Korea University (KU) Seoul Campus spans 1,088,959 square meters and is filled with 87 buildings, which makes it the fifth largest campus among all the universities in Korea, and the university with the third largest building area at 407,258 square meters. In 2018, more buildings with state of the art features are about to be added to the campus as part of President Yeom Jae-ho's "KU the Future" plan. While new buildings are expected to become cradles of creativity and inspiration for students, in reality, KU's ambitious plan has no room for students.
In January, President Yeom announced his fittingly grandiose plans for 2018 in his New Year's address, seeing as how 2018 is his final year in office as the 19th president of KU. During three years under President Yeom, KU has undergone innovative changes under his personal mantra, "pioneering intelligence." While Yeom initiated extensive reforms such as the Three No policy, the project that best encapsulated President Yeom's philosophy was the construction of iconic buildings such as π-Ville 99, CJ Creator Library (CCL), and the SK Future Hall.
According to his New Year’s address, more new buildings are planned to be built on the Liberal Arts and Humanities Campus, Science and Engineering Campus, and Medical Campus while Anam dormitory is expected to see the addition of a new abode for foreign students. However, a dire problem is that among those new buildings, there is not enough space for students themselves. KU students in both the Liberal Arts and Humanities Campus and Science and Engineering Campus have been constantly demanding that the school administration address the paucity of lecture halls and classrooms. The administration has thus far paid only lip service to mitigating the problems student face.
President Yeom's Buildings
π-Ville 99 was the first manifestation of President Yeom's slogan, "pioneering intelligence." On September 9, 2016, the five-floor building, which comprises 38 containers, was unveiled to the public. As the first business incubator center ever to be built for students on the campus, media outlets from all around the country spotlighted and glorified the creative policies of KU. Following the promotional success of π-Ville 99, creative studios with wide whiteboards that resembled Silicon Valley garages came to epitomize KU.
Despite its fancy exterior, however, the building was criticized for housing only a limited number of startup teams, which precluded other KU students from using the facility. Among 38 containers in π-Ville 99, only eight tables are open for ordinary students, and even then the area is open only for a limited period of time, with students having to make reservations in advance. Even the startup teams residing in π-Ville 99 are beset with difficulties, chief of which is the time constraint they face. According to school regulations, the longest period one team can stay in π-Ville 99 is one semester. "It is really hard for student startups to have a place of their own aside from their university, and six months is too short for anything to be accomplished," said Kim So-eun ('15, Media and Communications), a former resident of π-Ville 99.
CCL was President Yeom's next attempt to pioneer creative university education. As a library that breaks with tradition, CCL consists of open studios and conference rooms that let students freely share discussions and rest. Students can borrow professional equipment for filming or other projects without rental fees and are eligible for free classes that teach them how to use editing programs.
While CCL sounds like nothing but a boon for KU students, the construction of CCL also meant the sacrifice of a large number of study rooms. CCL is located in the middle of the Central Plaza, which was once filled with study rooms and served as one of the few places where KU Students could freely study on the campus. Even back then students had been complaining about the lack of study rooms in the Central Plaza, which engendered issues such as cramped spaces and subpar ventilation. These problems were only exacerbated when the number of existing study rooms was reduced to make room for CCL.
The SK Future Hall is the third of President Yeom’s Innovative buildings. It has been under construction since 2017 and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018. Controversy was initially sparked by the name of the building, which turned out to be different from what the school administration had promised to the students. During the KU Presidential election period in 2014, then-candidate Yeom suggested building a second College of Liberal Arts building, since its students had been severely wanting for space due to the diminutive size and age of the existing College of Liberal Arts building. However, once construction was underway, the building that had been promised as the SK "Liberal Arts" Future Hall suddenly excluded the term “Liberal Arts.”
Students in the College of Liberal Arts rose up in rightful indignation. While lack of student spaces remains a chronic problem across all other colleges, College of Liberal Arts students have arguably been handed the shortest end of the stick. Compared to other colleges, which are furnished with around three buildings on average, the College of Liberal Arts has only one building that could only hold 43.6 percent of its lectures. “Students have had no say in the planning and construction process. Only fifty days after the official statement by the student committee, President Yeom replied that it is impossible to have classrooms in the SK Future Hall,” said Cho Sung-won ('16, Chief of Special Committee for Immediate Response against SK Future Hall), the Chief of the Special Committee for Immediate Response against SK Future Hall.
School without Students
A fundamental lack of communication between the administration and the student body underlies the interminable space deficiency issue. President Yeom has been constantly criticized by student committees for his arbitrary management of university policies. For example, in 2015, he controversially and condescendingly referred to students as "education recipients" during the meeting between the President and the students. Echoing the President’s dismissal of students as passive beneficiaries of education who should not participate in school affairs, the administration has been blocking students out of school issues. The administration’s surreptitious exclusion of Liberal Arts lecture halls from the SK Future Hall is a policy decision of the same feather.
It is hard to deny that President Yeom’s buildings fit the modern trend of creative education. Beneath their ostentatious surfaces, however, they go against the very purpose of a university; innovation is worthless if students cannot benefit from it. “The biggest victims of the administration’s insufficient plans and mismanagement are the students who populate buildings. Ideals averse toward criticism only hurt students living in reality," said Cho.