THE ESTABLISHMENT of Yonsei International Campus (YIC) has been under criticism since its infancy. Despite complaints from parents and students, delays caused by a lack of funds, and attacks from Incheon Union, Yonsei University pushed on with the construction, and in the year 2011, freshmen belonging to the College of Medicine, College of Dentistry, Underwood International College, School of Integrated Technology, and the Open Major were placed at the campus. As President Jeong Kap-Young reaffirmed his stance of requiring all incoming freshmen to spend one semester at YIC in spite of ongoing construction, the YIC push is gaining momentum. In response, the students councils of all colleges petitioned against the meeting for "agreement on the operation of YIC," forcing the meeting originally scheduled on May 11st to be delayed indefinitely. Yet considering the history of how policies regarding YIC have been dealt with, and Jeong's continuous investment in YIC, such as the new green multipurpose building on YIC, it seems highly likely that Sinchon Campus will not be welcoming any freshmen on 2013.
How YIC will advance Yonsei
The mandatory boarding plan seems to consider the interests of the students as much as, if not more than, the interests of the school. According to Jeong, the local university culture and life are detrimental to the education of the students at Sinchon. Sinchon is arguably the most popular hangout spot for university students; every night students from across the city fill its streets. However, according to the school, the excessive drinking is the main reason some Yonseians deviate from their academic paths.
This culture gives rise to a negative image of Yonsei University. According to a survey conducted by the Yonsei Vision Research Committee, Yonsei was ranked first as the “university that seems to provide the most enjoyable college experience” but only fifth as the “university that seems to provide the most intellectually challenging education.” This may seem a positive result at first glance, but it also suggests that Yonsei is not fulfilling its duty as an ideal educational institution.
With the Residential College (RC) system, the school hopes to create a closer community of the faculty and student body, encouraging students to devote more time to developing their intellect and cultivating a healthy lifestyle, cooperative mindset, and leadership skills. Jeong says that the RC system is a global trend that has been implemented by “most Ivy league schools and many prestigious universities in Asia.” The aim of the RC system is to integrate academic and non-academic university life and thereby expose students to holistic and inter-disciplinary education and urge them into a new university culture free from alcohol, while at the same time fostering essential non-academic knowledge and skills.
Further, YIC serves as a place that will address the space problems of Sinchon. Currently there are 3,988 seats available in the Central Library and Yonsei Samsung Library combined. Although there are smaller libraries within each college, it becomes evident during exam periods that they are nowhere near enough for a student body of 30,367 individuals. The problem is even more apparent in dormitories. The four dormitories in Sinchon can only house 1,970 undergraduates and graduate students, approximately 6.5% of the students enrolled at Sinchon Campus. The mandatory boarding will alleviate the situation at Sinchon.
Yonsei also seeks inbound globalization, creating a “global village” for international interaction and attracting overseas campuses of foreign universities within Yonsei’s Songdo complex. Inbound globalization allows students to be exposed to diverse cultures and foster English learning without the burden of studying abroad. Through YIC, the school believes it will be able to foster global leaders able to interact with diverse cultures.
According to Jeong, freshmen entering Yonsei in 2013 will be divided into two groups. The one group will spend their first semester at YIC and then be placed at Sinchon in the second, while the other group will spend their first semester at Sinchon and then move to Songdo for the second. The reason for such plan is the lack of facilities that have been built. Yet further details on the procedure for carrying out this plan have not been disclosed.
A dictatorial approach, a means to justify the end?
But there is a gap between the school’s goals and where students stand. 83.44% of students who have not studied at YIC were against the proposed plans for YIC’s educational curricula. Their discontent arose from concern about the lack of interaction between Sinchon Campus and YIC (28.75%). This is reiterated by students who have stayed at YIC: 35.86% of the students chose “lack of interaction with Sinchon Campus” as the biggest problem with YIC. Wi Min-bok (Vice Chair, 2012 UIC Provisional Student Council) says that “while the school is responsive and willing in helping students at YIC, it will not be able to overcome the problems regarding the disintegration of student society.” Yonsei University is planning to increase the number of shuttle buses between Sinchon Campus and YIC and is pursuing the establishment of a new intra-city bus route connecting the two campuses. But it will not be enough. The hour-long commute will still limit the interactions between sunbaes and hoobaes.
The situation is gloomier for clubs. When Jeong’s pledge becomes realized, 82.59% of the students who have not been to YIC believe that clubs will suffer. Hong says that his classmates who are members of a club at Sinchon often skip classes and suffer other consequences in order to meet the demands of the clubs. Many students who have not studied at YIC cannot keep up with the rigorous schedules and end up withdrawing, causing many clubs in Sinchon Campus to reject applications from YIC students in response. This makes it even harder for students at YIC who are willing to make the sacrifices to be a member of a club. Clubs based at Songdo are not much better off. A club requires experience that must be acquired from sunbaes and years of experience. Freshmen do not have such experience to start their own club, even if they had the drive to do so. In addition, the fact that the students are staying for only one semester means there will be few long-term members. Managing a club is noticeably more difficult for Songdo students.
As for interactions with professors, Cho says that there is an active interaction with the professors in the Department of Pharmacy “because professors are assigned to a small group of students.” On the other hand, Shin stated that her interaction with the professors were not particularly deep or personal. Hong states that “while many professors try their best to form closely-knit communities, there have not yet been any visible efforts by the school in aiding this effort of the professors,” thus making it harder for students and professors, both of whom want to reach out.
