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Should the Direct Means of Communication With the University President Be Treated With More Prudence?
[ Issue 131 Page 11 ] Sunday, June 15, 2014, 15:52:58 Dongsung Park, Sang Eun Jee dstompark@gmail.com, eunicejee@hotmail.com

President Sung Mo Kang’s effort to open new, direct means of communication has allowed for any student to come forth with his or her problems and resolve them in swift manners. While most welcome this change, some believe that this may cause the president to be distracted from issues that necessitate his attention. The KAIST Herald presents both perspectives.


Pro: Do Not Babble in the Attentive Ear

Since KAIST has accepted a new president, it is not rare to hear how one has been able to directly consult the president in solving issues related to the college. This is in stark contrast with the past, where lack of communication with the head used to be a serious issue among the students. And as welcome the openness of the leading authority is to its college citizens, students should show as much reciprocated care in directly involving the president in their matters.

A shared prudence benefits the general student population. Imagine opening up your mailbox and receiving tens of new mail every day. Flooding the president with these mails will only prove distraction from those that necessitate his help. On the other hand, matters like making available vaccination times around lectures, which cannot be solved by the students alone, but need expedition and greater focus on the student’s point of view, should be discussed. Of course it is within anyone’s jurisdiction to try addressing the president anytime they wish with whatever irks them, but this preachy carefulness is more a matter of etiquette and mutual benefit, which seem occasionally forgotten.

When the problem concerns the student and another - say, a personnel from the college administration -, then reaching the president without sufficient consultation with the other is a professional talk-behind-the-back. However, as inadequate one may think the personnel are, they are there to work together with the students for the betterment of the school. The reason why both the student and the administrative are involved in the process is because only then can we aspire to have a reasonable sustainable course of action. Some of the success stories I have heard indicate that the president placed direct orders to fit the student’s case. This change is not only more likely to be a biased one, but also potential straining on the student-administration relation. Circumventing the procedures can be taken as a sign of distrust and evasive of cooperative intents; in the long run this cannot be helpful. Just like credit cards, credit must be stacked, however painstakingly, to expect one of high capacity.

A perhaps dimmer view of the above is that students have become more complacent after the new president has proved to be more willing to listen. Recently, a student at KISTI was nearly seriously injured by the driving of a careless worker, which brought heated discussions in ARA, the school’s online forum. It was intriguing to see how the president was mentioned more than the safety department or the student council as the authority that should handle this situation. It is my speculation that the Korean culture of wanting everything done quickly has possibly brought about a tendency where one tends to ignore protocols when situations seem unfair; the online intent to have the president instead of the relevant bureaus deal with the case being its reflection. Since not many of the issues students complain are of immediate threat, this rush can be considered an ironic form of complacence. There is not much more to comment on this since quick changes in societal tendencies are very difficult. That being said, it is in our relatively privileged generation to have amble capacitance and do our parts in taking the slow but proper steps, expecting others will do the same. In that sense, perhaps the students should be more meticulous in their efforts to fix the wrong via the long way.

In all likeliness, the student voice is not cluttering since the president addresses no such issue as of yet. However, since the president is doing his part in giving us his ear, it is in our part not to shout at it. In summary: fewer words weigh more, do not circumnavigate the ones involved, and do not be rash or hasty. Remind yourselves that it is the president you are addressing and that appropriate prudence is only minimum propriety.


Con: Communication for a Better Society

Since the inauguration of President Sung Mo Kang, KAIST has strived to provide an improved communication platform for its students. President Kang has organized various events such as “Talk with the President,” “Meeting with Parents,” and “President Sung Mo Kang’s Doughnut Times” in order to hear students’ opinions on school policies and promote active interaction between the school administration and other members of KAIST. He has shown great interest in encouraging students to voice their opinions to the school, even creating an e-mail account specifically made for answering students’ enquiries. This has had some positive influence on the school atmosphere, as many students are now directly contacting the president when they want to report problems, raise questions, or post suggestions about KAIST.

During former President Suh’s time in office, however, many students complained that the lack of communication between the president and students acted as a barrier to improving student welfare and the general atmosphere of KAIST. Students criticized his pushy reforms such as mandatory English lectures, scholarship deduction policy, and his unwillingness to reflect students’ opinions in the policy-making process. Many students were forced to lose their trust toward the school administration that seemed to show little regard for the students’ point of views.

In that sense, communication does not merely provide a bridge between students and the school administration but also builds a strong trust and bond. Students want to see their needs being considered even if they are not satisfied perfectly. Creating an environment where sharing of students’ ideas or concerns is encouraged will help students to remain positive and feel a strong sense of belonging to the school under all circumstances.

Open communication between the president and the students of KAIST can also set an example to other universities. There are not many universities in which students can directly contact the president to freely discuss about the school or their personal lives. By creating such open atmosphere where students’ opinions are valued and considered thoroughly, KAIST can set an example to other universities and bring about a new reform that stresses the importance of communication and harmony among the community members. That way, KAIST will not only stop at being the leading university academically, but also be a role model deeply dedicated to the welfare and connectedness of its community members.

Many argue that allowing students to directly address the president may cause students to brief him with unimportant issues; however, it is difficult to draw a clear line between what opinions are appropriate and those that are not. It would be difficult to come to a consensus regarding this matter for the whole of the student body. Encouraging as many students to voice their opinions as possible can allow us to find useful ideas that might have been overlooked if students had to report it elsewhere, where ideas become filtered based on procedural steps. Therefore, it may be better for more students to express their opinions. The president can then decide which questions are urgent and which can wait. It is up to the president to decide whether to do something about the problems or not.

In addition, students are not likely to inform the president unless they feel discussion and improvements regarding the matter are absolutely necessary. When the students want to talk to the president, they must send e-mails to his e-mail address (president@kaist.ac.kr). They will have to reveal a great deal of information about themselves, such as names, entering class, or departments. In such circumstances, they are more likely to be prudent in raising questions or making suggestions. Therefore, such act should not be discouraged; rather they should praised, for it requires great courage and responsibility to express their concerns to the president.

Communication is necessary for building trust and a sense of connectedness. Students’ problems are not only their problems, but also problems of all the members at KAIST. Thus, fast sharing of that information or opinion should be encouraged and supported for the betterment of KAIST as a whole.


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