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[Opinion] Political Professors, Part-time Lecturers

Posted January. 27, 2006 03:06,   


It is reported that professors are endlessly visiting the offices of those mentioned as potential future presidential candidates. Some volunteer to become advisors, while other bring with them long reports. These are people looking for something in return when a potential candidate is elected as president. There are also professors that run for office every single election. They leave the classroom for prolonged periods of time, and if they fail, they return as if nothing happened.

There are 25 professors among the lawmakers of the 17th National Assembly, but the majority of them have not resigned from their posts; they have just temporarily left their original jobs. In other words, they will shuttle back and forth between both jobs.

Senior Professor Chung Bum-mo criticizes professors’ greed for governmental posts in his recent book, “Conditions of Learning.” In it, Chung laments the university climate of “elevating and attaching importance to what posts professors held in the government.” When a professor returns to a university after working as a minister, people call him “Minister Kim” rather than “Professor Kim,” and the professors themselves often want to be referred to as minister.

It is reported that there are also several professors so busy with TV appearances, working in committees and social work that it is difficult to distinguish what their original jobs are. One professor is said to have set up an office outside of his university.

After President Kim Young-sam’s government, 47 professors have been assigned as ministers, accounting for 20 percent of all ministers. Professors occupy about 40 percent of the committees under the current government. On political professors, Professor Chung pointed out, “There is a long shadow cast from the past, when studying meant you were applying for governmental posts.”

During the Joseon era, the greatest goal of Seonbi (scholars) was to pass the government service exam, and if they went back to their homes, they would wait for the court to call them back again. In other words, such political tendencies are still being maintained. But today, the time gap between professors who exist for academics and ancient Seonbis is as wide as their roles.

There is also another shadow lingering behind political professors: the gloomy reality of part-time lecturers. When professors engage in politics while taking leave from lecturing, low-paid part-time lecturers fill their posts. For them, who can fulfill their dreams of becoming a professor only when there is a spot available, how will those professors who yearn for government posts yet refuse to give up their professorships be seen? When going to another post, it is only right to quit one’s former job.

One thing to learn from ancient Seonbi is the beauty of “withdrawing,” such as the great scholar Yi Toi-gye who refused to become a government official dozens of times.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com