President Park Geun-hye’s appointment of Lew Young-ik, a senior conservative scholar, as the new head of the national history research agency is drawing strong backlash from progressive historians and politicians.
Lew, 77, a chair professor from Handong Global University, was named Monday to head the National Institute of Korean History.
His appointment came amid growing controversy over history textbooks recently approved by the state-run agency.
Kyohak Publishing Co.’s textbook, authored by conservative scholars, has been at the center of a dispute over its allegedly slanted views on the country’s modern history.
Progressives have claimed the book features biased views, distortions, errors and plagiarism. But its authors and conservatives call it a major fix for the “defeatist and self-deprecating” views that they see dominating history education.
The main opposition Democratic Party was quick to respond, denouncing the decision as the “worst case” of President Park’s bullheaded personnel appointment style.
“(Lew) is one of the leading New Right scholars who supports pro-Japanese and military dictators. This is probably the worst appointment made (by Cheong Wa Dae),” DP floor leader Rep. Jun Byung-hun told reporters on Tuesday.
The dispute centers on Lew’s past remarks regarding late President Syngman Rhee. He wrote five books on South Korea’s first president, and some are accused of glamorizing his 12-year autocratic rule.
Criticism also focused on Lew’s past service as a senior adviser for the Association for Contemporary Korean History.
The association, described as an organization of “New Right” historians, was set up in 2011, pledging to “fix biased research and education led by progressive historians.”
The current and former presidents of the association, Lee Myung-hee and Kwon Hee-young, are both on the six-member writing panel for the Kyohak textbook.
“The (chair) seat is important as it requires not just academic knowledge, but political impartiality. But the appointment of Lew is an insult to the public,” Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon of the DP said.
Lew earned his doctorate from Harvard University, and taught at Korea University. He also served as vice president at Hallym University. He is taking over the office from outgoing head Lee Tae-jin, who recently completed his three-year term.
By Oh Kyu-wook (email@example.com