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Direct election system of university presidents, demanding democratization of the university

 

  Recently, domestic universities are demanding democratization with participation of university members instead of decisions made by government or foundation intervening in the process of electing university presidents. We will see the process of change from an indirect election system to a direct election system, a completed direct election of a university president, and the ways in which universities select their presidents. Also, we will look at the limitations of the direct election system, in addition to the benefits, and how universities are responding to them.

 

Changes in the presidential election system

  The term for presidents of domestic universities is generally four years, and the election systems can be divided into direct election systems and indirect election systems. The direct election system is the one in which university professors elect the president through direct ballot. On the other hand, the indirect election system is a method in which the opinions of university members are not reflected and the government and the board intervene to choose the president. For 20 years, since the June Democracy Movement in 1987, all national universities have elected their presidents based on the direct election system. In the case of private universities, they have adopted an indirect election in which the relevant foundations and the board of directors monopolize the decision of electing  presidents.

 

 From 2008, Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye pushed  universities to change their election system to the indirect election system, saying that "there is a concern that the university will become the election board" by professors occupied with the election rather than the research. Therefore, the Ministry of Education considered whether universities should abolish the direct election system, using it as a university evaluation item, and put pressure on university by controlling various financial support projects. Most of the national universities were converted to the indirect election system, but a few national universities like Kyungbuk University, Chonnam National University, Busan ​​National University, and Incheon National University retained the direct election system. The universities that maintained the direct election system received a low score in some evaluations and later were disqualified from financial support programs implemented by the government. These universities stubbornly insisted on the abolition of the indirect election system and resurrecting the direct election system for the democratization of universities. However,  except for the Busan universities, they all ​​accepted the indirect election system because of government pressure and financial difficulties from it. The Ministry of Education continued to pressure Busan ​​National University with subsidies, and the Busan ​​universitys’ general electorate began demonstrations, hunger and concentration, but without effect. On August 17, 2015, Professor Ko Hyun-cheol of the Department of Korean Language and Literature of Busan ​​National University committed suicide on the 4th floor of the university's main building, as a guard of the direct election system. Professor Kim's resignation removed president Kim Ki-Sup from his position, while Busan ​​National University retained the direct election of its president. At that time, Busan ​​National University remained the only university among the 41 national universities with direct election.

 

 In October 2016, after Park Geun hye - Choi Soon sil Gate, which began with the reports that Choi Soon sil intervened in the national affairs, democratic consciousness was re-awakened again at Korean universities. In August 2017, the Moon Jae-in regime promised to guarantee autonomy for the national universities’ presidencies, and 16 universities including Chonbuk National University, Chungbuk National University, Gwangju National University of Education, and Jeonju National University decided to elect the president by direct election system. Private universities, suffering from a collision with the foundation, like the national universities are increasingly demanding a direct election system. The Korea Federation of Private University Teachers' Associations held a seminar entitled 'Why a democratic university president is important' at the National Assembly Hall in June 2018. At this seminar, a poll that were taken between May 11 and 18, 2018, about the election of the president, which was conducted with 479 professors from the private universities of the nation. According to this poll, 74.5% of the professors answered that the current presidential election system does not guarantee the representation of members' opinions. Also, 67.7% of the respondents answered that a president’s autonomy is not from the corporate board. As the necessity of the direct election system becomes more and more widespread, the introduction of the direct general election system as well as the demand for an advanced direct election system has been created. The existing direct election system was designed to exclude students from participation and to elect the president directly from the university professors only. Now, however, there is a desire for a more direct general election, in which university members such as students and school staff participate directly in the presidential election, which is sometimes referred to as a "bottom-up general direct election." This system has the advantage that when students are able to participate in the election of the president, the university cannot ignore the demands of the students. Also, because the president is appointed through the democratic process, the university's dictatorship can be limited.

