[Viewpoint] Stuck in their old ways

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[Viewpoint] Stuck in their old ways

Corporate social responsibility has been emphasized on a global scale in recent months.

The idea is that entrepreneurship should create profit without committing any unethical acts during the process.

It also means companies should be able to contribute to eradicating social inequality in a more active manner.

For example, some companies help to achieve economic independence by hiring people often regarded as at a disadvantage in society, for example people with physical disabilities, or engage in offering special education services to students from underprivileged backgrounds.

In addition, many successful entrepreneurs have been actively involved in public welfare services in private.

“The market economy offers remarkably unbalanced compensation to participants,” said Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors in history. “In particular, the rich take an excessive share, although they hardly deserve the generous reward compared to their capabilities.”

As most people know, Buffett handed over most of his personal assets to the Gates Foundation.

So how about universities in Korea? Are they pursuing social responsibility? They certainly should be.

Universities are supposed to serve as a model for their students. If a university devalues the importance of ethics and social responsibility and operates in an unethical manner or shows extremely selfish behavior, the education provided will be forever substandard.

Universities, especially the more prestigious institutions, wield considerable power in society. They are supposed to train students in principles and make them exemplary examples of what a nation can produce in terms of human resources. They supply personnel to a nation’s companies, government and business. These are the people that should be socially responsible.

Obviously, getting a place at an elite university opens up myriad opportunities, which means that it is vital that the criteria for selecting students is balanced and geared toward producing the best.

So, do Korean universities fulfill their social responsibility corresponding to their high social positions?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

It goes without saying that members of a faculty might be divided over winning an election for university president in some national or public universities, or that other squabbles might exist within a campus. Such divisions are just part of life. But it seems that many universities do not try to shoulder their responsibility to the degree that they can satisfy the demands of society.

For example, it is hard to find any concrete example of careful consideration for the socially weak, such as people with either physical or learning disabilities, when employing university professors or staff members.

Universities do not comply with the ratio of mandatory employment as prescribed by acts and other legislation, which is a major concern.

Additionally, despite recent hiring, only about 10 percent of professors are women.

As such, Korea universities fail to serve as a “melting pot,” where every class of society mingles with each other.

In addition, it seems that the manner of selecting students has solidified vested rights in society and fails to help students from poor homes to rise from obscurity.

A considerable number of poor but talented students succeeded in entering our top universities before private education ran to extremes. Universities served as a path for them to climb up the career ladder in a society.

However, although opportunities to rise from the ranks are dwindling for poor students due to flourishing private education, universities’ manner of selecting students is still operated in an old-fashioned manner and they fail to recruit and retain high-potential talent.

It should be noted that Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, accepted U.S. President Barack Obama, a promising young man who grew up in a single-parent household, and educated him to become a world leader.

Can prestigious Korean universities do the same?

We doubt they are even trying to enhance their capability.

Obama said in his inaugural address, “A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.”

In addition, he emphasized, “The success of a national economy does not only depend on the scale of its gross domestic product but on our capability to help people enjoy social prosperity equally and offer opportunities to all enthusiastic people in our society.”

Korean universities must take heed of Obama’s words and apply them to the Korean education context.

If not, we will never be able to offer our children a world-class education nor join the ranks of more socially responsible nations.

*The writer is a professor of physics and the dean of the College of Natural Science at Seoul National University.

by Oh Se-jung
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