Acquisition proposals for Seonam rejected

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Acquisition proposals for Seonam rejected

The Ministry of Education announced Tuesday that it would accept neither Sahmyook University nor the University of Seoul’s acquisition proposals over Seonam University in Namwon, North Jeolla, crushing what appeared to be the school’s last chance for revival.

Lee Jae-ryeok, who heads the ministry’s Private University System Division, said the government would consider shutting down the school for good, a decision that could come as early as next week.

The embattled university, located some 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of Seoul, has been in decline since 2012, when Lee Hong-ha, its founder, was arrested for embezzling nearly 33 billion won ($29 million) worth of school funds. For years, the school lost government subsidies for poor management, which led to a vicious cycle of low freshmen enrollment and a dearth of cash.

Seonam’s case has been thrust into the spotlight due to uncertainty about the fate of its medical department. In a country that sets strict limits on the number of medical students each university can receive, neighboring schools have been in a battle for the brains. Lee, the ministry official, said the government decided to ditch both Sahmyook University and the University of Seoul’s acquisition proposals because both schools “focused too much” on taking over the medical department, failing to see the “larger picture.”

In their proposals, it also appeared difficult to sidestep Seonam officials who were to blame for the school’s very demise, Lee added.

The Education Ministry also vowed to revise the country’s Private School Act in order to redeem the 33 billion won Seonam’s founder pocketed away. Under the current law, any remaining cash from the foundation of a school that shuts down goes to whomever the foundation designated as recipient: in Seonam’s case, the founder’s daughter, president of Shingyeong University in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi.

The Education Ministry has yet to decide where Seonam students will continue their studies if the school shuts down, but Lee said specific negotiations will start once the government concludes for sure whether the school will survive.

Regarding the 49 medicine department undergrads, Lee said it was likely they will be transferred to neighboring schools in North Jeolla - either Chonbuk National University in Jeonju, a public school, or Wonkwang University in Iksan, a private institute.

Twenty-three-year-old Yang, a Seonam University student who wished to give only her surname, worries she might not get a job next year after employers notice she was from the school.

“They could be like, ‘Oh, you’re from Seonam University. Isn’t that the school that shut down?’” said Yang. “The school hasn’t officially closed yet, but the more people think so, the more it will be difficult for me to get through job interviews.”

BY JEON MIN-HEE, KIM JUN-HEE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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