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[Op-Ed] Polifessors

Posted June. 17, 2009 05:56,   


Several opinions explain why many humanities professors in the U.S. are leftists. Most of them earn high grade point averages as undergraduates, but need to put in more years of graduate study to become professors. When they finally become professors, however, their friends who landed jobs immediately after graduation have far bigger paychecks. The pay of non-tenure track professors at private U.S. universities is an average 70,000 U.S. dollars, or no better than that of many white-collar workers. Some say professors grow more critical due to their worse-than-expected lives in academia.

The social status of Korean professors differs from that of their American counterparts, however. In Korea, a professorship is one of the most sought-after jobs and commands a certain degree of power. A large number of commissioners of public committees are professors, who can also affect government policies. Professors at private universities in the provinces earn a lower income, but the story is different for faculty members at major universities around the capital. Professors have power since they are the sole group of experts in Korea. For expertise, there is little choice outside of professors.

Around election time, political parties seek to attract professors with clean images, with more than a few scholars wanting to join politics. There is nothing wrong with using their expertise on practical issues and purifying the political scene with their integrity. Increasingly, however, more professors are running for office while remaining at their academic posts. In other words, they are keeping their jobs as insurance should they lose in elections. Students cannot expect to learn much from such “polifessors (political professors),” who care more about politics than teaching.

Seoul National University broke its promise to regulate politically ambitious professors by establishing internal rules supporting them. Facing strong public opposition, the school has deferred a final decision. According to its initial rules, a professor running for office is allowed a break from work before a semester and a sabbatical if elected. The rules help polifessors to proactively announce their will to run in elections. There is a simple solution to the problems caused by polifessors: universities must force professors to quit if they run for office. This rule is good for both professors and students. Universities should quickly accept and implement this simple solution.

Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)