Campus ReportingCampus Issue
Who Will It Be?The ongoing dispute surrounding the appointment of Yonsei’s 18th president
Cho Yun-myung  |  yunc39@yonsei.ac.kr
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승인 2015.12.05  23:57:11
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THE POLICY for appointing the 18th president of Yonsei University has widely provoked backlash on and off campus since the very start of this semester. Such reaction was sparked on July 21, when Yonsei’s Board of Directors approved the policy which seemed to lack necessary procedures for collecting opinion of members of the university, including the student body, faculty and staff. According to many who are against the appointment policy of Yonsei’s 18th president, the main problem lies in the elimination of the confirmation procedure. The confirmation procedure had allowed members of the Faculty Senate to vote for or against the single candidate selected to be on the short list. Such a change in policy has drawn severe criticism for giving undue authority to the Board of Directors, while virtually preventing other members of the school from being involved in appointing the next university president. As the 18th president is one who would seize substantial influence over the next four years of Yonsei, the dispute between related parties has been inevitably acute. Entering upon December, the end of the semester draws near, as well as the final appointment of the 18th president; the issue that has gradually been overlooked by students must once again receive attention.

 

Understanding the matter at hand

   Under the bylaws of the Educational Foundation of Yonsei University, each president of Yonsei stays in office for four years. Before the appointment of the 17th President of Yonsei, the appointment procedure consisted of a direct election system: the Faculty Senate voted for two candidates to be on the short list, and the Board of Directors made the final decision among the two candidates. However, the direct election system seemed to cause excessive competition among candidates, leading to corruption and serious conflict within the university. Thus, as of 2011, the direct election system was replaced with an indirect system, which involves a Search and Screen Committee instead. The current 17th President, Jeong Kap-young, was the first president to take office under this system. Both the Search Committee and Screen Committee are composed of members who are intended to represent various groups involved with university affairs. The compositions of both committees are similar, except that the Search Committee does not include a student member unlike the Screen Committee, which includes one student representative. Among the members of the two committees, representatives of the Alumni Association are appointed by the Alumni Association President. The appointment of all other members are entrusted either to the Chairman of the Board of Directors or the President of Yonsei.

   The functions of each committee have remained almost identical despite the transition from the 17th to the 18th president appointment procedure. Members of the Search Committee recommend candidates for the next president, while screening out the disqualified registrants. It then refers a list of around 15 candidates to the Screen Committee for further screening and verification. The Screen Committee is obligated to recommend 3 to 5 candidates to the Board of Directors, leaving the final nomination and appointment of the president to the Board. However, a noticeable difference between the appointment procedure of the 17th and 18th president becomes apparent in the process afterwards, which has also been a main cause of the heated dispute on campus.

   Previously, under the appointment procedure of Yonsei’s 17th president, the Board of Directors decided on a single candidate out of the three to five candidates recommended by the Screen Committee. Then, the Faculty Senate conducted a confirmation vote. That is, with the participation of a majority of the entire faculty, and with a majority of valid votes in favor of the candidate, the candidate could officially take office. If a majority of the faculty failed to participate in the confirmation vote, a revote was to be held; then a majority of valid votes would be required in order to approve the final candidate. If a final candidate fails to receive approval from a majority of valid votes in two consecutive confirmation votes, the Board of Directors is obligated to appoint another person to the president’s office.

   Meanwhile, the appointment policy of the 18th president clearly states otherwise. Instead of permitting the Faculty Senate to hold a confirmation vote, the Board of Directors mandates the Faculty Senate to collect the opinion of the entire faculty within 20 days, about the candidates recommended by the Screen Committee. Any form of voting is strictly forbidden in the process; the procedures and means of collecting faculty opinion must receive approval from every recommended candidate. Taking the collective faculty opinion into account, the Board of Directors decides on the 18th president, excluding candidates who have been seen disqualified by a majority of the entire faculty.

   Regarding the elimination of the confirmation procedure in the new policy, the Board of Directors has continuously expressed that the procedure evidently runs counter to the bylaws of the Educational Foundation of Yonsei University, as well as the Private School Act. Article 53 of the Private School Act states, referring to the Appointment and Dismissal of Head of School: “The heads of various levels of schools shall be appointed and dismissed by the school juristic persons or the private school managers who establish and operate the schools concerned.” Thus, on the grounds of Article 53, the Board of Directors firmly holds that the Board has the authority to appoint the president of the school. In the previous appointment policy, the confirmation vote had power to reject, twice, the candidate nominated by the Board of Directors. Chairman Kim Seok-su asserted in his contribution to Yonsei Chunchu on Sept. 12 that getting rid of the confirmation procedure is fully justified.

