There have been several major developments at KAIST recently, starting with the annual state audit conducted by the Science, ICT, Broadcasting, and Communications Committee of the National Assembly of Korea on October 20. During the hearing, KAIST’s President Shin was asked about the creation of a university council. He replied positively to the idea but stated that from his experience dealing with students at KAIST, most students who are vocal about these issues like to claim their rights but lack responsibility. This triggered a critical response from PUUM, KAIST’s Undergraduate Student Council (USC), in the form of a public statement and many angry comments from students directed at the president’s statement.
In all public and private universities in Korea, this council exists by law as a representative group for all permanent members at the institution, including faculty, administrators, students, professors, researchers, and other staff. But due to the fact that all science and technology universities operate under a special education law in Korea, there is no single unifying representative body comprised of all these groups at KAIST and the request to establish one has been an ongoing debate for many years.
About a week after the National Assembly audit, the USC and President Shin had a closed-door meeting on several topics including the committee hearing, the English-Only Zone (EOZ), etc. The details and summary of this meeting were posted on the USC’s Facebook page (it is only in Korean so I urge the USC to translate them and the international student body to demand a translation).
Then, during the following weeks, a string of public forums was held, with the first two addressed in this article. The topics were on the creation of an “undeclared/ transdisciplinary major” track and a comprehensive outlook into the future of KAIST called “Vision 2031”.
For more details on the developments above, please check out our news articles of this issue.
Dear President Shin,
The reply you gave at the committee hearing was offensive to those students (including myself) who care enough about KAIST to speak up and voice our opinions. I would think that it is the responsibility of the USC to request the creation of a university council. That being said, rights are, by definition, a core aspect of humanity’s social order and should not require any special attributes to be exercised. The burden of responsibility is not on those who ask for their rights; it is on those who withhold those rights and have the power to grant those rights. If we were demanding that you provide us with a privilege, then the onus of responsibility would be ours. However, our insistence on the creation of a representative council that includes students in the administrative process of the school is not an unreasonable request at all. In fact, as the assemblyman alluded to in the hearing, in this time and age, full, transparent representation should be an integral part of any administration. And those students who will represent the rest of the community in a university council will bear the weight of their responsibilities. They will be responsible for the flow of information to and from the administration and the student body, acting as the primary channel for our opinions and feedback on the school’s management, and dealing with the school on behalf of the students in a much broader capacity than the current USC or any other committees at KAIST. Of course, this is just a simple generalization, but I think that the details of the workload can be ironed out once the plan for such a council begins.
According to the USC’s post on Facebook (specifically number seven on its summary of the meeting with you), you did not apologize for the reply you gave during the state audit and only expressed concerns about how you would look to the outside world if you were to publicly apologize. Firstly, I have to ask: why does others’ perception of you apologizing for a mistake matter? And secondly, even if you don’t need to apologize, I still think that you should provide a statement justifying your statement or at least clarifying it. I do not understand what responsibilities these “students” are shirking.
In the same summary, the USC states that you questioned if they actually represented the entire student population. The short answer is that they do. The USC’s president and vice-president are elected through a direct voting system and anyone can form a team and register to become a candidate. As far as I know, the President of KAIST is decided by a board that has no student representatives. That is not to say that you don’t represent us; of course you do. In the bigger picture, you represent KAIST and all its affiliated laboratories, students, and faculty. But I am saying that the USC represents the students internally; it is, by definition, the representative body of the students, and it is through it that we communicate with you and the rest of the world as students of KAIST. And although it is a fair question, I feel that the question of its representativeness is something that the students should be asking and not you.
On the subject of mandatory EOZs, I would like to express my strongest objections. The administration should not interfere at this level with the social lives of students. When it comes to smoking, drinking alcohol, etc. within dormitories or on campus, the school should impose and enforce rules and regulations for the safety and maintenance of the students as well as the school. But when it comes to choosing roommates, having conversations, communicating with friends, and exercising other residential/social freedoms on campus and in dormitories, the school should not force its agenda on the students’ lives. This can be seen as a breach of our private space. Why is it the responsibility of the students to teach each other English? In fact, for the benefit of a more globalized campus, the school should be focused on making sure that all of the professors and teaching assistants communicate and teach in good English in classrooms, which make the core of an institute of higher learning. I have heard about and experienced too many professors and teaching assistants using Korean in classrooms without English translations. I truly believe that this should be the number one priority for the school.
This last bit is not directly related to the meeting you had with the USC but is something that I recently experienced while attending the public forum for the undeclared/transdisciplinary track as well as the public forum for the “Vision 2031”. While English translations were provided for the “Vision 2031” session (and not for the transdisciplinary track one), the fact that the announcement for the forum was only in Korean effectively meant that international students weren’t invited. The forum was hosted by yourself and former KAIST professors, and was on a topic that directly affected future international students, and yet KAIST, a university that prides itself on being a global institution, excluded its international students. With all due respect, you talk of responsibility and yet your vision for KAIST is communicated in such an exclusive manner. Isn’t it the responsibility of the school to ensure that all information sessions regarding the future of KAIST be held in English — the language that KAIST uses to promote itself to the rest of the world? Especially when it is evident from your policy initiatives (EOZ, increasing the number of international faculty and students, etc.) that globalization is a priority, I hope that this message is clear to your administration so that KAIST doesn’t become an empty shell of numbers.
As the president of KAIST, you are listed as the publisher of this paper, and as such, I hope that you are reading our monthly publications. I have written to the KAIST administration in the past with no response, and while I understand that replying to every single opinion directed at your office is quite unreasonable, as our official publisher, I think that increased communication with us may be beneficial for both parties.
I don’t have much to say to you guys except that you should provide English translations for everything since you are now collecting student fees from international students. This includes all announcements (even if you think that it might not be relevant to international students), events, public forums (like the recent ones on the undeclared/transdisciplinary major track and “Vision 2031”), etc.
The Society Division of The KAIST Herald has tackled the problem with apathy in the past, but in light of recent events, I would like to briefly revisit the topic. I know that many of you don’t care or simply don’t have the time, but apathy leads to the death of any meaningful progress. The loud and proactive minority will end up with the wheel in their hands and they will be steering the ship that you are in without your feedback or input if you do not provide one. The recent public forums on the undeclared/transdisciplinary track proposal was a positive sign as many students participated. There will be many more of these to go to so please attend them when possible and voice your opinions; that is the only power you have in a democracy.
And especially to the international students, I implore you to actively demand your rights. As a fellow KAISTian, you have every right to the same level of communication and information as any other student on campus. So ask the USC for the English version of its rulebook and any announcements it posts on Facebook, and ask the president’s office for English versions of information sessions. You are responsible for taking care of your rights.
A big role of the media, in this case The KAIST Herald, is to provide constructive criticism and feedback to those in positions of power and responsibility. I hope that I have successfully done that in this article even though it is in English and no one will read it. That being said, this article is meant to start a conversation and keep the sparks of discussion alive within our campus. We are all on the same side here; we all care about KAIST and we should all work together in a civil, rational, and democratic process.