▲ The Academic Affairs Committee plans were revealed in this meeting. Photographed by Maeng Jun Ho
For Korea University (KU), 2016 was a tumultuous year in terms of the losses endured by both the school administration and KU students. Students lost precious time by occupying the Main Hall as part of a protest against the egregious Future (Crimson) College plans. The school lost the advantage of being able to make unilateral decisions concerning academic affairs when they agreed to the establishment of the Academic Affairs Committee. The Committee, which consists of representatives from both the KU administration and KU students, will ensure that only those policies that benefit both parties will be put into effect. How exactly the Committee will realize this goal remains to be seen.
In the spring of 2011, KU students were fiercely railing against the school administration and then-KU President Kim Byung Chul in the fight for lower tuition fees. Ultimately, the voices of more than 2000 students who gathered in the 2011 General Assembly cowed the administration into acquiescing to the students’ request. There were some who criticized the General Assembly for being a half-measure, however—those who believed that it should have been used as a means to procure a system through which the school would never again be able to simply announce policy changes that affected a great number of students. In the years that followed, these critics were proven right, as the KU administration continued to abuse its ability to regulate school policy without consulting the students.
As 2016 drew nearer, and with it the egregious Future (Crimson) College plans, KU students let loose their pent up rage toward the school’s legislative system in the form of the Main Hall occupation, which convinced President Yeom Jae Ho to forgo the creation of Future (Crimson) College. This hardwon victory vastly improved the political standing of KU students and they did not let this opportunity go to waste. Taking advantage of this unprecedented situation, the leaders of the Main Hall occupation have pushed forward with all their demands that had been previously denied. In particular, they called for the establishment of an Academic Affairs Committee that would afford students the chance to actually decide which policies to adopt, instead of being perpetually victimized by the administration’s ill-advised policy decisions.
A New Paradigm for a New KU
Designed to prevent the administration from unilaterally implementing, abolishing, and altering school policies that significantly influence the lives of KU students, the Academic Affairs Committee is expected to bring about a momentous shift in the dynamic between the administration and students. “The administration’s acceptance of the Academic Affairs Committee reflects its newfound willingness to allow students to participate in the decision making process for school policies,” KU Student Association (KUSA) Eumjul Vice President Kim Bohyeok (’14, Political Science and International Relations) noted during the Student Representative Meeting held on January 22, where the first draft of the Academic Affairs Committee plan was unveiled.
Even though it is only a rudimentary draft, the Committee plan outlines everything from the yearly schedule of the Committee to which members will participate in every meeting. According to the plan, the Committee will be comprised of three members each from the administration and the student body. The Head of Student Affairs and the President of KUSA are mandated to join every meeting and each representative can nominate two other people to fill the remaining seats of the Committee. Any school policy that may significantly affect students’ lives is up for discussion at Committee meetings, such as the scrapped Future (Crimson) College plans and changes to academic regulations.
Helming the Academic Affairs Committee are the Head of Student Affairs and the President of KUSA, with the former acting as the Committee president. The Committee is scheduled to convene at least once every semester and additional meetings can be called at the behest of the Head of Student Affairs, the President of KUSA, or one-third of all Committee members. The Head of Student Affairs, being the president of the Committee and the bridge between the administration and the students, is naturally burdened with the responsibility of facilitating communication between the two parties. It is the Head of Student Affairs that relays the decisions made in the Committee to the administration, and vice versa.
▲ KU students about to occupy the Main Hall. Photographed by Kim Seung Hyun
Ironing out the Wrinkles
Unfortunately, the Academic Affairs Committee, in its current state, is far from bulletproof. Much like the Tuition Fee Committee, which is rigged in the administration members’ favor because the administration is able to secure a majority vote even if student representatives unanimously oppose, the Academic Affairs Committee might be unable to properly fulfill its purpose. “In contrast to the Tuition Fee Committee, the Academic Affairs Committee, with three administration members and three student members, is structured in a way that students can establish a majority vote against the administration,” Vice President Kim assured. “Admittedly, students have no say over which Committee resolutions are discussed in the General Affairs Committee Meeting, which does compromise the Academic Affairs Committee’s overall efficiency,” he added.
The huge role of the Head of Student Affairs throws another wrench in the works of the Committee. It is not inconceivable that the Head of Student Affairs could collude with the administration to keep Committee members in the dark about select school policies. “Again, there is no systematic means of preventing this,” Vice President Kim lamented. He clarified that the Committee is not always at the complete mercy of the administration, however. “Arbitrary decisions on the administration’s part goes directly against what the students and administration agreed upon when creating the Committee,” he commented on a brighter note. “This provides sufficient justification for students to take retaliatory action against the administration if necessary,” he added.
Despite the apparent flaws in the initial Academic Affairs Committee plan, which are compounded by the plan’s general vagueness, including the lack of specific deadlines and meeting dates, there is much to be hopeful about. For starters, the Committee’s existence in and of itself is a marvel, a compelling indicator that the students and administration are finally on an equal footing. “In my personal opinion, it would have been best if the administration was trustworthy enough that students did not feel the necessity to create an Academic Affairs Committee,” Vice President Kim remarked. “Nevertheless, the Committee represents a significant leap forward in reclaiming the inherent political rights of students; it signifies that students are finally being accepted as true constituents of KU,” he said