Speaking with President Suh during this issue’s feature interview, I was given the privileged opportunity to ask about the current state of the school, his policies and any insights he may have wished to share with the rest of the school. The responses I received are mostly compiled and well presented on page 12, but what I perceived about our president goes beyond the text of that article.
The basic facts are the following: President Suh plans to release a completely new set of reforms that are surprising in their daring. Students will no longer take lectures by professors in KAIST, but instead listen to classes given by renowned lecturers halfway across the world, online. Students will no longer be evaluated as individuals, but work as a group of four or more students working on the same problems and material. This newly proposed I-4 scheme promises to be a possible coup in the way we implement education, or an ineffectual attempt at reform that will only serve to destabilize KAIST. Regardless of what the outcome may be, the plans will be officially announced on May 17, and from what was inferred from the president’s responses, will be brought into effect by the fall semester. These new programs will be voluntary at first, but will most likely be expanded to slowly include the entire student populace.
Now allow me to embark on a brief thought experiment. The initial response to this seemingly outlandish change in education will be to resist. Not everyone can easily adapt to whatever situation they’re placed in, and a change proposed on the scale of I-4 will be difficult for many, if not most, of KAIST to accept. Some elements of the student body may hold demonstrations while professors will speak out against the new policies. Despite this initial friction, eventually what will happen is that the reforms will hold out against criticism and remain in place for years to come.
Does this proposed scenario sound familiar? It should, because what is happening, or is about to happen in the near future, appears to be identical to the series of reforms implemented in 2007, when President Suh first instituted his reforms of KAIST’s policies.
Though KAIST is currently suffering from an internal political backlash brought about by those reforms roughly four years ago, the fact remains: President Suh’s reforms of 2007 are still in place today.
What does this say about the students and faculty at KAIST? If push came to shove, the reforms could have been stopped. Former President Laughlin was evicted from his office because of his proposed changes to KAIST, yet a year and a new president later, the KAIST community acquiesced and allowed for President Suh’s sweeping reforms to take place. Why was this the case?
Despite the intense scrutiny KAIST is experiencing now, not only will President Suh’s initial reforms stay in place, but a series of new changes will be implemented and kept without much resistance. Not because the students are apathetic, as some would claim, but because KAIST students believe that the changes occurring here are for the better.
If this seems to be an irrational conclusion, here’s some food for thought. Even though small protests broke out in April over the passing of five members of the KAIST family, there was no general consensus that it was the policies themselves that caused the tragedies. When called to vote on a statement during the General Student Assembly, which proclaimed that President Suh’s reforms were a failure, the students could not form a majority opinion and the statement failed to pass. Now that the students have turned their sorrow into celebration with the spring festival, the campus has quieted down.
During the interview, President Suh mentioned that he lamented the spread of skepticism amongst young adults today and how they are loath to easily trust anything said by people in power – the president, ministers, and even CEOs of chaebol conglomerates. Yet such skepticism apparently fails to apply to the students of KAIST.
If all the points made above are not true, then it is up to the students to show it.