70 years of Dankook University’s (DKU) history might boil down to a shame, when it comes to its democracy. Ever since DKU adopted the concept of a university president, the position was often exploited to solidify the nepotism of the Jang family. Jang Chung-sik, son of DKU founder, reigned DKU for 26 years as the President. If it wasn’t for the notorious ‘DKU Document Disposal’ incident and Ministry of Education discovering that DKU was hiding 170.7 billion won of debt, Jang Chung-sik might have remained President for longer. He stepped down as President during his seventh term in 1993, but came back as chairman of the board in 1996. Except for the 21st and 22nd chairman role, Jang Chung-sik as ruled the board of directors since then. Meanwhile, the presidential throne was passed on to Jang Ho-sung, grandson of Jang Hyung, the founder. Jang Ho-sung is the first to greet a third term in office after his father, Jang Chung-sik.
Before May 8, 2015, the chairman of board could reappoint the President with same person as many times as they wanted. Article 44 from Articles of Association 2014 states the President has four-year tenure and can be reappointed. After a revision in 2015, the reappointment became available only one, however, the appointment is entirely in the hands of the board and chairman. On November 11, 2017, the DKU Articles of Association imposed new ‘Presidential Appointment Regulations’. The Dankook Herald (DKH) called headquarters to get further information on the new election system and found out that they still have not been specified yet because it does not seem like an urgent issue to DKU.
As important issues of school administration are discussed only amongst the President, the board of directors, and professors, it causes several problems. For instance, on June 18, 2018, Dankook University announced a structural change for our majors. It was proclaimed after the vacation started, and the university had not asked for student opinions. The public hearing was held just for professors and the committee was handed over student arguments only through a subcommittee.
Only after the changes were announced did the committee prepare a presentation for Dankookians (students of DKU). However, the presentation started at 3 pm, when students usually have lectures. During the briefing, the committee answered several questions from students and professors. Despite participant disapproval, the school officer seemed determined that there will be no changes to their plan. The remarks of the presenter reflected an absence of communication between university headquarters and Dankookians. Consequently, students were forced to accept the committee’s plan. Decisions are made via vertical structure, excluding student participation. Students did not have an opportunity to argue for their thoughts and need.
The first step to achieving improved democracy in school is to change the perception of the student body. Put into action, this would mean voting in the Student Council election. Voting is a right that must be exercised by every student. The Student Council manages and represents the entire student body so they influence most parts of student campus life. But in recent elections, the voting rate has been decreasing. In fact, many universities could not even form a student council because of the low voting rates. For example, in 2017, Hanyang University and Yonsei University did not review their student council due to low voter turnout. The situation in DKU is just as dire. During the 50th Student Council election, a student delegation earned an extension election because the voting rate didn’t reach a point of validity. Thanks to the extension, the final voter turnout managed to make quorum. This may seem to be a relief, however; the final voter rate was only 34.1% or 0.8% over the necessary rate of 33.3%.
Another way to improve school democracy is by participating in student general assembly. The student general assembly is an opportunity to learn about student council policies and take part in school management. However, nowadays, like the student council voting interest, student participation in the assembly leaves something to be desired. At Kyonggi University, the 2017 student general assembly was cancelled because they were unable to make quorum when only 98 students were present. At DKU as well, many students left during the 2017 general assembly and due to the outflow, the assembly failed to be recognized as a valid legislative organization.
UnivNet, an association of college student councils, explains the purpose of ‘direct voting for a school president’ is to listen to all the opinions of the school constituency by revamping the voting system. The problem with the current system is that the president’s power is strong enough to turn and twist the school in their preferred direction and as a result, the student body may not be respected. More importantly, the use of suffrage by students is not very high, remaining barely above quorum. Ewha Womans University introduced direct voting 131 years after the establishment of the school. The goal was positive; to reinforce the rate of students taking part in school president voting, but still only few students really tried to make their opinions heard and their influence felt by the school corporation.
There are lots of obstacles to operating a direct election. However, this could be the only way to stop the school nepotism that is demeaning the liberty of students. As UnivNet argues, student body attempts to introduce a direct election system are often defeated by movements to protect the vested interests of opponents and their status of authority. Recognition of students as important subjects in school management is crucial in the establishment of this policy. Even if the turnout rate is high, the election cannot be complete ground where rights of students are well preserved. But it can still pull the trigger of common sense that individual voices deserve to be hear at the school and give students an opportunity to participate in school governance. Such changes are the footstool of actualizing the autonomy of students.
For democracy in college administration to be realized, the interest and participation of students is the most important ingredient. The student body must realize that reforming the election system is not the only assignment. Focusing on the forefront of the school’s corporate movement, such as the tuition review committee and the university board, is another way to extend the autonomy of the students.
Students and the headquarters of a university should recognize that students are a legitimate subject of school governance. A college meant to be supportive in the development of knowledge for students rather than simply ranking majors by their employability rates. In addition, everyone has to endeavor to realize a true democratic university. With this in mind, a system of direct elections for the President for the university can help deal with the issues of the distribution of power. In 2018, DKU accepted a new Article of Association and these Articles address the appointment of the DKU president. Although the details are still closed, stipulating the appointment process is better than nothing at all. However, whether the overall tendency will move appointments from headquarters to student is still uncertain. Dankookians should keep an eye on it, to find meaning in the 2018 revisions.
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