In February, the students of Korea University (KU) experienced huge confusion. The students were once again burdened from the course registration system. The drastic decrease in the number of lectures offered within each major affected the course registration process even more. Some students could not even enroll in courses for their own major. In fact, this is only one of the many problems that occurred on campus in the last year. The core cause was the revision of the Enforcement Decree of the Higher Education Act which is also known as the Instructor Act.
On February 15, 2019, the Korea University Student Union (KUSU) SYNERGY held an official press interview related to the Instructor Act in front of the Main Building. The event was held for an hour and more than 10 members of KU, including instructors and students, discussed the deprivation of their rights by the university’s actions after the announcement of the Instructor Act. Students talked about the reduced number of lectures in the aftermath of the law, and the instructors told their side of the story: sudden dismissal notices for a large number of instructors. They continue to raise awareness of the problems facing university members. It is the right time to reflect on the intention of the act and its effect on KU members.
In August this year, the Korean government will begin to enforce a revised version of the "Instructor Act.” This has already affected a huge number of university faculty members and students, including those from KU. The law, intended to solve the unfair treatments of part time instructors, gives part-time lecturers the status of teacher, strengthens the stability of employment, and guarantees part-time lecturers’ status. Although the law was established to ensure the rights of students and instructors, it ironically does not guarantee these essential rights. Instead, they are being stripped with the instructors’ sudden dismissal from school.
Being directly related to the lives of students and instructors, the early notice of the enforcement of the law has had significant effects on the community of KU. Because of the notice from the university in November 2018, which included huge-scale restructuring, decreasing the number of courses by about 20 percent, and strengthening the standards for the cancelation of classes, the student union raised objections to the university’s actions, which were to be carried out before the enforcement of the law. At first the university accepted public opinion, yet they did not revise their actions.
Therefore, students have suffered many problems in the first semester of 2019. All departments have experienced a dramatic decline in the number of courses offered, making it harder for students to meet the compulsory credits needed to graduate. Some students could not even graduate due to the huge decrease in the number of major courses. Furthermore, lecturers are having a hard time as well, as many have been dismissed from the university before the enforcement of the law in August.
▲ President of KUSU Kim Ga-yeong
Continuously Remembering the Initial Intentions
This is a serious problem because this situation is the exact opposite to the initial intention of the amended regulation, which was to ensure the lecturers’ rights. Some speculate that the school fired lecturers in order to avoid the extra costs that would be required by the law. Therefore, the instructors are trying to win back their rights and gain stable employment in this complexed situation of entangled interests.
SYNERGY is trying its best to deliver the opinions of the students and instructors to the university. Back in January, the student union investigated the number of courses available during the first semester of 2019. They found that there was a reduction of 200 courses compared to the previous semester. Therefore, they posted the news on their official Facebook page to address the students’ problems—including difficulties in graduating and being promoted to the next year level.
After disclosing the problem to the public, KUSU hosted two petitions. One was directed towards both KU undergraduate and graduate students, while the other targeted other universities and the public in general. Roughly 1,000 people empathized with the seriousness of the law’s negative effects and wanted to share their opinions to solve the problem. The student union also planned a relay picketing event across the campus. They hosted these events to visualize the issue and press the university to solve the main problem caused by the negative effects of the Instructor Act. In the end, they held the previously mentioned press conference in front of the Main Building in which both students and instructors participated.
SYNERGY’s Actions and Solutions
“As the new semester has begun, KUSU is trying to encourage more participation, unlike previous campaigns where the student union was the most central actor,” said Kim Ga-Yeong (’13, Division of Life Sciences), the president of KUSU. “We are planning to encourage all KU students come together on a broader scale to deal with this problem effectively.” KUSU mentioned its goal of arranging a movement to win back the students’ educational rights. They also plan to invite all departments and colleges to participate in a rally on April 10.
SYNERGY’s primary goal for the upcoming months is to ensure the rights of students for course registration in the second semester. Therefore, KUSU hopes to discuss the future prospects for this issue with the Academic Affairs Committee. Ensuring the rights of students and instructors is needed, given that a university is a place for education and research.As a new KU president, Chung Jin-Taek, has just begun his tenure, KUSU is looking forward to holding a constructive discussion on this subject. In order to protect the rights and interests of all KU constituents, the campaign to ensure that the university remains a stable place for education is progressing step-by-step.