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Violent campus disputes

Posted April. 17, 2001 13:27,   


Causes of dispute:

The foundation, the faculty and the student body are the three parties involved in campus disputes. In most cases, the trouble is that students are prone to go beyond the bounds of propriety to meddle in school administration and make inordinate demands. It has to be admitted that their excessive interference in campus affairs complicates the situation.

At the same time, opaque management of school foundations and an autocratic mode of administration provide fertile ground for such disputes. A wrangle is likely to develop over the appointment of a university president.

At Soongsil University the student council and the faculty are opposed to keeping Ouh Yoon-Bae as president for a second term as requested by the foundation. The opponents claim that the foundation and Ouh are attempting to have him stay against a promise made when he took office that he would serve only one term.

The Ajou University is plagued by charges of irregularity involving the foundation management and the selection of its president.

Another bone of contention nationwide is raised registration fees in the new semester. Students are protesting against ``unilaterally`` imposed heavy tuition without reinforcing the fiscal resources by the foundation. In most universities the two sides -- the student council and the school administration -- are nearing agreement on the scale of the tuition raise, but such universities as Yonsei, Dankook and Ajou are still mired in tit-for-tat.

Position of students:

Not in every instance is collective activism organized by the student council supported by most students. A student at Duksung Women`s University said the ``campus struggle`` is led by a small minority, as most other students are preoccupied with their personal concerns about their careers after graduation.

``The majority are not taking part in campus activism because they are more interested in individual development and future job hunting,`` she said.

A Soongsil University student said most students would suffer from missing many classes on account of prolonged campus turmoil.

Position of administration:

``Problems of improving the educational environment, such as building more classrooms or formulation of balanced curricula, require intensive study and extended procedures, as well as much time and money, yet students want them to be settled within a short time, driving us up the wall,`` a Dankook University professor said.

An official of a university foundation in Seoul said he does not like the government to intervene but that it might be inevitable, though annoying, under the current circumstances, in which students occupy the president`s office, destroy school furniture and engage in other irrational, violent activity beyond the control of the school authorities.

The difficulty lies in the fact that even the law-enforcement authorities are not given ready access to dispute-ridden campuses despite all the disorder and disturbance. In the past, many of the protest rallies and demonstrations were led by leftist radicals in the name of political democratization, but lately they concentrate more on intramural affairs in conflict with the school administration and foundation, a ranking police officer said. Because police find it hard to intervene in the domestic affairs of universities without negative fallout, police seldom get involved in dealing with campus activism, he added.

Any remedy?

No specific solution is available to resolve these frequent campus disputes. Lee Kum-Cheon, a leader of the national movement for amending the private school law, comprised of student councils of 35 universities and advocacy groups including the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers` Union, suggested that a logical approach would be desirable on a broader scale that could pave the way for revising the law on private schools, instead of violent protests.

Trespassing on and occupying the president`s office by students might be symbolic acts, but they would not solve anything, he said.

Hyun Ki-Deuk ratio@donga.com