A new university election system

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A new university election system

Korea is moving to promote the election of national university presidents by advisory committee after the harmful effects of direct elections were brought to light in recent months.

The overhaul is being called for after the exposure of vote-buying scandals and other controversies involving the leadership of top schools such as Pusan National University and Changwon National University. The scandals attracted a great deal of criticism of the current system, which deviates from the pattern of regular academic appointments and is starting to bear the hallmarks of political election campaigning.

In response, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has decided to push forward a plan that offers administrative and financial incentives to national universities that elect their presidents by committee.

The overhaul was prompted by the bad press surrounding elections at several schools. Of these, the case in June involving Pusan National University represented the biggest breach of the public’s trust. Of the six candidates who ran for president, three were prosecuted late last month for conducting illegal campaign activities such as bribing voters. Yet despite being summoned by the prosecution and having their offices raided, two of them still received the most votes and were nominated as candidates for university president.

At a recent forum hosted by the ministry’s committee on university reform, some argued that the current system must be abolished because of the dangers of cronyism. Others attacked the system for its attendant political infighting and claimed this does little to improve a school’s competitiveness.

One way of addressing the problem would be to adopt the system used for state schools in the United States, where a board of directors made up of prominent business leaders and parents choose a university president, rather than giving voting rights to the faculty.

The current university election system simply has too many drawbacks. It causes rifts among faculty members and leads to pork barrel pledges that result in higher tuition for cash-strapped students. While the system was useful during the democratization process at the end of the 1980s, when it contributed to the independence of universities, we no longer need it.

The Education Ministry must ignore the calls from the scores of national universities who support it and get rid of it. Only then will we pave the way for national universities that are truly competitive.
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