The past weeks have been a tumultuous time for KAIST. The entire KAIST community had yet to recover from the shocking deaths of two students, the late Mr. Cho and Mr. Kim, when it was sent reeling into disarray yet again as two students and one professor, within a matter of days, took their own lives. President Nam Pyo Suh commented during his brief discussion with the students on April 8 that the current situation is, “KAIST’s greatest crisis.” With the hawkish eyes of the Korean media and politicians all trained on KAIST and its education system, there is no doubt that this institute is at a crossroads, and it needs to navigate itself out as quickly as possible. Yet considering where the situation stands, it will be a long and difficult task for both the administration and the students.
One of the obstacles that KAIST faces is the lack of communication between students, the faculty, and the administration. President Suh personally seemed to have set out in an attempt to rectify this situation as he promised to make himself available for the students and listen to their thoughts and suggestions. Sadly, given recent developments, skepticism has been increasing amongst the student populace.
The discussion with the president held on April 8 had President Suh repeating the same soundtrack: that he and his staff would look into the ideas proposed by the students and consider them for future reference. On April 16, he responded to a set of demands submitted by the student body by simply handing the problem over to a newly instated emergency committee. The Undergraduate Student Council may be understandably discouraged and possibly disillusioned by a lack of hands-on attention, but has declared that it will pursue a solution through dialogue.
From what President Suh has shown during KAIST's period of crisis, there is no doubt that though he may be a formidable tactician, he is no politician. Though the president appears to earnestly believe that communication between the students and the administration is a vital part to KAIST's recovery, he still has no intention of factoring in the students' opinions to his new reforms, which will be announced sometime in May.
We have, however, taken a step in the right direction. The two days of conferences within every department will have hopely exposed the university’s decision-makers to the current qualms and needs of the students and faculty. To continue on a path of recovery, the administration needs to keep such requests in mind. Discarding valuable input from the students without seriously considering them - and showing the student body that they were truly considered - will only incite elements of the student government further, and if the students continue to oppose and speak out against the administration, it will only create further internal strife than there is now and make KAIST an easier target for its competitors and detractors.
There has never been, and nor can there be a clear solution, but for now, all we can do is hope that Nam Pyo Suh's second round of education reforms will be the perfect salve that begins the process of healing for KAIST. What the president absolutely must keep in mind is that for these new policies to truly work, communication between all parties involved will be key.