SNU suffering from arrogance

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SNU suffering from arrogance

At first, I thought it was just a complaint of a professor from a state-run university outside Seoul. But the more I listened to him, I realized that he was not making a groundless complaint out of his sense of defeat. He was making a pointy criticism of Seoul National University (SNU).

“I also graduated from the SNU and earned my doctoral degree in the United States,” he said. “My friend, who walked the same path found an opportunity to teach at the alma mater, while I went to teach at a provincial school. That was the end of everything. No matter how many great papers I publish, I am just a professor of a provincial school.

“This is a difference from heaven and earth when I am compared to my friend, who is well respected, well treated and easily wins projects. How can you explain this other than the premium of Seoul National University? I am not being jealous.”

The professor described today’s SNU as an outcome of arrogance and indignity. He was commenting following the arrest of a professor of Seoul National University College of Veterinary Medicine for allegedly manipulating a test report for humidifier sterilizer for Oxy Reckitt Benckiser in return for bribes. He was humiliated by Oxy, which intentionally approached him to use the value of the university’s name.
It may be a leap of logic, but the recent audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection of the SNU showed some convincing evidence.

Professors have collected massive amounts of money by serving as outside directors of companies without approval of the president. That was an act of arrogance and extreme moral hazard.

SNU is drawing public attention because it is the symbol of Korea’s education for the talented. When the government incorporated SNU in December 2011, wings were also given to the school. The school became free of bureaucracy to become a global institution by independently and autonomously managing human resources, finances and investments.

Government financial aid was increased while workers were guaranteed their jobs. The move was an effort to provide benefits while assuring its autonomy. As of now, SNU has 2,100 full-time faculty and its annual budget amounts to 1.4 trillion won ($1.8 billion), the largest among all Korean universities.

And yet, its global competitiveness is extremely low, although the top 3,100 of the 600,000 applicants nationwide join the school. According to The Times Higher Education ranking, SNU was 50th on the list in 2014 and 85th in 2015. According to the U.S. News and World Report, its ranking dropped from 72th to 105th.

Natural science research, stressed by President Park Geun-hye, is also showing slow progress. According to the Nature Index, SNU was ranked 57th last year and 68th this year. According to the CWTS Leiden Ranking, an annual global university ranking based exclusively on bibliometric indicators, SNU was ranked in 544th place, far below the 219th place of the Pohang University of Science and Technology and the 446th place of Ewha Womans’ University.

The SNU is entitled to 10 percent of the government’s research funding for four-year universities, but the output is extremely low. Why is that? Although it is no longer under the direct control of the Ministry of Education, it just received higher funding for its premium, just like the criticism of the local university professor, while it failed to manage the quality of research.

The school is also lacking in profitable businesses. According to the report of the university, the school’s ventures record about 15.4 billion won of annual sales, only 0.1 percent of the 14 trillion won of Peking University. The low productivity is caused by its lack of effort to heighten its autonomy, while relying heavily on government funding. Although the school fell behind in all fields, it complained that the evaluations were not fair. How much longer can it continue this blame game?

The SNU must lose its arrogance and indignity, and here are three pieces of advice.

First, it must end the obsession of “pure blood,” which filled more than 80 percent of the faculty with alumni. In the international relations department, 11 out of the 13 professors were SNU alumni, while 11 out of 12 professors of psychology are alumni. How can it sharpen intellectual power with such custom? It is an obsolete tradition that must end for the SNU to become a global institution.

One of the resolutions is globalization. Foreign professors comprise 4.9 percent of the SNU, far lower than 10 percent at the University of Tokyo and 20 percent at the National University of Singapore. Ignoring a global trend is another act of arrogance.

The SNU must drastically change its research methods. It must concentrate on source technologies, natural science and future, the fields in which other schools in Korea cannot afford to invest, and compete against schools from around the world. That will salvage natural science education and end Korea’s humiliation of having no Nobel Prize winner.

To this end, passionate leadership and the driving force of President Sung Nak-in are crucial. It is not time for him to hesitate because professors will have a mid-term evaluation on him for the first time since the SNU’s incorporation.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 23, Page 28

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Yang Young-yu
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