Kaist’s Suh forced into the backseat

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Kaist’s Suh forced into the backseat


Gyeong Jong-min, head of Kaist’s faculty association, announces yesterday that 301 of 355 professors present at a faculty meeting voted to set up a committee to alter President Suh Nam-pyo’s controversial policies. [YONHAP]

The suicide crisis at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist) started to settle down yesterday after its president, Suh Nam-pyo, agreed to the faculty’s demand to set up an emergency committee to adjust his controversial policies.

“The committee will handle all matters on the campus,” Gyeong Jong-min, leader of Kaist’s faculty association, said. “Suh should accept all of plans and conclusions made by the committee and implement them right away.”

But the professors neither denounced Suh nor his policies, which some have blamed for a string of four student suicides this year.

“We support his policies, especially making rules on giving tenure stricter,” Gyeong added. “We just have different opinions on the details of his policies.”

There are about 580 professors on Kaist’s campus, and 355 participated in the meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. Among them, 301 voted for the new oversight committee, which will operate for three months.

Members of the faculty association met with Suh at around 2 p.m. yesterday to inform him of their demand for the committee. About two hours later, Suh said he accepted the demand.

According to the faculty, the committee will consist of five officials nominated by Suh and another five selected by the faculty association and three students. The head of the committee will be a professor.

Members of the committee will deal with all campus matters and submit reports to Kaist’s board, the student body and the faculty. The faculty expects most problems to be resolved within the committee’s three-month lifespan.

Some professors believe that overly aggressive policies to make the faculty and student body at Korea’s top research university more competitive contributed to the students’ suicides.

(A 54-year-old biomaterials professor also committed suicide this week after being investigated for embezzling school funds.)

Suh took office in 2006 and instituted ambitious plans in 2007 to raise standards at the university. He made tenure rules stricter and ordered professors to give lectures in English only.

His most controversial move was making Kaist’s full scholarships for its students dependent upon their grades to nurture competition. Students with a grade point average of below 3.0 must cover part of their tuition. Before Suh’s presidency, all Kaist students received full scholarships, regardless of grades.

Kaist’s board chairman said yesterday that he and the other board members would not discuss the possible resignation of the president at an emergency board meeting tomorrow.

“Members of the board haven’t discussed Suh’s resignation yet,” said Oh Myung, the board chairman, yesterday. “We will just talk about how to prevent further suicides on campus.”

Meanwhile, Kaist’s undergraduate student council held its first large-scale emergency meeting yesterday since the university was founded in 1971, with more than 500 students attending. The council for graduate students also held a meeting. Neither council called for Suh’s resignation, though they recommended changing some of his tougher policies.

In January, a 19-year-old freshman died on campus after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. On March 20, a 19-year-old sophomore was found dead in a flower garden in front of an apartment in Suwon, Gyeonggi, after leaving behind a suicide note. Nine days later, a 25-year-old senior jumped from the 12th story of an apartment building in southern Seoul. On April 7, a 19-year-old sophomore was found dead in Incheon. And on Sunday, a 52-year-old professor hanged himself in his apartment, leaving behind a suicide note.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
서 총장 “자리 미련 없지만 … 학생은 경쟁해야”

KAIST 서남표 총장은 13일 “자리에 미련이 없으며 언제든지 그만둘 수 있다. 하지만 학생은 경쟁해야 하고, 교수는 더 연구해야 한다”라고 말했다. 서 총장은 이날 본지 기자와 단독으로 만나 이렇게 말했다. 그는 “내가 미국에서 온 이유는 교육으로 대한민국을 발전시키기 위해서”라며 이렇게 말했다. 그는 “교수들이 대충 가르치고 월급을 받게 할 수 없으며, 학생들도 세계 일류 대학생과 경쟁해야 한다”고 말했다. 서 총장은 또 “개혁은 멈출 수 없다”며 “KAIST에 국한하지 말고 대한민국 교육 전체를 봐야 한다”고 덧붙였다.

 서 총장은 “교수와 학생 등 학교 구성원과 소통에 최선을 다하겠다”고도 했다. 서 총장은 “교수와 학생들이 왜 변화를 요구하는 지를 이해하고, 제시된 의견을 학교 행정에 최대한 반영하겠다”고 덧붙였다.

 학부생들은 이날 오후 7시부터 대학본부 앞 잔디광장에서 비상총회를 열고 서 총장에게 ‘경쟁 위주 제도의 실패를 인정하라고 요구한다’라는 안건을 부결시켰다. 투표에 참여한 852명 중 안건에 찬성한 학생이 과반수에 10명 부족한 416명에 그쳐 부결됐다. 반대는 317명, 기권은 119명이었다.

 학생들은 ‘학교 운영 정책결정 과정에 학생대표가 참여하고 의결권을 보장하라고 요구한다’라는 안건은 917명 투표에 872명 찬성으로 통과시켰다. 학부총학생회가 비상총회를 소집한 건 KAIST 40년 역사상 처음이다. 대학원 총학생회도 이날 오후 9시부터 비상총회를 열고 ‘대학 연구환경 개선 혁신’을 위한 비상 태스크포스(TF)팀 구성 등을 안건으로 상정했다.

 서 총장은 이날 교수협의회가 요구한 혁 신비상위원회 구성 요구를 수용했다. 교수협의회는 12일부터 이날 정오까지 교수들을 상대로 혁신비상위원회 구성 촉구 찬반을 묻는 온라인 투표를 했다. 그 결과 교수 580명 가운데 355명이 투표에 참여, 301명이 찬성했다. 반대는 54명에 그쳤다. 교수협의회 경종민 회장은 서 총장에게 ‘혁신위’ 구성 요구서를 전달했다. 서 총장은 “교수협의회와 손잡고 학교 발전 방안을 모색하자”고 말했다.

 서 총장의 ‘소통 행보’에 학교 구성원의 반응은 엇갈렸다. 박승오(항공우주공학 전공) 교수는 “총장이 직접 발표를 하고 구성원들의 의견을 받아들인 만큼 문제점이 모두 보완될 것으로 기대한다”며 “앞으로 KAIST 구성원 모두가 단합해서 위기를 극복해 나가야 한다”고 말했다. 경영학과 성준석(3년)씨는 “일단 총장의 태도를 긍정적으로 평가한다”고 말했다. 하지만 일부 교수와 학생들은 “혁신위 구성은 필요없으며 당장 총장 퇴진 운동에 나서야 한다”고 주장했다.
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