 

 

The development of 'bottom-up general direct elections’ in universities 

Sookmyung Women's University - Demand for the introduction of bottom-up general direct election

 So far, Sookmyung Women's University has  promoted  a direct election system in which only professors participate. However, there is a growing voice to improve these methods. Since 2016, the Student Union has requested the university to revise the election rules for the president and to introduce a direct election system that allows students to participate. However, the university did not respond to students' demands, saying, "We will discuss it when the time comes." In addition, the presidential election regulations of Sookmyung Women's University state that prospective candidates can have a simple announcement but are prohibited from campaigning. However, that was not done well; in the process the 19th general election, there was a presidential candidate announcement only in the 2016 presidential election. Sookmyung Women's University Student Association said, "Candidate verification procedures such as election campaigns or announcements during the election process were not good." They emphasized that, "We have the right to know how our tuition is used, how student welfare is realized, and that student rights are guaranteed. 
 On May 7, 2019, the Sookmyung Women's University Student Association held a press conference to announce all the students meeting to be held on May 23, 2019, in order to bring about the direct election system with student participation. They said they are going to post ‘the Task Force for Improving the Presidential Electoral System’ at the full student body meeting. This item ‘Urges that voting students include more than 30% of student council members, encourages direct participation by the president to ensure the student's direct voting rate of 25%, and encourages public and private meetings with the board’

Gwangju Education University - Voting rights for all students

 Gwangju Education University changed its method of election, which was a direct election system, to the indirect election system. In November of 2017, it changed back into the direct election system and decided to give all students the right to vote. Even in August 2016, the president position was vacant for 15 months, when the Ministry refused to approve the appointment without a clear reason. This is more meaningful because of the decision to promote the direct general election again after six years. The election ratio is 73% for professors, 14% for other employees, and 13% for students. This was the first time that the percentage of voting rights of students exceeded 10% in a university presidential election. According to the article "Dream of Gwangju" on January 10, 2018, the president of Gwangju Education University Student Association said, "In this election, we will broadcast the candidates' debate in order to make a more democratic candidate verification." Since then, on March 28, 2018, the Gwangju Education College, which has1530 people, including professors, staff, and students, according to the newly elected president election system. Of them, 1425 participated in the election, resulting in a turnout of 93.14%. During the voting process, the Gwangju Education University Student Council made it very meaningful that students were given the right to vote, so the candidates' public inquiries for student polls were broadcast live. Park Nam-ki, a professor at Gwangju Education College, pointed out that "if each national university does not renew the framework of direct elections by including students, staff, and assistants at the initial stage of establishing candidate selection rules, conflicts will be repeated." In addition, he said "Do not settle for each university returning to the direct election system, but let the election reflect the voices of each member in order to develop democracy in the university."

Inha University - need to introduce direct election system

 In the case of electing the president of Inha University, the nomination committee of the presidential nominee examine the candidates and chose five of them. Thereafter, interviews were conducted to select two people, and the Board of Directors finalized the decision. Here, the board of directors is related to the Hanjin Group, and the decision of Cho Yang-ho, chairman of the Hanjin Group, was enormous. The nominating committee consists of five members of the Foundation, four professors, one alumnus, and one outside member. This approach is likely to eventually lead to the final candidate being elected by the Foundation's preferred person. In the case of the former presidential candidate Choi Sun-ja, who was elected in February 2015, the incumbent president was dismissed for the first time since the university opened in 1954 due to a loss of 13 billion won in university funds. As a result, the voices that said that the selection of the president should be changed were raised inside and outside of the school. In July 2018, the Total Students' Union pointed that ’It was a problem that the board of directors of Cho Yang-ho and his aides decided the president of Inha University.’ Also, they requested that the nomination process should be stopped. In addition, Inha University professors strongly argued that "Chairman Cho Yang-ho should resign as honorary professor, and the school management should be centered around the president elected by university members.”
However, it did not affect the process of electing the 15th president in August 2018.
According to an article written by the Incheon Daily in August 2018, an official from Inha University said, "If the evaluation of candidate Cho Myung Woo for the 15th general election is not significantly different from that of the former presidents, the demand for a direct general election is inevitable again”

 