   However, in light of the anticipated backlash from members of the school, the Board has included the stage of collecting faculty opinion in the appointment procedure for the 18th president. Moreover, according to Kim, members of the university could also participate indirectly in the president appointment process via the Academic Senate. The Academic Senate of Yonsei, established in 2014, serves as an advisory council regarding matters of considerable importance on the management and development of the school. The Senate, composed of members of the faculty, staff, the student body and so forth, has the right to recommend 3 persons into office out of the total of 12 Directors who form the Board of Directors of Yonsei. Kim has repeatedly referred to the Academic Senate as a substitute means for members of the school to take part in appointing the 18th president. Nevertheless, the Faculty Senate has continued to raise strong opposition against the Board of Directors, refuting the effectiveness of such means suggested by the Board.

   Aside from the elimination of the confirmation vote, other amendments in the appointment procedure for the next president have also aroused suspicions from many. Some have claimed that the current policy stands unjustly in favor of particular candidates. Whereas the 17th president appointment policy states that registrants cannot be over age 65 at the end of his/her term in office, the current policy has deleted this condition while permitting the consecutive appointment of the current president. Regarding this amendment, some students have pointed out how it coincides with the fact that current President Jeong Kap-young has turned 65 this year, though such suspicion is not based on strong grounds. Moreover, in the early blueprint of the 18th president appointment policy, a candidate who either was a former president of Yonsei or is currently in office was relieved of the requirement to go through the Search and Screen Committees. Kim also claimed in his contribution to Yonsei Chunchu mentioned above that the Board had made such amendments because the candidates in question would have already gone through similar procedures in the past. Due to ceaseless conflict with the Faculty Senate however, the Board of Directors decided to set requirements for former or current presidents as well as other registrants.

   In the course of such dispute on campus, the student body, along with the Faculty Senate and the Yonsei Labor Union, has made attempts to normalize the president appointment policy. On Sept. 2, representatives of all members of the university had a gathering to denounce the arbitrary decisions of the Board of Directors regarding the 18th president’s appointment policy, and to urge the Board to make certain amendments in the policy, which had been approved on July 21. The Faculty Senate, the Yonsei Labor Union, and the Students’ Union of both Sinchon and Wonju Campus took part in this gathering. In addition, a number of students established a project named Checkmate, taking the lead in verifying the 18th president candidates by the hands of students themselves. Checkmate was launched with the ultimate purpose of pressuring 18th president candidates to take the needs of students into account in their pledges. In order to do so, Checkmate specified the most plausible requests of the student body: the protection of school governance and education rights, the increase of student autonomy as well as student welfare, the protection of minorities, and the resolution of ongoing issues concerning Yonsei International Campus (YIC). An online vote regarding the content and delivery of these requests was conducted from Sept. 18 to 25, which succeeded in receiving consent from 98.15% of 2,273 students who had taken part in the vote. Thus on Sept. 30, the President of the 52nd Students’ Union, Song Jun-seok, delivered the requests to the Board of Directors. Song revealed that as a current member of the Screen Committee, he would deliver the students’ requests to each candidate as well, and share the results of the delivery with the student body.

 

Yonsei’s governonsense

   In sharp conflict with the Board of Directors, members of Yonsei have persisted in showing strong disapproval throughout the dispute with regard to the 18th president appointment policy. The core of criticisms surrounding the policy lies in the serious crisis it induces in the governance of Yonsei. Yonsei’s Board of Directors asserts that they hold exclusive right to decisions regarding issues such as the appointment of the schools’ president, which is verified by the current Private School Act and the bylaws of the Educational Foundation of Yonsei. Nonetheless, these policies do not imply that the Board of Directors of a private university is justified in making decisions which clearly run counter to the opinions of the vast majority of school members. As a Board of Directors of a private university in South Korea commonly holds substantial authority in major decision-making processes, it should correspondingly take on immense responsibility to effectively represent the voices of members of the university. The current state of affairs, which is the ongoing dispute present on campus with a great portion of Yonseians against the 18th president’s appointment policy, clearly indicates that a Board that turns a deaf ear to the opinions of school members cannot be acknowledged as a justified organization.

