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Should clean disciplinary records be required of personnel working in the student government?
[ Issue 129 Page 11 ] Saturday, April 19, 2014, 23:52:00 Seungho Lee, Dongsung Park leesh1995@hotmail.com, dstompark@gmail.com
Recently on Ara (the university’s online forum), controversy arose as a member of the KAIST Central Administration stepped down from his position after being indicted for charges of violence against a fellow student. Should a person’s history be an indicator of future performance or should the present oversee past mistakes? The KAIST Herald presents two perspectives.


Pro: No Tolerance for History of Physical Violence

On March 26, in an article posted on ARA, a member of the KAIST Central Administration was accused of committing physical violence against a younger student at a party last year. The author of the article felt that a student with such a record should not be allowed to serve in the student government, and demanded that he resign unless it was proven that he had never beaten up a fellow student. Members of the student government all seek to serve the student body. This requires respect for all fellow students and the desire to make their college experiences better, but a history of physical violence shows a clear lack of this kind of respect.

Using physical violence to solve interpersonal conflicts is immature and never effective, and shows a lack of leadership and interpersonal skills. By the time students enter college, they should be mature enough to control their emotions. To ignore the consequences and the other person’s feelings, and to use violence shows an utmost lack of proper control that a student government member should have. The cliché “With great power comes great responsibility” is a basic principle that a members of student government cannot violate.

Furthermore, if such a member is allowed to serve in the student government, it will seriously damage its reputation and credibility. Student participation, including voting turnouts, is the basis for an effective student government, and much effort is put into the elections to increase student voting rates. It is only inevitable that such a reputation will lower voter turnout and other student participation - loss of trust and stigma would follow if a member is shown to have a troubled disciplinary record. This will also make it more difficult for the student government to carry out its tasks that usually requires heavy student involvement.

One famous case of a politician using physical violence was Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the 2012 United States Presidential Election. Romney personally admitted to and apologized for using physical violence against a gay colleague in high school. Despite the apology, the news started a firestorm against Romney (who was already having a difficult time trying to win enough voters). Of course, it is entirely possible and likely that Romney changed for the better since his high school years, but the negative impact of the incident on Romney’s poll ratings could not be denied.
 
One could argue that, even after such an incident, the offender could learn from his mistakes and in turn gain an even deeper understanding of why he was wrong and how he should have acted. And some may think that that could make him a better member of student government. However, it is unjust for the victim of the violence if the member does not face any major consequences. And because the student government serves the student body, if the victim and his friends feel that the attacker is not fit for such position, the student government needs to heed their word or else, risk alienating its own supporters. This is important in setting precedents, showing that the student government does not tolerate disciplinary issues among its members.
 
The student government members are essentially student representatives who have the authority to take students’ opinions and complaints, and work to make changes for the benefit of the students. Members should have an inherent respect and appreciation for their fellow students, and the use of physical violence against any one of them directly contradicts that. The offender may have repented and changed for the better, but having such a member will hurt the reputation and credibility of the student government, and it is only fair for the offender to face a penalty after causing someone physical pain. Only then can we move closer to ensuring that incidents like this do not happen again at KAIST.

 
Con: Overcompensating Interpretation of Moral Ideals
 
The general undergraduate consensus approves of the development in recent affairs of the KAIST Central Administration as a personnel identified of previous charges of violence stepped down from his position. Although the misconduct at hand is unacceptable in nature, there is a need to properly address whether this approval is of correct reason. If it is because bad disciplinary records are unacceptable for students representing the undergraduate population, I must retort that the thought is both impractical and in fact, quite self-inconsistent.
 
From simply efficiency’s perspective, denying the possibility of participation to a willing student is rather foolish. Practically everything concerning our lives in KAIST has some relevance to the student government, and anyone in a leading position within can testify how demanding the post is. For example, merely months after the present Undergraduate Student Council won office, only after the cancellation of a mobile application (with funds approved by the council) was met with harsh disapproval on ARA, did they actively acknowledge and address their mistakes. This incident can only be understood as a sign of inattention by the executives to the details. I would not hesitate to vote for a once-troublesome but actively engaged student over the average, nonresponsive student if it meant that the resources will not be wasted from simple indifference, especially in times when administrative ability is in dwindle. Failing to employ the motivated for their past mistakes is definitely a weakness that will only hinder the effectiveness of the organization.
 
Suppose the undergraduate body disagreed with their university administration. If the developing conflict is critical to both sides, then it seems hardly far-fetched to expect the most fervent of proponents to face a decent amount of disciplinary notice from the university. This resembles KAIST of 2011, when the president of this institute was in a strong standoff with the students. In retrospect, what may have seen as an overkill by the leaders of the student government was in fact the greatest efforts in bringing the peace in student-university relations we currently bask in. Signs of insubordination is most frequently a threat but also occasionally more an indicator of the passion required to lead in times of difficulty. And although the example was highly exceptional, every operation should similarly seek a head with leadership. Point taken: charges of violence and the similar should never be overlooked. However, banning all students with disciplinary records for a position nurtures the idea of obedience and inherently removes the chance of letting the strongest leaders take the chair in times of necessity.

Most importantly, the moral requirements by nature is harsh on our self-expectations as no expectations of redemption exists. When it comes to young college students, I wish to have hope for the possibility of change in all that precedes the notion of naivety. KAIST should be a site for the improvement of undergraduates beyond the scope of scientific research, and should absolutely banish the notion that those who have done wrong in the past but wish to do better in the future can only be detrimental if they were to serve the community in a position of responsibility. The plea is not to lax the expectations, but to discard the conflicting thoughts: stringent and unforgiving towards past wrongdoers while idealistic about that perfect person we deserve to be led by. To those who disagree with the prior clause, I must ask whether they are not misunderstanding the role of social standards. It is a precautionary measure to prevent those who may abuse or misuse the power of position, not a social tool to arrogantly judge upon others and see whether their lives have been noble enough to satisfy our vicarious needs for representative goodness.
 

When it comes to judging the success of an administration, the most important standards are recent accomplishments and faults, not those of the individuals’ pasts; if the student government fails to address the student body’s wishes, then the members’ outstanding moral qualities is of absolute irrelevance. I want someone who can deliver, and requiring clean records of students in the council is an inefficient, short sighted, and ironically cruel expectation.  

Seungho Lee, Dongsung Park Archives  
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