Kaist’s bold experimentSuh Nam-pyo, president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, is continuing his experiment in education reform.
This time, Suh has proposed a new plan for extending the tenure of talented professors. Under the plan, the retirement age of the top 15 percent of professors would be extended from the current age of 65 to 70 this year. This is an unprecedented experiment in the nation’s academic community.
Two years ago, Suh shocked Kaist faculty by firing six professors whose research achievements were poor. The experiment focused on retiring less talented professors, even if they were in their 30s and 40s, while keeping professors with continued achievement in their fields, even if they were older.
The plan is aimed at making the university more competitive in the global environment. It is based on the idea that the key to a university’s competitiveness is the faculty. We find the plan refreshing and support the university for taking the initiative to reform itself.
The university’s plan to increase the tenure of talented professors is meaningful in two ways. First, the possibility of winning extended tenure could provide an incentive for professors to become more active and seek recognition for their work. Once their tenures are guaranteed, professors often fail to stay active, and it has even been said that professors older than 55 stop working.
The policy is also appropriate because the university will secure talented scientists and keep them active for a longer period. Most Kaist professors are scientists. It is a tremendous loss for the nation to lose them, even if they are still capable of doing research, just because they reach the retirement age. Efforts to keep qualified scholars are as important as the efforts to find new talent.
Kaist’s program must be adopted by other universities. The current practice of hiring retired scholars as honorary professors is not enough. The law governing public servants in education, which sets the retirement age at 65, should not be an obstacle.
Just as at Kaist, professors should retire when they reach 65 and be rehired on contracts that provide benefits that are comparable to those they received as faculty members. That will produce roughly the same outcome as extending the retirement age. What’s important is not the procedure, but the university’s determination to become more competitive by improving the quality of their faculty.