Kaist needs a message of hope
I was looking for a movie to watch over the weekend and came across the 2009 Indian film “3 Idiots.” I could not take my eyes off the screen for the entire two-hour running time. The film was not sophisticated but touched my heart.
It was set on the campus of an elite engineering university in India. In the beginning of the movie, the dean of the Imperial College of Engineering bluntly addresses 200 freshmen, calling them a bunch of cuckoo birds who pushed off 400,000 eggs - or other applicants to the university - to get into the nest, and that life is a race in which if you do not get ahead, you could get knocked over.
Three new engineering students who came to share a room in the university dorms are Rancho, Farhan and Raju - or the three idiots, as labeled by the dean of the college. They go against the norms and rules of the campus. Instead of mechanically memorizing the textbooks and following orders of lecturers, they experiment with machines and devices by applying the classroom concepts on their own.
Threatened with expulsion, one of them commits suicide. The dean shrugs it off when the friends call him a murderer, saying that it is not his fault that the student could not put up with the stress. He argues that it was he who turned the school, once 28th in ranking, into the most prestigious university in the country. This all seems to be too familiar.
Kaist, or the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, is one of our country’s most famed polytechnic institutions. Four students committed suicide during the first month of last year. Suh Nam-pyo, Kaist’s no-nonsense president, came under fire for the rigidity he imposed on students and faculty members to keep up with grades and research in the fiercely competitive environment. One more student committed suicide last month and Suh is now being sued. The student body last week formally demanded Suh step down and the alumni association has asked the board to organize a committee to investigate and review the situation.
Since he was recruited from the United States, Suh has devoted his work to turning the university into a world-class institution. But regardless of his endeavors and good intentions, students on the campus hardly have the passion or mind to pursue their studies. Kaist needs a message of hope to get through the dark age of resentment and misunderstanding.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Na-ree