“The sovereignty of the Republic of Korea shall reside in the people, and all state authority shall emanate from the people.” *The Constitution of the Republic of Korea* emphasizes the people’s power to have the right to decide the fate of the country. In the 21st century, it is taken for granted that the leader of a nation should be elected directly by the citizens in a democratic state. Universities are no exception to this ideal. Korea University (KU) will be greeting the 20th president this winter. However, problems arise when the candidates are appointed into presidency by a board of directors rather than the students’ themselves.
On July 17, the Korea University Student Union (KUSU) held a press conference in regard of the direct election system for the school president in front of Inchon Memorial Hall, where the KU office for the education foundation is located. They held a banner requiring further amendment in electing the next president. The students raised their voices to start the direct election system in which all KU students are eligible and to limit the power of the KU educational foundation in the final stages of presidential appointment.
▲ Press Conference Declaring the Hunger Protest Requiring for the Direct Election System, Provided by ABLE
The Wind of Change
KUSU has been voicing their concerns regarding the current presidential election system. Kim Tae-gu, the President of KUSU explained the current election process to the Granite Tower (GT) in an interview. Until now, the presidential election has been carried out by an indirect election system. First, the educational foundation, professors, alumni, students and employees form a Candidate Recommendation Committee and nominate candidates with their own election within the organization. Then the educational foundation chooses the president out of the potential candidates nominated by the committee. Through it all, the educational foundation has a final say in the ultimate stages.
Furthermore, KUSU recently discovered that the educational foundation, professors and alumni both created and operated the Revision Committee for the President Election System without involving the students or the employees in its running. According to KUSU, the Revision Committee is not disclosing any information to either the students or employees. Therefore, KUSU strongly believes that the current system has gone against democratic values. “We want to elect the president in a democratic way. All members of the school must be together from the point of discussion when acting upon the system and the method,” said President Kim.
Voices of KUSU
KUSU is requesting that the school ensure both students’ and employees’ participation in the election process. Conflict between the school administration and student body is also taking place in Hongik University (HU). The president of the student body of HU held a hunger strike for eight days, demanding a direct election system. Both KU and HU student union’s requests are inspired by other schools actively revising their old presidential election system. Seoul National University (SNU), Ewha Womans University (EWU), and Sungshin Women’s University are schools that changed their unilateral presidential election system into a direct election system. “It is hard to say that a direct election system is well established in universities, so we need to work harder,” said President Kim.
Advocates of a direct election system that encompasses KU students believe their request can be justified by them paying their annual tuition fees. The proponents claim that in return, schools should guarantee the students’ right to elect their own president. KUSU remarked that when candidates figure out the little power that the students have in hand, they focus on making pledges that suit the palate of the educational foundation rather than the students. This leads to KUSU’s persistent request for withdrawing the education foundation from overtly exercising their power throughout the election season.
KUSU Bending to the Oars
Since KUSU held a press conference in front of the Inchon Memorial Hall, it has been bending to the oars to instigate changes. One of their projects is putting up wall poster throughout the school campus. The wall posters include the official document that KUSU sent to the educational foundation and KUSU’s requested proposals for a revision. Moreover, KUSU made some card news and uploaded them on its Facebook account in order to spread the word.
The Relay Picketing Project was another attempt to urge a change in the educational foundation sticking to its unresponsive stance towards the campaign. Starting on August 1, the Relay Picketing went on for a week in front of the Main Hall. “Until the moment we elect the president in a way that we can all recognize, we will fight to the death,” said President Kim. Right after finishing their Relay Picketing Project, KUSU continued its campaign by using banners larger than pickets.
Despite these efforts of KUSU, the educational foundation did not respond to their official request for a meeting in regard to the election system. Therefore, KUSU visited the educational foundation office to lodge a protest requesting the foundation’s response. Although the school board and the educational foundation ignored KUSU’s various efforts, it is obvious that KUSU tried its best to seek the rights of the students and employees of KU.
Campaign in Need of Attention
Although KUSU is doing its best at the moment, it seems that the campaign needs more support from the students. Since most KUSU projects were implemented during the summer break, they failed to grab the attention of KU students. To make things worse, some students are not much interested in who takes the crown. Such lack of attention might act as an obstacle for KUSU in attaining its desired goals when it comes to the next president-to-be.
Students are the building blocks forming the basis of university education. Moreover, on campus employees also need to be heard under any circumstances. In a way, a direct election system of the president should either have been implemented earlier or at least have been discussed with all members of the school community without excluding any segment of the whole. “We are planning on a school rally, march in school, signature campaign and other activities. We hope more students participate in these events and look forward to them,” President Kim stated.