Seonam teachers forced to take unpaid leave

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Seonam teachers forced to take unpaid leave

At Seonam University in Namwon, North Jeolla, which has been embroiled in controversy as its founder Lee Hong-ha, who was accused of embezzling school funds of over 100 billion won ($92.2 million), was released on bail citing health reasons earlier this month, one in six professors are forced to take unpaid leave every year, in part depending on how many freshmen they have recruited.

“It has been nearly 20 years since I started teaching as a professor,” said a Seonam University professor, who asked for anonymity. “There are several occasions in which I was forced to take unpaid leave and live like an unemployed man for a whole year.”

The professor, who has again been placed on unpaid leave since last March, told the JoongAng Ilbo he didn’t talk publicly about the forced unpaid leave, a practice that has been common at the troubled school, because it was too “embarrassing.”

“But since people now know about all the wrongdoings committed by Lee Hong-ha, I decided to stand up.”

While the founder of Seonam University is now standing trial for his embezzlement of school funds amounting to 100.4 billion won, it has been discovered the unpaid leave system was introduced by Lee in 2005.

Professors whom Lee did not like or those with poor performance in recruiting new students were forced to take unpaid leave in the name of taking a sabbatical year.

Another professor at Seonam in his late 40s, who also asked not to disclose his identity, confirmed the practice.

“At least half of the total 180 professors have taken an unpaid one-year leave once,” said an official of the Seonam Professors’ Association, which was launched last month in the wake of Lee’s arrest. The official noted up to three dozen professors have taken punitive leave more than three times.

To avoid being placed on leave, some desperate professors registered their wives and children as students.

“I was put on leave multiple times,” said another professor.

“But I couldn’t recommend the school to a high school senior fully knowing how backward the school’s academic and maintenance system were.”

On Seonam University campus in Namwon, some buildings have been in construction over a decade as the funding for the construction stops and starts.

The school’s main library, which was built 10 years ago, has never been used as it was assessed by authorities too dangerous to be used due to its shoddy construction.

Prosecutors have accused the bailed-out Lee of pocketing the school funds and spending it to expand his educational business enterprise elsewhere. The embezzler runs 13 educational institutions throughout the country, including six universities.

“Despite dire school conditions and management irregularities here, Lee was granted by education authorities to expand student quota and major departments. Finding out if there was an inappropriate connection between Lee and government officials formed by bribery will be a first step in normalizing the school,” said the official at the professors’ association.

By Jang Dae-suk []
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