The ‘polifessor’ problem

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The ‘polifessor’ problem

Korean lawmakers have proposed a bipartisan bill to weed out “polifessors,” a negative term for college professors who freely hop between academics and politics with little consideration for their students and schools. The Democratic Party expressed its support for the bill, which was proposed by Grand National Party lawmaker Shim Jae-chul.

The bill would require all college faculty to officially resign from their professorial posts at least 60 days before running for public office.

In theory, it is good for academics to try to use their knowledge to improve the administration of the country, and society as a whole outside the university campus. They may be able to apply their theories to reality, and then use their practical experience to further refine their theoretical knowledge, creating great synergy in both sectors.

But things don’t quite work out that way in reality. Many polifessors abandon their students, and get caught up befriending politicians and trying to win their hearts. Once they lose in elections, they go straight back to the campus and start teaching again.

For many such professors, the biggest priority is winning a prominent political seat; they habitually cancel classes or give their students substandard instruction.

The latest legislation is aimed at rooting out such outrageous behavior. Professors hoping to run for a National Assembly seat or to become a government administrator will be obligated to step down from their teaching posts. If they lose the election or leave the government job and hope to go back to campus, they have to be screened as brand-new candidates for professorial jobs.

Those who used the government or National Assembly experience well will have little problem getting their jobs back, with higher pay and better treatment from the schools. But those who failed to do so may have to risk not getting their jobs back.

The polifessor issue fundamentally depends on the conscience of each individual professor. Each college also has the freedom to set up its own guidelines on how to handle polifessors.

This issue did not necessarily need to be addressed with binding laws. But the professors and colleges have failed to make their own voluntary efforts to solve the problem, eventually prompting the legislators to step in.

Though we strongly support the bill, we also hope the day will come when we no longer need such a law.
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