On September 28, 2017, the head office of Dankook University (DKU) presented their final plan for the reorganization of DKU in the Student Theater in Hyedang Hall. After a briefing by Kim Wook, Chairperson of the Reform Committee, there was question and answer session. The presentation had been planned for a total of 2 hours, but there was a lot of discussion about the plans from the College of Music. In the end the meeting concluded at 7 p.m, a full 4 hours later. While leaving the theater, many students were still annoyed about the attitude of Chairperson Kim, complaining, “It was not communication with us, but rather just a one-way announcement.”
Over the past 3 months of covering the planned reform, I could not help but worry about the future of DKU, especially for Dankookians (students of DKU) as a part of the university. Few of the steps the committee took were understandable, which led me to ask this question: is this an indication of a move in the university, from a field of intelligence, to one of ducking honest criticism? Even though the university seemed to seek out the approval of the students for the plan, what the students expected, and what the university administration delivered, were very far apart, which is a real problem.
The reorganizing plan was created in order to follow through on recommendations in the second edition of the University Structural Reform Evaluation Criteria announced by the government, via an external consulting company. Chairperson Kim said, the Reform Committee was established to maintain the identity of our prestigious private institution and to improve DKU. However, throughout the process, there was no student involvement. Since the Reform Committee was solely composed of faculty and administrators of DKU, students only learned about the plans after they were already decided. Furthermore, the reasoning behind a decision to seek out a plan for reform from outside consultants and why ‘the prestigious private institution’ failed to seek input from its own students, who have a clear vested interest in protecting their studying ground, remain still unanswered.
The rushed presentation of the reorganizing plan resulted from following the government’s ideas for an overhaul of the education system. More specifically, the decision to match student rates to skilled market shortfalls, forces the university to focus on supporting specific departments over others. The victims of these poorly-conceived decisions are unduly the students, who know very well that the cause of these injustices are not themselves, but rather the blame of policies created by an ill-advised government. Through the opinions of each I-Dan-A member (an ad hoc group of student activists) the representative of the student council in the College of Music, the Agora of the Humanities College and other students, I found out that they now realize they stood little chance against the mass structure of this bureaucracy. However, they did emphasize the importance of students sharing their opinions and learning to stand for their own rights. The roles they recognized for themselves will surely prove to be the main agents in the formation of DKU as a better society.
This experience indicates that DKU administration should have focused on protecting the rights of Dankookians, but they choose instead to focus on market efficiency. During the reform plan presentation on September 28, the professors of the Department of Korean Traditional Music argued that if the head office was really interested in developing an identity of a prestigious private institution, they should not have decided to render the Departments of College of Music to just Majors. In order to, foster intelligence, each Department should remain separate, reinforcing education. Therefore, it is easy to see that the rules of reform were only partially applied and what the university administration plans is far from the vision of the students. Moreover, Chairperson Kim firmly stated that DKU will reduce the number of colleges to 14 in a later plan in 2020, and again in 2027. At this point, it is still unclear what changes are in store for each college and how the reorganization plan will be decided. What is clear is that the struggle of Dankookians and some faculty members in this matter was impressive. Even though public opinion leans towards more practical studies and the reform structure focuses on the marketability of university graduates, their actions remain as proof of the efforts of Dankookians in 2017 to make this institution a more suitable place of higher learning.
Although there was a difference of opinion on many of the issues, it was good to see parties unite in the struggle to secure student rights, by communicating with each other and repeatedly making their opinions heard. Later on, when the new generation of Dankookians undergoes a similar crisis on their study grounds, I can only hope the endeavors of the 2017 activists are in some way imparted on to them, and they can realize a better future for all.