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[Opinion] Open Major at Seoul Nat’l Univ.

Posted September. 12, 2008 03:59,   


In the Middle Ages, universities in Europe taught liberal arts and divided them into trivium, or grammar, rhetoric and logic, and quadrivium, or arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. The trivium has evolved into the humanities and the quadrivium into the natural sciences, with the majors further diversified. Modern universities mainly focus on producing professionals rather than cultivating learning, but certain universities offer liberal arts education only. Such schools originated in Europe but are now more frequently found in the United States. Graduates of liberal arts schools acquire vocational training after entering vocational colleges or graduate school.

A major difference between Korean and U.S. universities is that an American student is free to choose his or her major. Freshmen can select their major by their junior year and can even change it. They can choose several majors since they are not obliged to meet demanding credits. Such a free and unrestricted atmosphere that crosses academic boundaries is the driving force behind producing creative minds.

Seoul National University is offering early admission for students applying to its open major department. The new department was created to absorb undergraduates as the university’s law and medical departments convert to professional schools next year. The university’s chief administrative officer said the open major’s purpose is to nurture natural scientists with humanitarian thoughts, as suggested by “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins. For instance, co-majoring in law and medicine while taking liberal arts courses could produce forensic experts.

Seoul National University might have felt the need to establish the new department after grasping the global trend of fusion among disciplines. But it also intends to attract students from specialized high schools who are at a disadvantage in college entrance scores. A host of students attending independent and foreign language high schools has applied for the open major program. The department, regardless of its humanitarian and natural science status, should get rid of its former association with the medical and legal departments. To that end, it should provide students with a refined and sophisticated liberal arts education like in the United States and Europe. The first step is to identify those with talent and creativity among prospective students.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)