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KAIST head admits faults, won’t resign

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology president Suh Nam-pyo has refused to step down but he pledged to abolish its incentive system applying different fees based on grades.

Suh made public his stance while attending the parliamentary education committee convened Tuesday to deal with issues involving his school, including the suicides of four students and a professor since January.

Suh was grilled by committee members, who all attributed the tragedy to his school management policies.
KAIST President Suh Nam-pyo (Yonhap News)
KAIST President Suh Nam-pyo (Yonhap News)

“I have tried accessing the KAIST counseling center for distressed students, which Suh claims is active, but have been told that the number is unavailable,” said Rep. Kwon Young-jin of the ruling Grand National Party.

“The school has neglected to foster the students’ character and mind, focusing only on functional studies.”

Opposition lawmakers demanded that he step down immediately to make way for a better leader.

“The only way for KAIST to straighten out its present problems and start anew is for president Suh to step down,” said Rep. Kim Young-jin of the main opposition Democratic Party.

Another DP lawmaker, Kim Choon-jin, referred to Suh’s leadership as a failure and inquired whether he had considered resignation.

Suh, however, answered that he had no plans to step down. He also claimed that his education policies have so far been effective and only needed partial amendments.

“We will abolish the incentive system based on academic grades,” Suh said.

The president also pledged to ease the principle of teaching all classes in English and to reinforce counseling for distressed students.

He also apologized for his comment last week that the general suicide rates in prestigious schools overseas are much higher than those in Korean schools.

The 74-year-old president faces further blame as he recently was found to have violated pension regulations and abused his power to offer undue favors to people.

Suh applied for teachers’ pension though he was past the maximum age of 65 when he took office as the school’s president at age 70, according to the Education Ministry last February.

The ministry thus urged the KAIST board of directors to take appropriate measures, officials said.

Suh took office in 2006 and has pushed academic competition since then. He was reelected last year, becoming the first KAIST president ever to assume a second term.

His measures, however, were roundly criticized by students as encouraging “endless competition.”

KAIST students and faculty members demanded Monday the replacement of the present leadership, calling Suh’s reform projects a “failure.”

Meanwhile, a KAIST professors’ association began an online vote Tuesday on how the school should be managed in the future and decided to deliver the results to Suh.

Should the president refuse to embrace the changes as requested by a majority of the respondents, professors will then move on to demand his immediate resignation, according to the association.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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