[Viewpoint] Run our colleges like our businesses

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[Viewpoint] Run our colleges like our businesses

A sense of ownership brings out voluntary participation. However, having a sense of ownership is one thing and being an owner is another. Having a sense of ownership does not make one an owner. As global standards spread, the perception that the right to make decisions in companies comes from shareholders has grown accepted in our country. It is good that employees feel a sense of ownership, but their roles and rights are not the same as those of the board of directors. The decision-making rights lie with the latter.

Although it is difficult to compare universities and businesses simplistically, it seems that an excessive sense of ownership has spread in both. National and public universities were established by state and public organizations, respectively, and private universities by foundations. But many often claim that professors, university employees and students are the “owners” of universities and that this gives them rights.

Professors maintain that as they are “owners” they have a right to be involved in selecting chancellors. Even university employees and students demand their vote. Their request to participate in managing the universities was reflected in the revised private school law, and university councils were formed. Professors, employees and student representatives participate in managing universities through these councils.

Through student unions or notice boards, students maintain that they are the owners of universities. Their logic relies on the fact that their tuition fees account for most of the income of the university.

In the past, the chief director of the foundation of a university was simply called the “owner” in Korean. That implies that there was no serious confusion or discord among different groups at universities back then. Later, as corruption arose at some private universities, sentiment turned against foundations and different members of universities started calling themselves true the owners.

Though universities are open organizations, not everyone can be an owner at the same time. If it is uncertain who owns or runs a school it is difficult for the school to develop steadily. When everyone has their respective roles, unnecessary strife and conflict can be minimized and schools can be developed into world-class universities more easily.

So who has the right to make decisions at a university? Although each university has its own traits, if we compare businesses to universities, school foundations are like shareholders. The chief director of a foundation is like the representative of the shareholders, and other directors of the foundation operate like a board of directors at a company. In this model, decision-making rights come from school foundations, and directors of school foundations run their schools.

Professors and employees have chosen universities as their workplaces. As universities respect the independence of academic work, they have a different status from employees at other companies, and their opinions must thus be respected accordingly. However, that does not make professors the top decision-makers at universities. What about students? Since their tuition fees pay for a significant portion of university expenditures, they should have a voice. But strictly speaking, they receive the educational services that schools offer. As recepients of education, they can make arguments that match their status and position. However, it does not help their university develop if they make unreasonable demands or if they possess an excessive sense of ownership. Students choose to attend universities, with consideration of their academic competence and what they want to do after graduation. Tuition fees are the costs for their choices.

When I served as the chief director of a university foundation last year, I frequently heard people saying, “Universities are not like corporations.” Of course, universities do not pursue profit, unlike corporations. A university’s primary goal is the advancement of academic work, and thus it needs to guarantee the independence of that work. However, I believe when it comes to running a school there is no difference between universities and companies. That is why we refer to the administration as “managing” a university.

If we applied the principles of business management to our universities, they would soon become world-class and produce talent just as competitive on the global stage as Korea’s top exporters. Professors, employees, students and foundations must think about what each of their roles are, while at the same time respecting the roles of the other parties.

It is good to have a sense of ownership, as long as it comes from love for one’s school. However, using this assertion to demand power, instead of being faithful to one’s duties and roles, hinders the development of universities. This is a subject that every member of a university community must think about in order to boost our educational competitiveness.


*The writer is the chief director of Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Park Yong-sung

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