On October 20, KAIST President Sung-Chul Shin attended the annual Science, ICT, Broadcasting, and Communications Committee (SIBCC) Inspection of the Administration, or also known as the National Assembly audit.
The inspection was one of numerous mandatory audits held at the Korea National Assembly Proceeding Hall in Seoul during October. Though the audit covered numerous scientific organizations under the wing of the SIBCC such as the National Research Foundation, President Shin answered inquiries specifically regarding KAIST and the problematic aspects of its operations. The topics covered included the ongoing legal debacle on the failed launch of I-KAIST, the lack of a university council, poor conditions for temporary workers, rampant cases of human rights violations, misappropriation of public funds by professors and research staff, and other ventures led by KAIST.
Member of the Assembly (MoA) Youngjin Koh fixated on the I-KAIST scandal that resulted in the subsequent indictment of Sung-jin Kim, the founder of the failed company that scammed the government out of over 17 billion KRW in funds. The issue not only defiled the reputation of KAIST, but also resulted in a costly legal battle. The committee pointedly asked why KAIST had not submitted the requested copies of the contract for inspection. When President Shin mentioned the non-disclosure agreement given between the two parties, Koh countered that the clause holds no power as the business effectively no longer exists, and ordered President Shin to submit the documents to transparently investigate the damage the fiasco has so far caused.
Other problems arose regarding the hiring of temporary workers in KAIST. The unusually high frequency of temporary worker contract renewals and the lack of occupational health and safety insurance for student researchers resulted in unsafe environments for hundreds of workers. The committee asked President Shin to inspect these issues in depth.
Finally, the KAIST community reacted strongly to the issue of the KAIST university council. MoA Sejeong Oh examined the notable absence of a student, staff, and professor-represented university council, already well-established in other public and private institutions, to which President Shin justified the non-existence of the organization with “the availability of other mediums of communication such as the ‘Communication Concerts’”. He also replied that “Students demand rights, but do not take responsibility.”
The Central Executive Committee (CEC) of PUUM, the Undergraduate Student Council (USC), published a strong statement criticizing the “ludicrous words” spoken by the president. Citing the recent mandatory AI class debacle (refer to Volume 157 of The KAIST Herald), it berated the stagnant communication approaches taken by President Shin.
CEC revealed that the demand for student representatives in the university council had been ceaseless since 2011, the zenith of the controversial term of Former KAIST President Nam-pyo Suh. The call for direct student participation never went through, resulting in a brief establishment of a proportionately represented senate in 2011 that immediately became the professor-exclusive Committee of Professors. MoA Oh represented the students’ thoughts, stating, “Beyond the matters of communication, it is legally necessary for students to partake in school matters in this day and age.”
The USC further continued its campaign for a university council by posting on its Facebook page a call for the founding of the council to the KAIST students. The post outlined the current problems regarding the lack of a council and stated the mandate, which passed on November 9, that required all public and private institutions to have a representative body of all members of the university community. PUUM stated that, first, it asked for a course of action from the USCs of all science and technology institutions in Korea that are facing the same problems. Secondly, it contacted the office of MoA Oh, who pointed out the problem during the audit and whom USC thought was appropriate for cooperation on the matter. USC also reached out to the Education, Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee, which passed the amendment detailing the policy requiring university councils. Finally, it delivered its position and opinions on the matter to the existing Committee of Professors, and hoped to hold a discussion with the committee members within the week.
Many problems highlighted by the SIBCC will need immediate attention from the KAIST administration to meet its demands and requests. The prevalent problems of the prestigious public institution with various large-scale embezzlement cases, little student representation, and inadequate working conditions have been addressed. KAIST now awaits tangible solutions from the administration.