[Letters] Suh’s resignation is not the answerAfter promising science students committed suicide one after another at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist), the public’s attention snowballed on why the young bright minds had killed themselves.
Many people, both in and out of academia, are finding the reasons in the competition-driven policies of Kaist. Because of Kaist’s policy of “punitive tuition,” students have lost their morale and Kaist has become a factory that mass produces advanced manpower through competition.
But it is not right to say that the crisis is just a problem of Kaist. It appears convincing that Kaist President Suh Nam-pyo must step down because his competition-driven policy is the center of the problem but I cannot agree with such a sensational interpretation of the situation.
Criticism is easy. Critics can easily say that schools must turn their campuses into utopias by respecting students’ individual characters and encourage creativity. They say a school must maintain its world-class academic level while all students do their best and all members of the university harmonize without stress.
The critics, however, easily ignore how these goals can be achieved and if the goals are even possible.
There is no progress without competition. The students’ suicides are not just a problem of Kaist.
About 300 university students kill themselves every year in Korea. To demand the resignation of Suh and to criticize his educational philosophy is not fair. More scientific proof that Suh’s policy is the direct cause of the suicides is needed.
Stress from competition is the fundamental problem of a modern society. As populations grow and industrial technologies develop, competition and alienation grow worse. Those falling behind in a competition will feel more and more insecure and deprived.
When their health, safety and other basic needs are threatened and when they feel they have no way to overcome the issues, behavior like suicide may appear as a result of the overwhelming stress.
We need to find the causes and develop preventive measures when it comes to dealing with youth suicide from the perspective of the increasing senses of crisis in the modern society.
In the United States, public awareness was heightened to the need to provide a professional crisis intervention service to the emotional trauma victims from wars since the World War II. The National Mental Health Act was established in 1946 to support the establishment of research and educational institutes for mental health and regional centers to provide assistance.
In 1963, legal ground was founded to provide protection to a possible suicide victim and drug abuser at the regional centers.
The time has come for Korea to support counseling and the treatment of mental health issues at schools and in regional areas. It not only helps to prevent suicide but also helps prevent crimes committed by mentally defected people or crimes of opportunity committed by those with uncontrolled rage toward society.
A crisis does not always bring about negative outcomes. A crisis implies risks but it can also be an opportunity. Rather than relying on emotional populism, it is more appropriate to seriously contemplate the reason of existence for Kaist and student welfare simultaneously, while encouraging them to overcome the crisis.
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Kim Yong-se, professor of law at Daejeon University.