   Regarding the most widespread source of dispute, the elimination of the confirmation procedure, not only does the new policy itself deserve scrutiny but also the process in which such changes in policy were made. Primarily, as already mentioned above, the confirmation votes previously held by the Faculty Senate have been replaced with a procedure of “collecting opinion from the entire faculty.” However, this alternative means of participation in the president’s appointment significantly reduces the power of the Faculty Senate, making it much more difficult for the faculty to exert their influence. Whereas the confirmation procedure empowered the faculty to reject the final candidate nominated by the Board of Directors, the current policy allows the final decision to be at the Board’s discretion.

   Further compounding the problem, several of the conditions specifying the procedure of collecting faculty opinion are far from reasonable. As previously mentioned, while strictly forbidding any form of voting in the process, the current policy requires that the procedures and means of collecting faculty opinion receive approval by every recommended candidate. The Faculty Senate and Song Jun-seok, President of the 52nd Students’ Union, have both pronounced that such a condition is simply absurd, in that it allows the candidates to determine the way they will be verified. How the Faculty Senate will manage to collect the opinion of the entire faculty without employing any form of voting is also very unclear. Furthermore, the condition for disqualifying a candidate through collective faculty opinion is also difficult to meet. In order to for the Faculty Senate to disqualify a candidate, the majority of the whole faculty is required to express disapproval. However, as Youm Yoo-sik (Prof., Dept. of Sociology), a current member of the Faculty Senate, put it, this requirement is even more difficult to fulfill than making a Constitutional amendment. A feasible condition would have to include a requirement regarding the participation rate, as did the conditions under the previous confirmation procedure: the requirement of both the participation of a majority of the faculty, and a majority of valid votes.

   According to Professor Youm, such conditions included in the appointment policy of the 18th president had not been agreed upon by the Faculty Senate at all. Primarily, the Board of Directors is guilty of arbitrarily breaking its first official agreement with the Faculty Senate. Prior to 2011 when the appointment policy of the 17th president was established, the Board of Directors had never actually officially approved of the direct election results provided by the faculty. Between the two candidates that were nominated by the Faculty Senate, the Board had appointed the next president solely because of unofficial pressures. As opposed to the lack of consensus in the past, the confirmation voting process, which was included in the 17th president appointment procedure, marked the first case of an official agreement between the Board of Directors and the Faculty Senate, regarding the appointment of the school’s president. Thus, the Faculty Senate has denounced the Board of Directors for breaking their agreement by discarding the confirmation voting process.

   Furthermore, with regard to the change in policy, the Faculty Senate requested the Board that the Senate gain right to conduct a confirmation vote for the three to five candidates recommended by the Screen Committee. Candidates could then be referred to the Board of Directors for final screening, given that a majority of the faculty took part in the vote, and a majority of valid votes were in favor of the candidates. Such a policy too would give more authority to the Board by allowing the Directors to make the final decision, but it could guarantee that opinions of the faculty are properly taken into consideration. However, the Faculty Senate found out that their request had not been taken into account, when the minutes of the Board Meeting held on Oct. 2, concerning the procedure of collecting faculty opinion, were revealed. That is, the very condition which is “more difficult to fulfill than making a Constitutional amendment” was included solely by the Board’s discretion, without consulting the Faculty Senate. Professor Youm stated, “The Board had never directly notified the Faculty Senate of the decisions they had made. Even when we ask, they tell us to check the minutes of the Board Meeting ourselves, and that’s when we discover what the Board discussed and decided upon. It seems that the Board basically has a condescending attitude towards the faculty; they do not consider us to be of enough importance to send an official document of notification.”

   Even regarding other aspects of the policy on appointment of the 18th president, many doubts concerning their effectiveness are still present. The practical problem at hand is that the Search and Screen Committees were not given sufficient time to serve their roles properly. According to Professor Youm, the current president appointment schedule is already four months behind as compared to the appointment schedule of the 17th president four years ago. Furthermore, although the current policy requires the Search Committee to recommend about 15 candidates to the Screen Committee, it failed to do so. Even though the Committee stayed active for longer than the original schedule, it failed to search and recommend any additional candidates other than 4 people who had registered themselves as candidates. Thus, only 4 candidates have been referred to the Screen Committee for further verification, while the Screen Committee has to recommend 3 to 5 candidates to the Board of Directors. This indicates that under the current situation, the Screen Committee virtually cannot have any influence over screening the registrants. To make matters worse, the Board Meeting date for nominating the 18th president is set for Dec. 17, which leaves the Screen Committee with only two weeks to stay active and verify the candidates.

