February 9, a press conference was held by the undergraduate and graduate student representatives outside the Student Center 2 Building. Undergraduate President Dohan Kim and Graduate President Chan Park called for the expeditious passage of an important bill at the special session of the National Assembly’s Education, Science and Technology Committee (ESTC) held the next day. In essence, the bill outlined a contentious issue: the legal guarantee of student participation in the KAIST University Council. Unfortunately the bill did not pass. In a joint statement released afterwards, the Undergraduate Student Council and the Graduate Student Council reaffirmed their resolve to “ensure that the students have a rightful say in school affairs.”
Can you introduce yourself?
Hello, my name is Dohan Kim and this is currently my seventh semester at KAIST. I am the President of the new Undergraduate Student Council for this year, “All in One.” As you might imagine, we are quite busy trying to organize ourselves to push forward the KAIST University Council Amendment at the next special session of the ESTC.
What exactly is the KAIST University Council and why is it controversial?
The concept of a KAIST University Council actually originated with the actions of the Emergency Innovation Committee (EIC) last year. A university council is essentially a forum consisting of representatives from students, faculty, staff and trustees. It is authorized to recommend and initiate policies as well as to express judgment on existing ones or those submitted by the administration. This framework is already widespread in other universities, and we firmly believe that it will provide an effective channel for students – as the majority constituents - to contribute to the school’s organization. The reforms that the administration rather suddenly introduced several years ago, while they caused significant inconveniences to the students, did not go through an appropriate feedback process. The existence of a University Council will serve to alleviate such issues in the future.
That being said, the bone of contention originates from a clash between the three major interest groups: professors, students and the administration. These are all jockeying for more influence in the university’s management. The EIC clause outlining the workings of the University Council has been consistently marred by revisions from the other two groups; for example, only last month the composition of the University Council was modified to exclude student representatives entirely, and the outfit was renamed the “Professors’ Council.” The amendment to the KAIST Legislature that we are pressing for will hopefully provide a legal guarantee for student participation in university affairs.
Do you feel that a confrontation with the other factions is inevitable on this issue?
As I have said, that the Professors’ Association (PA) and the administration do not exactly see eye-to-eye with us on this issue would be an understatement. The administration has been loath to accept the existence of the University Council from the very start, and has even tried to relegate it to an “advisory role” last year. This, I believe, was the background behind the Professors’ Association calling on President Nam Pyo Suh’s resignation last October. In addition, the professors, trustees and administration are all wary of student participation in the school’s political process. I think this is enough to prove that some legislative action must be taken on behalf of the students. In my own opinion, this is the graduate and undergraduate student representatives’ rightful duty and responsibility.
So what actions have you taken or plan to take?
Although the amendment unfortunately did not pass, as I have already mentioned we are already looking forward to the next special session of the ESTC to be held in April. We may also organize the student populace to make our point, similar to what happened after the tragedies last year, except this requires a far more politically-oriented approach. In this respect, the Graduate Student Council “Hello World” has been enormously helpful with its political experience and knowledge. The fact that undergraduate and graduate students face similar circumstances facilitates a unified approach by us both. In any case, we are all prepared for a long struggle ahead.
Thank you. Do you have any last comments?
As of now, our efforts have been set back. However, students may rest assured that we will do our utmost to forward this cause. Give us your attention and please don’t hesitate to make your voice heard. After all, that’s what we are fighting for.