The Granite Tower
The Clash Between the School and the Students
Jeon Sohyeon  |
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승인 2016.12.01  18:41:15
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▲ Protest during the Crimson College brief session. Photographed by Kim Seung Hyun.

Korea University (KU) has been introducing new policies and the school has caused the students’ anger to reach its peak with the possible dissolving of the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies in order to establish Crimson College (alias). All of these suggested school plans have barely been discussed with the students. With the school failing to reflect students’ opinions, students have risen to their feet, demanding a more democratic society for KU members.

It has been a semester fraught with numerous incidents. Students have stood on opposing sides against the school in more than one occasion, and it seems that the students’ frustrations have reached their peak. With the Main Hall currently under the student’s occupation, neither side seems to have the upper hand against the other. So how did all of this happen?

Ever since President Yeom Jae Ho became the president of KU, he has introduced many novel, yet controversial school systems. Starting from the three-nothing policy and the abolishment of achievement scholarships, President Yeom continuously made renovations under ideology that one must not fear reform. Despite some controversies among students, most of these revisions were successfully implemented with mixed reviews of how effective the new policies were.

However, the school was struck by oppositions it has never seen for a while, as highly frustrating news struck the KU students on October 17—the school-system revision. Students immediately reacted to the revision by referring to it as “detrimental changes,” and the magnitude of the student’s disagreement to the revision was shown by KUSA’s survey of 5,000 respondents. Most of the respondents criticized the revision for various reasons.

Crimson College: The Dividing Point
Although KU students expressed their exasperation immediately, the anger seemed to fade away soon after the talk with President Yeom Jae Ho. The Vice President of Academic Affairs insisted that “the revisions have not been finalized and the school is open to all opinions voiced by the students.” However, the exact opposite to what the Vice President of Academic Affairs insisted happened when the Crimson College Promotion Committee one-sidedly notified the potential replacement of the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies with Crimson College.

The reaction was immediate and criticisms came from everywhere. Although advocates of Crimson College argue that the college will “cultivate talents that concur with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Bok Geumtae (’14, Business Administration), the previous student president of the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies confronted by saying that “the college would only benefit the wealthy elite at the expense of the existing students.”

▲ Protest prior the Crimson College debate session. Photographed by Kim Seung Hyun.
The suggested plans of Crimson College was made public and discussed among student representatives and professors. Not only did they criticize the lack of communication between the Crimson College Promotion Committee and the students, but also the flaws of Crimson College itself. As a response, the Vice President of Planning and Budget claimed that “the Crimson College project has gone through a lot of contemplation with 31 professors in more than 45 meetings,” Professor Ahn Hyo Jil (School of Law), however, rebuked that “meetings that take place without any reflections of the opinions of the students are meaningless.”

Students also pointed out the unreasonable special treatment the would-be Crimson College students would get. Although the school has been trying to make things more difficult for existing students by limiting course re-takes and turning down additional dormitory construction requests, Crimson College students will get the privilege of being graded only through “pass or fail” and being put into dormitories. Opponents of Crimson College referred to the unreasonably high tuition fee for the privileges and insisted that the college was a “noble-college” which only for the wealthy.

Opponents of Crimson College also censured that the curriculum “lacked any possibility of succeeding due to its superficiality and over-abstractness.” Although advocates of Crimson College argued that the new college will “develop students’ abilities to approach and solve social problems that are often multi-dimensional,” professors who opposed the college argued that “whatever Crimson College wishes to achieve can be met by improving the existing system.”

Actions Taken by Oppositions
Protests against the two projects happened in many occasions. Not only did students and professors abort the two debate sessions, but the students also continued their protest by holding press conferences and spreading awareness of the current situation. They criticized the dictatorial stance taken by President Yeom and, although he promised that he will reflect the students’ opinions in his final decision, the students claimed that this did not happen until now.

KUSA eventually organized a General Assembly on November 28, to express the student’s surmounting anger. However, another infuriation struck the students as President Yeom announced his schedule abroad, which would make him absent from November 27 to approximately December 8, which is the day before the school would finalize all decisions.

This announcement led KUSA to immediately organize another press conference in front of the Main Hall. Although professor Ma Dong Hun, the president of the School of Media and Communication, claimed that president Yeom’s schedules were “planned long time before,” students criticized president Yeom’s attempt to avoid any talk with the students before finalizing the decision. The students eventually presented their last resorts by taking over the Main Hall.

President Yeom immediately reacted to the take-over by cancelling his schedules abroad and promising that the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies will not dissolve. He also made changes to the suggested plan by reducing the tuition fee of the would-be Crimson College students to 5 million won and promising to take only 2.5 percent of students from other colleges. He also informed the students the probable delay of implementing the revised school-system.

Students who took part of the take-over, however, insisted that they will “put more pressure on the school to ensure the withdrawal of Crimson College and the school-system revisions.” They also claimed that, in order to put more pressure on president Yeom, students will have to spread the awareness to KU students and people off-campus.

Opponents of Crimson College and the school-system revision took advantage of the General Assembly held on November 28. The General Assembly needs at least 2,000 students to participate in order to convene, and more than 2,100 students gathered at the Central Plaza to voice their anger against the establishment of Crimson College and the school-system revision. The majority of the participants voted for the complete withdrawal of the two controversial school plans.

What Needs to Happen
Similar reactions from students were shown elsewhere for similar reasons—lack of communication between the students and the school. Therefore, whatever is happening in KU therefore has great relevance to what has been happening elsewhere, and the process to its conclusion has been unseemly. In order to come to a peaceful agreement, it is time for the school to start paying attention to what the students are demanding.

The skirmish is still ongoing and neither side has given any of its stance as of now. It is difficult to assess which decision might be the most efficient for both the school and the students, but the two sides will have to communicate effectively to come to the best conclusion whatever that is. The final decision will be made on December 9.
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