Opposition lawmakers grilled Education Minister-designate Kim Myung-soo during his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly on Monday, questioning his alleged wrongdoings, including plagiarism.
Unfazed, Kim defied calls to withdraw from nomination and vowed to become the country’s top education official.
The controversial pick by President Park Geun-hye has been the primary target of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy since former Prime Minister nominee Moon Chang-keuk pulled out last month.
Kim has been under attack for alleged multiple acts of plagiarism, illicit applications for research funds and inflation of career credentials during his tenure as a professor at the state-run Korea National University of Education.
Rep. Bae Jae-jung of the NPAD pointed out the logical error Kim allegedly committed while combining the content of two papers without due citations. In the paper about how to improve state-run tests to hire teachers, he wrote that there were eight important methods but only mentioned three.
“Dishonest and a copycat. … This is the person appointed to a high-ranking position in society. What will children learn from this?” she said.
Kim denied all charges of plagiarism, citing what he called “academic conventions.”
Kim wrote the papers in question in the early 2000s to get promoted but described the period as morally corrupt: “It was during the time when ethics and morals were not very emphasized (in writing papers).”
In order to be considered plagiarism, he said it had to be a “unique idea or a thought.”
This was immediately refuted by the NPAD lawmakers who cited an ethics code for researchers that defines copying six consecutive words from another academic paper without citation as plagiarism.
“We cannot apply the same rule (for all papers). I think the criteria can change according to the standards of the academic circles,” he said.
He was later shown a thesis written by a professor in South Chungcheong Province that had a paragraph identical to one in his, but claimed that he never saw the paper before.
Kim’s comments on former President Park Chung-hee’s May 16, 1961, coup also drew fire from the opposition. He said the coup was an “inevitable decision,” which lawmakers criticized as a justification for Park’s ousting of an elected government.
Some lawmakers, mostly from the ruling Saenuri Party, were more sympathetic and criticized the opposition for lashing out and being “disrespectful” to the candidate.
The Saenuri Party’s Rep. Kang Eun-hee attempted to emphasize Kim’s humane side, saying that he devoted time and effort to help students.
On the allegation that Kim had received funds twice for the same research topic, Rep. Seo Yong-gyo of the same party said that the topics for the two papers were “clearly different.” While ruling party members tried to rescue the nominee, Kim himself did not provide any explanation.
Kim has also been suspected of attempting to take credit for his students’ research papers after it was learned that he registered four papers he wrote together with his students as his own on the university database. He claimed that it was a simple typing mistake, saying he was not familiar with computers.
The NPAD’s Rep. Cho jeong-sik, however, asked how it was possible to make the same mistake four times.
Cho also said that Kim’s explanation concerning his stock trading did not add up. Last month, Kim sold a large amount of stock in a private education firm.
He initially said he bought the shares ― which were worth tens of millions of won ― in May and sold them in June. But Kim explained late Monday that he has been investing in the company ― in which his brother-in-law is the second-largest shareholder ― for over 10 years.
A recent survey by a civic group showed that 96 percent of the respondents felt that Kim was not suitable to be the new education minister.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)