   Moreover, despite the Screen Committee’s purpose to objectively screen out the disqualified candidates, the current composition of the Committee implies that the odds are strongly in favor of the current 17th President, Jeong Kap-young. Originally, members of the Screen Committee are appointed by the Chairman of the Board of Directors, the President of Yonsei, or the Alumni Association President. Thus, concerning the current situation in which the incumbent president is also a candidate for the 18th president, the appointment of members who originally were to be appointed by the President must be entrusted to the Board of Directors. However, it turns out that the Board of Directors has delegated the appointment to the Vice President of Yonsei, despite the fact that the President appointed the Vice President. As such, the Screen Committee includes members who have been indirectly appointed by the President of Yonsei, when he himself is one of the candidates requiring verification. In addition, though one student representative, the President of the Students’ Union, is included in the Screen Committee, it is clearly insufficient to adequately represent the opinion of the student body when considering the proportion that students take up in constituting the school. Song commented that there seems to be an underlying notion among other members of the university that “while the students will leave school within 4 years, we are going to stay for more than 10, 20 years or so.”

   Besides the single student representative included in the Screen Committee, the only means for students to participate in president appointment is through the Academic Senate. Contrary to what the Board of Directors has insisted, however, the Academic Senate and its right to recommend three persons into office of the Board of Directors do not seem to have significant influence over any of the decisions made by the Board. Similar to the case of the Screen Committee, quite a number of members of the Academic Senate are also appointed either directly or indirectly by the President. While only three student representatives – the President of the Students’ Union of Sinchon Campus, that of Wonju, and the President of the Graduate School Students’ Union – are included in the Academic Senate, most members are involved with the Board of Directors or serve to represent the benefits of the school. Also, the three members of the Board of Directors recommended by the Academic Senate actually are not quite open to feedback from the Academic Senate, and thus are not effective windows for delivering the demands of the school members. Shin Jae-hee (Soph., Dept. of Education) expressed her concerns about the increased authority of the Board of Directors, following the elimination of the confirmation procedure. “Regarding a number of major issues on campus in the past few years, neither the President nor the school administration has been very willing to cooperate with the student body. Now that the president appointment procedure does not necessitate the candidates to consider either the students or faculty in forming their pledges, I worry that the school will become even more closed than it has been until now.”

 

The road ahead

   “The current crisis could cause Yonsei’s reputation to plummet within a very short period – perhaps the biggest crisis since the establishment of this university.” As Professor Youm emphasized, if the current dispute surrounding the appointment of the 18th president cannot be resolved in a way that revives proper governance in Yonsei, the future of Yonsei as a renowned educational institution will become unclear. Most importantly, the Board of Directors of Yonsei would need to provide a more feasible means of participation for members of the university. More student representatives would also be strongly required in any kind of association that has influence over the president’s appointment.

   As an example, in the case of universities in the United States, the University Senate determines most of the affairs related to the management of the school. The Board of Directors, or the Board of Trustees, on the other hand, focuses mainly on financial affairs of the university such as managing the university’s real estate and other assets. The University Senate is usually composed of a larger number of members than the Academic Senate of universities in Korea as well.

   However, it cannot be denied that the current issue in Yonsei calls for a considerably different approach. The authority of the Board of Directors of most private schools in Korea is fundamentally different from that of U.S. universities mentioned above. Although awareness regarding the desperate need for proper governance in Yonsei is widespread among both the faculty and the student body, the Board of Directors still holds excessive power while the autonomy of school members is at a critically low rate. The Faculty Senate firmly holds that several members of the Board of Directors are unjustly in favor of the current 17th President, and therefore the current Board and every decision previously made by the Directors loses its validity. Thus, the Faculty Senate declared on Nov. 3 that the Senate would conduct a confirmation vote starting from the end of November. The procedure and conditions of the vote will be identical to the request of the Senate mentioned earlier; the faculty will conduct a vote regarding candidates that have been recommended by the Screen Committee, and will disqualify candidates who fail to meet the previously stated condition. Although the Board of Directors will be unwilling to officially acknowledge the results of this confirmation vote, it would surely pressure the Board if the results reflected the opposition from a vast majority of the faculty. If the Board of Directors happens to nominate a candidate that had been disqualified by the confirmation vote, the Faculty Senate plans to initiate legal actions against the Board. The participation rate of the confirmation vote is actually expected to be quite high, as the faculty of Yonsei are generally outraged by the current state of affairs seemingly under the control of the Board of Directors; between Sept. 25 to Oct. 5, the 12 colleges of Yonsei have already made statements in support of the Faculty Senate.

