There is some dissent over the recent election of the new president of Seoul National University. Professors who oppose Sung Nak-in, who is to take office in a week, threatened to take group action and arranged to meet Monday to discuss the issue.
The root cause of the dispute at the nation’s top university lies with, among other things, the complicated method of choosing its president. Originally, there were 12 candidates. A presidential recommendation panel consisting of 20 members from within SNU and 10 from outside the school narrowed the list to five. Sung, former dean of the School of Law, took first place in the first stage.
Then a combination of evaluations by the recommendation panel and a 244-member policy assessment group chose three finalists. This time, physics professor Oh Se-jung finished first, with Sung and materials engineering professor Kang Tae-jin tied as runners-up, but this ranking was meaningless because all of the finalists were put to a vote by the board of trustees on an equal footing.
The 15-member board gave Sung eight votes, Oh four and Kang three. Dissenting professors, especially supporters of Oh, demanded that the board explain why it chose Sung even though Oh finished first in the penultimate selection stage.
It is a pity the professors are making this demand because under the school charter, the board is not required to consider the previous rankings of finalists.
The dissent at SNU showed that its decision to adopt an “indirect election” of its president instead of a direct vote by the faculty, which had been in force since 1991, has done little to curb the problems with the latter, like excessive competition, factional strife and postelection conflicts.
This year’s presidential election was the first since SNU turned itself from a state-run university into an incorporated entity in 2011 to gain more management independence from the government.
All the changes should have been geared to enhance its global competitiveness, but the latest controversy shows that some at the university still act like nasty politicians. This increases the need to reform the presidential election system and, moreover, as this page suggested previously, open the post to outside figures.