With regard to school policies and vision, a considerable number of the students who have not studied at YIC (35.19%) believed that the RC system will be helpful to the students. Out of the students who have experienced the RC system education, 51.64% thought that it had a positive effect on their learning. The most cited benefit was cultural and health-related (43.95%), including concerts and sports activities. Oh Jung-ah (Soph., Underwood International College, alias) says that students at YIC spend noticeably more time playing basketball and other sports compared to Sinchon Campus. Another benefit of the RC system was the emotional personal support. Cho Hyun-seok (Soph., Dept. of Pharmacy) says that “students were given personal care by Residential Advisors who were systematically trained through workshops.” But what is considered one of the most significant benefits of the RC system, character development, has had no corresponding programs that have been deployed within the campus. After a full year at YIC, Shin Hee-yeon (Soph., Underwood International College) expressed an inability to comment on the RC system’s character development education because she believed that she received no such education. Despite Cho’s positive perspective on YIC’s RC program, he agrees with Shin.
Similarly, students feel that globalization of the campus is not being handled effectively. Hong In-taik (Soph., UIC, Dept. of Economics) says “there needs to be more than UIC and English lectures to truly globalize the campus.” YIC is home to a significant number of foreign students, but Cho says that their presence does not really help increase the globalization of the campus life. Hong comments that “although many of the students studying in UIC have international experiences, they are Koreans in the end. There is a limit to the merging of foreigners within Korean communities.” Moreover, “although the English lectures expose students to English, they are only first-year courses. There is doubt on YIC being international,” Cho adds. After the first year, YIC’s curriculum returns to a system that is not too different from Sinchon Campus, with students given a choice between English and Korean courses.
Conditions outside the Yonsei campus could also see improvement. Only a couple of years ago, the nation was impressed by Incheon city’s grand scheme for creating a university complex comprised of many prestigious domestic and foreign universities such as George Mason University and Chung-ang University. But the situation today is quite different. The State University of New York, a graduate university situated adjacent to Yonsei YIC, has opened this year, but the opening of many other campuses have been either cancelled or delayed indefinitely.
Of the students who have not been to YIC and who were against the mandatory boarding, 26.45% stated that Yonsei’s competitiveness would be affected. Woo-chul Lee (Jr., Dept. of Industrial & Info. Engin.) says that “the Sinchon culture is one of the non-academic aspects of Yonsei that Yonseians are most proud of. If that is taken away, then Yonsei will have one less advantage over rival universities.”
Interestingly, opinions were different for people who were going to, or have been at YIC. Two in every three students who responded said that their year at Songdo had a positive effect on them. Mandatory boarding at Songdo did not deter many from choosing to study at Yonsei, because they were aware that they would move to Sinchon Campus after a year. Yun Chang-hoon (Fresh., Underwood International College) says that his university decision was “largely unaffected” by the fact that he would have to spend a year at Songdo. Even Cho, who knew that he would be spending the entire university experience in YIC, was not concerned about the location of his campus. Cho does not think that the prestige of Yonsei will be affected very much either. A total of 47.81% students who have studied at Songdo said that the mandatory boarding will be beneficial to the school.
The recurring theme among students who were affected by the YIC was the appeal to the school for communication. Only 2.94% of the students surveyed said that the school was doing an adequate job of communicating with the students over the issue. Many (26.87%) did not know which colleges and departments were designated to YIC in 2011 and even more (38.09%) did not know of Jeong’s 2013 mandatory boarding pledge. In an interview with Yonsei Chunchu, Lim Kyung-ji (President, 48th College of Social Science Student Council) emphasized the dogmatic manner in which the decision to transfer of the college was made. He agrees with Jeong that the reason students in the College of Social Science were so against the transfer was because of their lack of understanding of Songdo. But he believes that “the blame is on the school for not promoting and publicizing YIC well enough.” Wi Min-bok, (Vice Chair, 2012 UIC Provisional Student Council) believes that in the long-run, the YIC will serve Yonsei well and that there would have been a very different reaction from the students at the College of Social Science had more effort been made to educate them about YIC. It is true; with less than a year ahead for the potential pledge to become realized, the school has yet to publish any official documentation of the details of the plan. It has not asked for any opinions regarding YIC from the students either. Wi expressed his worries that the president will take action without communication, and then, when his decisions yield favorable results, reprimand the students for their impatience.
From the third perspective
Korea University has pulled away from their plans to build a campus in Songdo, stating that “while foreign universities were anticipated to move into Songdo, this has not been realized” and thus “it was decided that the costs of opening a new campus at Songdo outweighs the possibility of Songdo Campus’s development.” But others disagree. Postech’s RC system has won the approval of its students and has proven that universities outside Seoul can earn the rank of a prestigious university.
A top-tier science/engineering jaesusaeng at Leesang hagwon says that if given the choice, he would be tempted to choose another university if Yonsei University carried on with the plan. Kang Yong-ryul, another jaesusaeng of Leesang hagwon agrees. He says that while pre-existing majors may be in better shape, newly established majors may prove to be very unpopular among high school students. He says that “with no alumni or sunbae, to study a curriculum that has not been proven, at what Yun called ‘the extension of the main campus,’ the students will lose a sense of belonging in an already risky path.”
But, at the same time, Kang argues that “a semester is only four months,” a period that may be worth enduring to become a Yonsei student. In addition, an anonymous jaesu- hagwon teacher says that “the majority of those who feel less inclined to go to Yonsei will in the end choose it, when given a choice of the same major with its rival school. A university’s long-earned prestige is not that easily affected.”
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The YIC is still the center of much criticism. There needs to be more attention devoted to character development and globalization, and the school’s decisions must reflect the students’ feedback. But innovations are always subject to criticism; while constructive criticism is vital, students must not lose hold of patience and faith in the new president.