The spokesperson of the governmental minor opposition Bareun Mirae Party, Shin Yong-Hyeon, has drafted a proposal encouraging an increase in the ratio of female professors among the four science and technology institutes in Korea, which includes KAIST, to more than 25%. As of writing, the bill has yet to pass through the Science, ICT, Broadcasting, and Communications Committee, the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, and the National Assembly before it can come into full effect.
The Public Education Officials Act, which has only been enforced since March 19, already pursues this objective among national and public universities. Specifically, it recommends that the number of female professors be increased such that no certain gender exceeds three-fourths of the university’s overall professor count. However, the four science institutes are not subject to this rule because they are not covered under the Higher Education Act. The proposed bill aims to expand the Public Education Officials Act so that it also includes science institutes.
Shin explained that in selecting professors, there is a need to establish an unbiased recruitment plan to achieve substantial gender equality. As per the Ministry of Science and ICT, the current ratio of female professors in these four institutes falls around a measly 9.7%. This is even lower than that of national and public universities, which is at 16.8%.
The proposal has sparked controversy in the KAIST community, especially on the KAIST anonymous online forum, KaDaejeon. Those against the proposal emphasized that skills, and not gender, should be the significant weighing factor when selecting professors, while some have aired concerns that the process may soon become more biased towards women. On the other hand, those in favor argue that gender bias against women already puts them at a disadvantage in science and technology fields, which should sufficiently justify the ratification of the bill.
This is not the first time that the large male-to-female ratio gap among professors was brought to the fore. In 2007, then KAIST president Suh Nam Pyo expressed his plan to increase the number of female professors to as much as 50%, acknowledging that the lack thereof could negatively impact long-term academic progress. Currently, however, the proportion of female professors in KAIST remains at 10%.
The officer in charge of professor recruitment, Yoon Yong-jung, assured nevertheless that they are working on increasing the number of KAIST female professors. They also plan to assess the current recruitment system and address points of improvement.