[Debate] Is Political Apathy a Problem for KAIST Students?
KAIST has had a difficult time finding adequate political participation from the student body. Surveys related to upcoming campus-wide legislature often go unnoticed by some apathetic students, and only after the policy is set in place does it attract enough attention. Are KAIST students exercising a healthy degree of political participation?
Said no KAIST student council ever. Even the selection of freshmen welcoming stage performers is put to a vote by the Undergraduate Student Council. Larger matters concerning the entire nation, such as the petition for opposing state-authored textbooks, have also been publicized on the KAIST voting platform vote.kaist.ac.kr for students to take part in. With today’s government known for its lack of communication, student representatives have striven — at least as a campus-wide effort, perhaps in defiance to the nationwide situation — to actively channel the student body’s consensus to the school administration. Whenever a widely relevant issue arises, meetings, press conferences, votes, and information sessions have been held in order to hear students out. Whether students actually participate in those occasions, however, is a completely separate and a more challenging matter.
Political participation in a university setting still has a long way to go, and the existing political apathy manifests itself at multiple levels. Take the student club environment for example. The Student Clubs Union has long been the elephant in the room for KAIST students. During the union’s last few months, no one wanted to be working for the union, even if there was a clear path for student club members to communicate their needs to the administration, through the union. Moreover, union members had been securing and allotting funds, processing paperwork, and facilitating club organization and formation. Naturally, after the union members quit, obvious problems such as club room designation and arbitration soon materialized into heated conflicts among student clubs competing for a space. It was only then the need for a student club union received recognition, and the agenda drew many more students to engage in discussing the reinstatement of the said union.
Another example would be the course evaluation surveys done twice every semester. As a teaching assistant in an Edu 3.0 course, I find the participation rate in these surveys dismally low. Even the mid-term surveys, whose results could be reflected in the latter half of the semester, do not attract enough students for a meaningful investigation of students’ thoughts and opinions. Worse can be said about the post-term surveys, which are ignored more often by the students probably because they are “done” with the course and will never return to take it. Regardless of whether they will take the course again, the very idea of apolitical behavior is remarkable. I cannot say the same is true for classes other than mine, but personal experience tells me that students are often hesitant about, forgetful of, or uninterested in altering the status quo for the better. Edu 3.0 courses in particular took a great amount of time and effort to make improvements, which could have been easier with an active voice from the students concerned.
Students old enough will remember a larger-scale example. It is the survey about university identity conducted in 2013. The idea was for the university administration to come up with a brand-new logo and a possible mascot for the university by outsourcing the design process. In that process, the people in charge first wanted to aggregate some ideas from the student body, and candidates of potential university emblem were posted online for a campus-wide vote. I do not have the statistics of exactly how many students participated in the survey, but I do recall there being a post-survey public outcry expressing the dissatisfaction with the survey results. The emblem chosen from the survey results apparently did not reflect the taste of so many students. The recurring question is, where were all those dissatisfied students at the time of the survey?
On a number of other occasions — including the scooter agenda, outsiders’ entrance to KAIST, the quad- track curriculum for undergraduates — have the efforts of collecting opinions been forsaken by many students. The lesson we could all learn from the resulting dissatisfaction is to never stay silent but speak up every time we are asked about our opinions.