   The President of the Students’ Union has also expressed his opinion that as for now, it would be best to pursue the revival of the confirmation votes for the faculty, and later proceed to request for more means of participation for the sake of the student body. He stated, “If we could show the Faculty Senate during this period that the awareness of students regarding the president appointment is highly significant as well, hopefully we will be able to gain more power in our voices in the future.” In order to enable true governance in Yonsei, many existent problems with the current Board of Directors must be resolved first. In the case of universities in the United States, it is actually unnecessary for members of the school to have influence over the appointment of their president; individual colleges already have enough autonomy for independent research and academic progress. However, the autonomy of individual colleges of Yonsei is practically nonexistent, and the current Board is only a hindrance to the freedom of the members of the university – which is why, asserts Youm, we urgently need to gain the right to choose our own president.

*                 *                 *

   The rift between members of Yonsei and the Board of Directors has only widened further and further as the semester comes to its end. How the dispute will end, if it ever will, still remains unclear. However, one thing seems to be certain: if Yonsei cannot give its students, faculty and staff the autonomy that they have requested for years, it will no longer be a “prestigious” private educational institute that it purports to be.

 

 

Box 1: Composition of the Search and Screen Committees

Category (Representative)

Search Committee

Screen Committee

Entrustment of Appointment

 

Christian community

2

2

Chairman of the Board

Faculty

5

6

President of the University

Staff

2

2

President of the University

Alumni Association

2

2

Alumni Association President

Former (Vice) President

1

1

Chairman of the Board

Parent

1

1

President of the University

Prominent member in society

2

1

Chairman of the Board

Student

-

1

President of the University

Total

15

16

 

 

Box 2: Appointment procedures of the 17th and 18th president

<17th>

Search Committee

Screen Committee

(recommends 3 to 5 candidates)

Board of Directors

(nominates 1 candidate)

Faculty Senate

(conducts confirmation vote)

Board of Directors

(appoints president)

<18th>

Search Committee

(refers around 15 candidates)

Screen Committee

(recommends 3 to 5 candidates)

Board of Directors

(requests for collective faculty opinion)

Faculty Senate

(collects opinion of entire faculty)

Board of Directors

(appoints president)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Box 3: Timeline of major events surrounding the 18th president appointment

- 2015. 7. 21: The Board of Directors approved of the policy proposal on appointment of the 18th president, which omitted the confirmation vote previously conducted by the Faculty Senate.

- 2015. 9. 2: The Faculty Senate, the Yonsei Labor Union, and the Students’ Union of both Sinchon and Wonju Campus held a rally to maintain the confirmation procedure, denouncing the arbitrary decisions of the Board.

- 2015. 9. 7: The Board of Directors sealed their decision to eliminate the confirmation procedure.

- 2015. 9. 15: The Faculty Senate proposed the Board that the Senate gain right to conduct a confirmation vote upon candidates recommended by the Screen Committee.

- 2015. 9. 24: The Search Committee held its first meeting. The working period of the committee was extended to until Oct. 25.

- 2015. 9. 18 ~ 2015. 9. 25: An online vote was conducted regarding the content of a list of requests of the student body, planned to be delivered to the Board of Directors. The plan received consent from 98.15% of 2,273 students who had taken part in the vote.

- 2015. 9. 30: Song Jun-seok, President of the 52nd Students’ Union, delivered the requests to the Board of Directors.

- 2015. 9. 25 ~ 2015. 10. 5: The 12 colleges of Yonsei made statements in support of the Faculty Senate.

- 2015. 10. 12: The minutes of the Board Meeting held on Oct. 2, concerning the procedure of collecting faculty opinion, were revealed. The proposal made by the Faculty Senate on Sept. 15 had not been taken into account.

- 2015. 10. 25: The Search Committee ended its term without recommending any additional candidates other than 4 people who had registered for themselves.

- 2015. 11. 3: The Faculty Senate made its final statement regarding the appointment of the 18th president – “no confirmation, no president.”

- 2015. 11. 9: The Screen Committee held its first meeting.

 

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