Privatizing SNU is a mustInner conflict over a government-led plan to privatize the country’s most prestigious college, Seoul National University, has gotten out of control. Even though SNU President Oh Yeon-cheon has long suffered from intestinal problems, about 300 unionized teachers and some students barricaded him in his office until early in the morning. They were protesting a law that would privatize the national entity, despite the president’s plea for help.
Such disorderly and inhumane behavior is unthinkable on the groves of the academy. Moreover, the school is the most prestigious in the country. It is lamentable that these sacred grounds for learning were tainted with illegality and violence. The union demanded that its members be included on the SNU privatization steering committee, or at least be given the right to appoint a board member to have a say in the process.
But it is beyond any union’s rights to demand a position where it can wield clout over managerial affairs. The demand is a deviation from their earlier protests against privatization, when they voiced fears of losing their jobs after the school goes private. The student body’s radical action - which primarily stems from fear that tuition fees will rise under private management, regardless of assurances to the contrary - is also worrisome. We hope that the SNU students pay a close attention to school authorities’ promise not to drastically raise tuition.
The law to privatize SNU was passed in the National Assembly last December - albeit unilaterally by the ruling Grand National Party - more than two decades after the issue was first brought up and disputed by academics and the government. Reform is a must in order to increase competitiveness in the globalized world of higher education. Lecturers, administrative staff and students should rack their brains to come up with ideas to help the elite school instead of fighting among themselves.
The school’s management should first put its foot down on privatization, and at the same time, talk to stakeholders to gather diverse opinions on the university’s future. It’s time for the school’s union and its students to stand behind their beloved school and its future. It is the least they can do to make up for the latest indignity they caused.