Probe into law schools finds transgressions

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Probe into law schools finds transgressions

The Ministry of Education released the long-awaited results of a probe into law school admissions irregularities but said at a press conference on Monday that although it had discovered several cases, it will not penalize the students due to a lack of evidence.

The latest statement quickly drew public backlash as Korea struggles with a bumpy transition phase from abolishing the traditional bar examination to expanding Western-style law schools. The national law school system, following a U.S.-style three-year academic period, was first introduced in 2009 with the intention to eventually scrap the national bar exam.

If the bar exam, which is open to everyone, is abolished, only those enrolled at the country’s 25 law schools will be eligible to take the qualifying exams to become lawyers, prosecutors or judges.

But law schools have always been a thorny issue here. Critics claim that the subjective admissions procedure will open the door to nepotism, a complaint that snowballed over the past few months and led to the Education Ministry’s investigation.

A four-month probe into the application forms of some 6,000 students who were admitted to the country’s 25 law schools over the past three years found that a total of eight people had botched procedures by writing down their family’s personal background when they weren’t supposed to.

The added information detailed a family member’s occupation in the legal and public administration fields, including a mayor, a prosecutor, a judge, a high-profile civil servant and a city council member, the ministry briefed Monday.

Nevertheless, law schools of six universities were said to have ignored the malpractices and accepted the applicants anyway: Kyungpook National University in Daegu, Pusan National University in Busan, Inha University in Incheon, Jeju National University, Chungnam National University in Daejeon and Hanyang University in Seoul.

But the education authority said it would simply “warn” school officials in those six institutes for overlooking the mishap, adding that any punitive measures would at this point be difficult.

A ministry official involved in the investigation said that while the government acknowledged the acts as a clear violation of admissions policies, they are unable to expel the students from their schools because it was unclear whether they had been qualified for admission chiefly on those grounds.

The source stressed that law school admissions regard a variety of requirements other than one’s cover letter, including GPA scores, English language proficiency scores and Legal Education Eligibility Test scores, continuing that the ministry’s final decision was reached after private legal consultation.

Pointing out that 16 other students specified their family’s personal background and got accepted into a local law school, the ministry further noted that it intends to ban all schools from receiving application forms with such information.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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