[ed] Corporatizing colleges

Universities are not company workers’ training schools

Since he took over Chung-Ang University in 2008, tycoon-turned-educator Park Yong-sung has been at the center of ceaseless controversies for his noisy reform attempts.

Park resigned, all of a sudden, from all public office Tuesday, including as the university’s board chairman. Park’s seven years at Chung-Ang showed, among other things, what can happen if institutions of higher learning are put in the hands of businesspeople armed with only corporate mindsets.

Above all, one cannot help but ask whether Park has any qualifications of an educator, watching the words he used in his emails. “I will axe those begging to be axed,” said Park, who also heads the Doosan Group, one of the top 10 family-controlled conglomerates, or chaebol, referring to professors and students who opposed his reforms.

“It would be bad manners to not chop the opponents when they stick out their necks to be chopped,” he said. “I will do so in most bloody and painful ways for them” It seems as if the university had returned to the days of monarchy when kings beheaded at will people disloyal to them

The profanity scandal, of course, was only the straw that broke the back of the camel named Chung-Ang. In the past seven years, Park abolished the system to elect university presidents directly by the faculty, curtailed tenures for professors, slashed the number of (uncompetitive) departments and tried to recruit students not by their majors but by colleges.

Granted, quite a few tenured professors, at Chung-Ang and most other universities, are under fire for being lazy in research and manneristic in teaching. It is also true some teachers and students are unduly sticking to their majors and departments in group selfishness of sorts.

Yet colleges cannot be like business enterprises whose foremost goal is to enhance competitiveness and corporate value, and could be subject to drastic restructuring to this end. Nothing showed better Park’s confusion of schools with businesses than his decision to do away with many basic and cultural studies as well as a plan to introduce “accounting” as a compulsory course for all undergrads, probably for the first time in the world. “I just wanted to turn out college graduates who know something about numbers,” Park said. Was he about to turn all college students into back-up company workers?

Park also demonstrated his business acumen ?which often includes how to collude with bureaucrats here ?in expanding Chung-Ang. By tying up with the top educational secretary to former President Lee Myung-bak, Park is suspected of giving various construction projects at the university to his group’s building arm, while providing diverse kick-backs in return. If the upcoming probes by the prosecution reveal the chaebol owner used the public asset for private profit, both the university and the business group would hardly be able to avoid disastrous damage to their public images.

It would be naive to expect universities to remain as ivory towers. Colleges need money to remain competitive. No longer content with turning universities into corporate training institutes, however, some capitalists regard schools as money-making machines. Park’s fall demonstrates Koreans are not ready yet to go as far as that.

SOURCE: The Korea Times

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