The KAIST Undergraduate Student Club Union is a self-governing body which supports and serves all official clubs on campus, and is currently headed by Kyuhong Byun. The KAIST Herald met with Mr. Byun to find out the current issues facing the Union and how they plan to face any challenges ahead.
To start, could you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Kyuhong Byun, and I go by Francisco among foreign students. I entered KAIST in 2007 and I am in the Department of Computer Science although I am currently on a leave of absence from school. Since I entered college, I have participated in the literature club, acting club, and the computer club. Since 2008, I was the president of the literature club for two years. In 2010 I was the president of the KAIST Undergraduate Student Club Union, and currently in 2011, I am the head of the Student Club Union emergency measures committee.
Could you explain some of the work that the KAIST Undergraduate Student Club Union does?
In KAIST there are multiple ways for students to collect and express their opinions. One of those is for a club member to express his ideas to the club president. The club president will then relay those ideas to the head of the club branch the said club belongs to. Finally, those ideas will be brought to the president of the Student Club Union. The Student Club Union is the second largest self-governing organization on campus after the Student Council, and we help further improve club activities, give suggestions for future plans of clubs, and help clubs communicate with the student body at large. In other words, we gather student opinions and look after the welfare of clubs in KAIST.
On a related note, I feel it is important at this point to look over the definition of what a “dong-a-ri” or club is here at KAIST. According to the Naver Korean dictionary, a “dong-a-ri” is defined as a group of people who have gathered together to achieve a common goal. It is actually a translation of the word circle, but we decided to go with club which is a more common term. For instance people who like soccer get together and form a soccer club or people who like basketball make a basketball club; simply a group of people who like a same thing. But here at KAIST, we feel that the word club should have a more official, significant meaning. Of course, people with similar interests get together to share activities. But on top of merely doing some activity, we feel that they should also show a layer of professionalism in their activities and contribute to KAIST’s culture. Only when they meet these criteria can they be officially listed as a club under the Student Club Union.
Finally the Student Club Union provides a club room, decides on the distribution of financial support for clubs, negotiates the use of facilities such as the Sports Complex, we publish a booklet introducing the clubs in KAIST, and we manage the clubs section of the official KAIST website.
I heard that there have been problems with the Student Club Union presidential election this year. Could you elaborate?
In order to have an election, you obviously need candidates to run for the presidency. Only then can the voters study and evaluate the qualities of those candidates and cast their vote. Even if there is only one candidate, voters can look at his or her qualities and decide whether that person if fit for the job.
The problem was that we had no one who wanted to run for the place of president of the Student Club Union. In other words, we had no candidates to the election itself could not take place. As a solution to this problem, we decided to set up an “emergency measures committee” and I was voted in unanimously as its temporary head.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
There is a great number and variety of clubs in KAIST. We have over seventy clubs, and compared to Seoul National University for instance – which has a similar number of clubs for a much larger undergraduate student body – I would say that KAIST is unmatched in the variety of activities on offer. Unfortunately, I have been hearing recently that many of these clubs are facing difficulty in recruiting new members, and some are even on the verge of closing down. While not the sole cause, one of the factors concerned is President Nam Pyo Suh’s decision to introduce incremental tuition fees for students with low GPAs. I won’t argue that some of the changes he has brought have had positive effects and bettered the school in multiple ways.
However, you could see the new policies as a double edged sword, and as far as club member recruitment is concerned, the effects have been negative. Due to the pressure to maintain good grades, many students are reluctant to join clubs which are not academically oriented.
In my view, the diversity of clubs at KAIST is a great asset to the school and its culture. I sincerely hope that we can continue to maintain this culture and what we offer to the student body. I hope everyone will manage to achieve a gratifying college life and we will continue to do our work to support that goal.