KAIST ― graveyard for foreign presidents
Who will dare to assume the position of KAIST president?
The incumbent president Suh Nam-pyo is expected to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Robert Laughlin, who had to quit early amid a struggle with the professors’ council, as the school’s board is poised to cancel its contract with him.
If Suh is kicked out, it will leave another bad precedent in the school’s history, damaging its reputation both at home and abroad.
Whoever succeeds Suh, will have to face the same challenge: stubborn, old and disgruntled professors.
During a recent interview with The Korea Times, Suh said he was working to create a school environment, in which talented, hard-working people could take leading positions, not the political professors who have “taken students hostage” to maintain their power.
Some may argue that such a power game between the president and the faculty exists in every school around the world, but dealing with KAIST professors could be a task that is more daunting.
Like Laughlin, Suh, a former MIT professor, often clashed with the professors’ council over the way he managed the school.
After Suh implemented stricter tenure rules for the faculty in a bid to promote their research capabilities, the council launched a campaign to oust him. Based on strict tenure track examinations, the school would choose the first batch of professors who won’t get tenure. The plan, however, could be scrapped.
Early this year, the council even raised allegations of patent theft by Suh, which were later found to be false in a police investigation.
“Professors wield great power. They think they are privileged. It is a matter of culture in Korean universities. I’m trying to change such a culture,” Suh said in the interview.
During a press conference in Seoul, Monday, the 76-year-old described himself as another victim in the fight with the old and stubborn professors.
“It was challenging to fight with professors who call themselves the owners of this school,” Suh said. “Another unfortunate thing is likely to happen. It’s deplorable for KAIST as well as the country.”
Suh said, even if he leaves the school, he will continue his efforts to make KAIST a better school. “The professors dislike me, but I’m supported by a silent majority,” he said.
He urged the administration and political parties to break up the cartel of KAIST professors, saying they are afraid of change, but someone must bring change to make the school the top science and technology university in the world.
“It will be impossible to make the dream come true if my successors collaborate with such hopeless professors,” Suh said.