Concerns and Problems Regarding the direct election system  
 


 The direct election system was expected to be an institutional device to secure the independence of universities and faculty societies from political influence in the early stage of implementation and to check the influence of the foundation. Indeed, it is true that it contributed a lot to the democratization of the campus, but a concerned reaction followed. As the election is overheated and competition is intense, the professors appear to be disrupted by high school or college areas. Factions were formed and various prejudices such as pre-campaigning or conspiracy against certain candidates were mobilized and the university was criticized as indulging in politics. For example, a Professor A from Chonbuk National University met the police Kim in a Police Agency Bureau on October 16, 2018, the day following the start of the 18th presidential election campaign. He informed police Kim of false facts that were not confirmed as 'there is a rumor about Lee Nam-ho, the present president.' Kim sent a text message to professors from Chonbuk University at the time, saying "I would like to make a phone call to Lee Nam-ho," and this text message was quickly shared with other professors and people of the presidential election in the university. The candidates discussed this suspicion in the candidates' debate ahead of the presidential election in November 2018. As a result, Lee Nam-ho, who ran for re-election, was defeated. After the election, Chonbuk University professors filed a complaint to the prosecution, saying, "It is possible that someone has spread false facts in order to hurt potential candidates." Professor A later admitted to the crime when he investigated the allegations of corruption by former police officers, saying, "I thought the other candidates would be elected indirectly." According to a report by the Jeonla Ilbo on April 29, 2019, Jang Jun-kap, a professor at Chonbuk National University, said, "This is a criminal act that seriously undermines the autonomy of the university which is stipulated in Article 31.5 of the Constitution, "It is a challenge that must be addressed in order to maintain the direct election system for a National University.”
After the election, there have been many universities assigned specific positions based on election merit regardless of ability. As a representative example, the election process conducted by Chosun University in 2011 was a series of corruption. Every time the presidential election was held, there were doubts about the preliminary allocation of the professorship.
 The elections were overheated as former presidents supported certain candidates to receive positions. On the other hand, there were many voices of professors who said that the political wind in the school due to the direct election system led to struggle. As a result, they have pushed their scholarly research into the back seat. It is also pointed out that the president, who was elected, is controlled by his pledge and fails to correctly carry out his administration because he has to pay attention to the notices of the professors who chose him.

 

Alternatives from universities

 To prevent "factionalism formation", which was pointed out as one of the reasons for the abolition of the direct election system, some universities are struggling to find alternatives by strengthening election rules and limiting election campaigns. For example, in August 2013, ChongShin University announced that from the fifth general election process, the recommendation committee was convened an hour before the board of directors where the vote took place, and then selected the candidate. This was to prevent election campaigns, such as giving money to those who had the right to vote, by omitting procedures such as registration and announcement of candidates. In fact, no one knew who would be nominated before the board of directors meeting was held.

 

 Korea University suffered a dispute within the university when the corporate board enforced the reappointment of former president Kim Jong-bae. In January 2014, the way of electing the president was revised to the form that integrated direct and indirect systems in which employees and students participate. In the first stage, the direct election system by professor was guaranteed. In other words, all professor directly elected the presidential candidates. In the second stage, the indirect election system was guaranteed by collecting opinions from the corporate board. Kim Kun-kyu, vice chairman of the council of the professors of Korea University, said, "As we go straight to the direct election system, there are serious side effects such as formation of  factions, and we were reluctant to give up the direct election system and leave it to the board. Therefore, we created a compromise of the direct election system and the indirect election system.” This integrated model is being developed as a form of refusal of unilateral appointments of the government or the board of directors, while revising or supplementing the abolition of the direct election system that has already been pointed out.


 We have seen how universities change the way they elect their presidents. It is true that the direct election system is more democratic and beneficial than the indirect election system. However, it is not good to overlook the concerns and problems, and it will be necessary to have favorable standards such as alternatives from various universities. Inha University has not yet introduced the direct election system, but it will be necessary to deeply consider the election system when corruption is found in the related foundation.

장세연  won_1022@naver.com

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