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Keeping the Hiring Process Honest

Posted September. 08, 2010 11:18,   


Though the Office of the President said the hiring process of Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan’s daughter by the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry was a matter of “fairness” rather than “illegality,” newly released evidence shows she was selected under an elaborate scenario. Unlike three external interviewers, two senior ministry officials who interviewed her gave her 19 out of a maximum 20 assessment points. The scandal cannot simply be closed with Yu’s resignation. Whether ministry officials committed illegal acts such as abuse of authority in the hiring process must be found out.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has launched an investigation into the allegation that Ewha Girls’ High School gave preferential treatment to the daughter of one of its teachers in a math contest. In a competition offering prizes to the top nine scorers, the daughter, who is a high school senior, was tied for ninth. A review of her answer sheets, however, showed that she ranked 12th. Because receiving awards from in-school contests will be a key factor in university admissions from next year, a dispute over fairness has erupted.

In recent years, many of Korea’s admissions and selection processes have been shifted from objective tests to subjective evaluations. Triggering the change was the adoption of the university admissions officer system, in which students are admitted based on creativity and potential rather than on exam scores. The same system has also been adopted by foreign language high schools. When the admissions officer system was introduced, skepticism arose over maintaining fairness.

Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, who is on the supreme council of the ruling Grand National Party, said Tuesday that numerous allegations say the children of university professors and officials are unfairly admitted via early admissions. If negativity over the new admissions system spreads, this will ultimately fuel public demand for reviving the old admission system based on paper tests.

The hiring processes for government employees are also undergoing enormous change. The government has announced a cut in the number of staff selected through state-administered examinations while hiring more experienced professionals and nurturing diplomats through an international relations academy. These methods are more advanced in selecting talent through a general evaluation of applicants rather than via test scores. Yet they must have fair judging since people evaluate other people in the screening process.

Korean society is facing the question of who will keep judges selected to maintain fairness honest. Francis Fukuyama, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, said a society that lacks social capital, or trust, cannot advance. No matter how advanced a system is, it cannot produce the desired results if the people running it are not qualified. Though the spate of scandals do not justify going back to paper test system, the new methods must be made more elaborate. The public must also keep its eyes open to ensure that cheating has no place in the hiring process and that judges stay fair.