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SNU professor embroiled in accusations

Kim accused of physical, verbal abuse, demanding favors, misuse of college facilities


Seoul National University’s musical professor and acclaimed soprano Kim In-hei has been accused of abusing her students.

The university is considering terminating her position while a slew of allegations about her having “taken advantage” of her students’ talents for private occasions have enraged the public.

SNU said it received an inside report that Kim occasionally assaulted her students during her class and when they did not “offer cordial gratitude” after concerts, presentations and other occasions.

She would hit their abdomen and throw whatever she could grab, the school said, citing the report. The professor is also suspected of forcing her pupils to sing at her mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. “Who could dare to say no?” a student reportedly said. 
Seoul National University’s musical professor Kim In-hei (Yonhap News)
Seoul National University’s musical professor Kim In-hei (Yonhap News)

At the same time, Kim is accused of having used one of the school’s concert halls to let her daughter prepare for the school’s entrance examination in 2005. The hall is used as the university’s entrance test venue every year and is barred from rent for private use. Kim’s daughter entered SNU in 2006 and is now studying abroad.

An alumnus of the school said, “It is a great advantage for a candidate to be able to practice there in advance because it reduces nerves and at the same time allows one to be ready for any kind of accident.”

The university is planning to hold an emergency meeting as early as Tuesday to decide her future. Insiders said Kim is highly likely to be fired as she is detested not only by her students but her fellow professors, too.

The case ignited when the school began an inside investigation last week upon requests from her former pupils. Her students also claimed that Kim, who has about 100 concerts and events a year, manipulated the register to cover up her absence at classes.

Kim denied the allegations and said she had never forced anyone to do anything or used any form of violence. “They are university students. They are old enough to express their opposition to my face,” Kim said in an interview with a daily newspaper.

She said that what she had done to her pupils was exactly what she had learnt from her teacher.

“We were brought up in a strict and tough atmosphere. I have also run out of the classroom and cried in the corridor many times because my professor was too hard on me,” she said.

However, her colleagues, who were also taught by the same teacher, denied Kim’s allegation. They said they were never insulted. One of them asked Kim to not “tarnish the honor of a noble person.”

The Korea Herald was not able to reach Kim, but the professor has reportedly threatened to file a lawsuit should the school make a decision without hearing her full explanation.

Kim, one of the country’s most renowned opera singers, gained stardom when she appeared in the SBS weekend prime time show “Star King” as an opera teacher who helps talented but less privileged singers. The broadcasting network canceled her role.

Some observers say the reason for the incident was the old practice of apprenticeship that “enslaves” students, mostly in art and sports.

“Once you are out of your seniors’ sight, you are out of the league,” a student who also studies art said. “This field is too small. Especially if your teacher is powerful, you will never get a chance to pull off anything after upsetting him or her,” she said.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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