In accordance with a new government policy on structural reform of the nation’s universities, Dankook University (DKU) and others like it, have had to present their reorganization plans for the future. The report was first made public at the start of the summer vacation. However, it soon came under fire as the new plans were developed without any prior consultation with the student body. The university stated that the changes were necessary in order to continue to receive financial support from the government, but the students remained unconvinced. With no firm resolutions in sight, the conflict between the university and the student body is continuing to grow. The main problem is that DKU has adhered to their plan, despite the backlash from students.
The reorganization plan was first presented to Dankookians (students of DKU) on June 21, 2017, as the summer vacation kicked off. The Head Office of DKU unveiled their plan to the councils of each college, and representative team. A key point of the plan is to merge several colleges, a move that triggered the student backlash. Therefore, the Head Office held a public hearing on July 13, 2017 where they explained their plan. However, they denied a request put forward by the Dankook Journal and a few student council members to broadcast the hearing on Facebook. A task force team against the reorganization plans was launched by the Student Council, while many colleges took independent actions in support of their existing departmental structures.
The Department of Counseling and the College of Law argued about the incompatibility of their unification, by gathering the support of students and professors. Each student council issued its own response to the proposal to DKU Administration. Moreover, they attended a meeting of the Reform Committee of DKU, which only had seats for faculties and administration and none for representatives of the student body. As a result, on July 28, the Reform Committee of DKU held conference to announce they were cancelling plans to relocate the Department of Counselling to the Cheonan Campus. In addition, the plan to merge the Department of Law and the College of Social Science was also withdrawn.
However, once the second edition of the government’s structural reform plan was published on August 25, 2017, the evaluation index cited improved management as the main goal of any reorganization, but when DKU Administration announced their reorganization plans, it was clear they were not taking into account the government’s new assessment criteria. In the final plan, published on September 16, the College of Humanities and the College of Social Science remain separate entities. However, the College of Art and Design and the College of Music will merge into one body known as the College of Culture and Art. Furthermore, the College of Engineering and the College of Architecture will be combined. It is clear the blueprint only took into account a few of the student opinions, and refused an open dialogue with the student body during the entire planning process. By shutting down the idea of public hearings on the process, they were able to proceed with a plan that best suited their bottom line.
Therefore, there were a lot of efforts to defend and protect student rights. Each student council including the Colleges of Humanities, Law and Music, issued a statement declaring their objections to the plans. I-Dan-A, a group of independent Dankookians, is also actively wading in on the controversy. DKH interviewed the Chairperson of I-Dan-A, Ryu In-ho (Junior, Dept. of History), and the External Cooperation Director, Go Young-sun (Freshman, Dept. of Law) to learn more about how they are representing Dankookians in this struggle to be heard. I-Dan-A is a protest group that is against the second edition of the University Structural Reform Evaluation Criteria, the very design of the reorganization evaluation criteria used by the government. They are an informal group, so they can express their views through the General Student Council or share ideas with the Task Force team.
The most serious issue they see that has resulted from this process is that student rights are losing ground. Ryu explained that from the beginning, when plans were first being drawn up, there was no consultation with the student body, only the head office and faculties. Furthermore, the declining scale of independent student bodies resulting from less colleges overall might also contribute to a worsening of the problem.
I-Dan-A is also dealing with their own challenges. Funding is a problem. They have managed to keep their actions going despite their budgetary restrictions. “I contacted the Graduate Student Association for assistance however, they were indifferent to our cause. Moreover, the support of Dankookians is lacking. I think if the proposed changes are not directly connected to their own college, they don’t think it’s necessary to worry about it,” Ryu said.
|▲ In the demostrantion of the College of Music, the slogan was "Save the College of Music."|
Despite all these efforts, there are still a lot of casualties under the new proposal. As of September 21, the student council of the College of Music started to hold anti-reorganizing demonstrations and on the 25th, they demonstrated in front of Beomjeong Hall chanting, “Save the College of Music.” Many students were disappointed in the professors of the Music College because of their passive counterproposal to the university that was only issued after the students protested the final draft. In an interview, a representative of the student council, Baek Han-kyul, said, “We already knew our output to input was poor, however, to protect the value of cultivating diverse intelligences, there is still a very important reason for saving the College of Music. The reorganizing plan will never change, but we hope this at least results in a stronger administration.”
The DKH also conducted an interview with the Korean High Education Institute (KHEI) to seek out effective possible solutions. A researcher at KHEI, Im Hee-seong, pointed out the reorganization of universities in Korea is a result of a reduction in the number of students and the pro market-oriented policies of the government. The plans do not universally solve the structural problem of universities as they focus predominately on universities around the capital area. The restructuring of higher education has triggered a competition among universities that is directly connected to the financial aid they receive from the government. This funding is necessary for each university to manage their expenses and continue to grow.
Even though, some may say it’s a mandatory change and that we have no choice but to adapt, the current reorganization plans will lead to nothing more than the destruction of some basic foundation studies far from practical uses such as humanities education. This means the ultimate goal of the Korean government is efficiency, by making sure we produce enough workers to meet future industrial demand. However, the crucial problem is that all policies need appropriate plans and a long enough time to satisfy the majority of people. In other words, following these policies, by violating he rights of students to have a voice in the change, will see the university administration continue to face rejection and criticism from the student body without gaining any ‘efficiency’ in policies.
Universities are supposedly working off government demands, however, under this reorganizing plan, it is the students who are suffering. For this reason, the KHEI commented students, as a key member of the university, should stand up for their rights to be heard. Moreover, the Korean government also has a responsibility to improve meaningful education by respecting its diverse aspects. In the end, the university partially adopted the requests of students; however, it clearly showed that their priority is not Dankookians, and there are still is a lot of students who will suffer under the plan. DKU should see that there is nothing more important than a bond of sympathy between all members of their own community.
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