Dongguk University changes policy to help students who suffer verbal or sexual abuse

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Dongguk University changes policy to help students who suffer verbal or sexual abuse

To eradicate abuse of power by professors toward students, Dongguk University has introduced a new professor selection program in which students’ request to replace their professors will be granted without requiring consent from professors.

Previously, undergraduate and graduate students’ requests to change of their professors within their major was accepted only when professors consented to such requests, which prevented students from exposing misuses of power such as verbal and sexual harassment.

As part of its Memorandum of Understanding signed Friday with the National Human Rights Commission, Dongguk University announced it would fully implement the so-called free professor selection for both undergraduate and graduate students across its departments. The school’s decision followed its one-year long test-run of the program for graduate students.

Dongguk University’s move bears significance because it marks the first such effort by a higher education institution to stem abuse of power by faculty members, including cases involving professors who pressure students to do research for their personal theses or run personal errands.

Such hierarchical academic culture is rampant among professors and students as professors hold near absolute power to judge students’ academic theses or approve their applications for higher academic programs.

A 29-year-old female graduate student surnamed Park filed a complaint against her professor in March and requested a new professor under the test-run program. According to Dongguk, Park was verbally abused by her professor over the past two years and was told she had to do what was asked of her if she had wanted to graduate.

Another graduate student, surnamed Kim, told the JoongAng Ilbo that he had to do all work for his professor’s research, devoting his weekends for four months last year.

A 28-year-old female student surnamed Cha, studying for her Ph.D. at a university in Gyeonggi, said she always wore pants and long-sleeved shirts as a precaution against the sexual advances of her professor, whom she said would touch parts of her body.

With such practices still rampant, Dongguk University hopes its program will help students respond to professors’ labor exploitation and sexual harassment more easily.

“What is required of us is to come up with counter measures to such misuse of power by professors in addition to the free professor selection program,” said Byun Jae-deok, director of public relations office at Dongguk University.

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