Student activists forcibly occupied the Seoul National University president’s office in protest against the university’s forthcoming incorporation. The illegal intrusion into the office was anything but a defensible means of conflict resolution.
The university is set to be incorporated into a national university corporation in December under a law enacted last December to provide it with greater autonomy and financial independence. The law, enacted after 20 years of debate, aimed at freeing the university from government control and interference and permitting greater autonomy in education, research and financial and personnel management.
Critics, who claim the university is pursuit of commercialization, may have legitimate concerns about the potential decline in the quality of education in humanities and research in basic science. They may raise questions regarding an increase in tuition or a decline in the quality of student welfare. Of course, all of their concerns can be addressed in the incorporation process.
Few would question that Seoul National University is the nation’s most prestigious institution of higher education. Still, it has a long way to go until it catches up with top-class universities in the world. It is way behind them in global rankings.
The university needs to be freed from the fetters of government control and interference if it is to become more competitive in education and research. No wonder it looks to incorporation as a solution to this problem.
But some faculty members and student protestors are misguided in demanding that the university remain in the cocoon of government protection. If so, it will certainly fall behind prominent domestic private universities, not to mention renowned institutions of higher education overseas.
Given accelerating global competition, faculty members and students will do well to work together to implement the university’s post-incorporation master plan for growth.