluating professors to extend or grant tenure, and this move is spreading to other universities across the country. It is reported that at Yonsei University and Sungkyunkwan University, some professors failed the evaluation. Seoul National University conducted evaluations of professors to decide tenure and it deferred decisions on several professors.
Universities’ competitiveness comes from faculty members, and prestigious universities around the world do their best to hire professors with high qualifications or seek to improve the capacity of current professors.
One of the ways to do this is to make it more difficult for professors to get promotions or secure tenure. In Korea’s universities, evaluations of professors have been done as a formality, which was one of the major obstacles to boosting competitiveness. Therefore, the trend of conducting stricter evaluations can be seen as a step to make Korea’s universities globally competitive.
As in personnel affairs in most sectors, organizations’ interests and those of individuals are bound to conflict with each other. When professors don’t pass evaluations for contract renewal or tenure, which is the equivalent of being fired in companies, it’s a tremendous shock to them.
There is also a significant loss to society if they can’t get jobs in other places because most of the affected people are experts in their fields who have been in the workforce for at least 10 years.
Thus, it is urgent and important to make it easier for professors to transfer from one university to another, or from schools to business companies. The social and cultural climates must be changed to resolve this problem, but for now institutions and regulations are the biggest obstacles. For instance, when researchers in the science and technology field move to another work-place it is very difficult to move research equipment that they use to the new institute. Or a new work place may not fully acknowledge researchers’ previous experience. Such institutional barriers must be cleared away. That will increase researchers’ engagement with one another and between different institutions.
Second, universities must keep their evaluation procedures fair and just, and people or institutes outside universities must respect universities’ decisions.
In the past, former administrations or powerful figures in universities failed some professors they didn’t favor on purpose.
Probably because of this custom, when professors who failed evaluations file complaints with the Appeal Commission for Teachers at the education ministry or file a lawsuit with the Ministry of Justice, professors win more often than universities.
If other institutes often overrule universities’ decisions, universities can’t implement proper reforms in personnel affairs. Of course, universities must be fair when promoting professors, extending their terms or granting tenure.
Because the media is treating the shake up professors’ job security as a standard for university reform, universities seem to be competing with one another to make evaluation procedures stricter.
Third, if schools want to apply higher standards on professors’ achievements, they must also offer better working environments and support for research.
Three years ago, the departments of science and technology and engineering at Seoul National University were evaluated by a group of renowned foreign scholars.
The evaluation team advised that the Korean school should improve personnel affairs in order to make a leap forward.
In a meeting held a year later to discuss follow-up measures, the department of natural sciences told the evaluation team that it had made requirements for promotion and tenure the same as at universities in advanced countries.
The first thing that the evaluation team asked was, “Can you support newly employed professors as much as universities in advanced countries do?”
According to the International Institute for Management Development, Korean employees work longer hours than their counterparts in most places in the world. But their incomes are still half of what workers earn in advanced countries.
The reason for Koreans’ low productivity is not that Koreans are lazy or incompetent. It is because we don’t have good working environments. Most diligent, hardworking professors at universities have the same problems.
If universities demand that professors meet the academic standards of advanced countries, they should provide a world-class working environment as well.

*The writer is the dean of the College of Natural Science at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Oh Se-jung
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