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[Op-Ed] Consolidation of Univ. Academic Depts.

Posted December. 31, 2009 09:08,   


Criticism over excessive diversification of academic departments is nothing new at Korean universities. ChungAng University in Seoul is one example. Its main Seoul campus has 13 divisions, including those for humanities and public human resources. The university’s College of Media, Performing Arts and Imaging Science has just two divisions though a college. The situation is more serious at ChungAng’s Anseong campus in Gyeonggi Province. It has separate colleges of arts, music and Korean music. The same holds true with departments at the campus. The College of Humanities includes departments of youth studies, folklore and liberal arts, which are hard to find at other universities.

ChungAng is seeking to implement the most drastic restructuring in the history of Korean universities. It plans to cut the number of its colleges from 18 to 10 and that of its divisions and departments from 77 to 40. Its colleges of law and media will be absorbed by the College of Social Science, while the colleges of arts, music and Korean music will be merged into the College of Arts. The College of Human Ecology will be split and merged with the colleges of social science, natural science and arts. After the Doosan Group took over the university last year, ChungAng abolished the direct election system for its president in February this year. It introduced the annual salary-based compensation system for professors in March. The school’s latest move is merging its colleges, a task which is considered the centerpiece of university restructuring.

At a Korean university, an academic department is hard to kill once formed. Professors, students and alumni form a unified front to preserve their turf at any cost. Even professors who back university restructuring urge the dissolution of departments other than theirs. A prime example of how difficult it is to restructure university departments is Seoul National University’s international relations department, which took 53 years to merge with the political science department. On the planned restructuring, ChungAng’s chairman of the board of trustees, Park Yong-sung, said, “We’ll have to wage war.”

ChungAng’s plan to scale down or close departments with relatively low job placement rates for graduates has invited criticism. Others question whether the purpose of a university is vocational training. Universities are not islands isolated from society, however. It is anachronistic to have young students study outdated majors simply to ensure the job security of professors in the modern era, when knowledge changes rapidly and humanities is fused with natural sciences and engineering. Selection and focus are inevitable for the sake of boosting the competitiveness of university departments. Other schools nationwide are keeping a close watch on ChungAng’s experiment.

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