“ONE UNIVERSITY, multi campus.” Made by the President of Yonsei University, Kim Yong-hak, on September 27, this statement has since sparked an ongoing debate among the student body across the entire university. The contentious remark has called forth deliberations of a possible unification of Yonsei’s Sinchon campus with the Wonju campus, a thought that has further instigated arguments both within and outside the university among students and the public.
How it all began
The problem first rose to surface when the Wonju campus of Yonsei University was enlisted as one of the “ability strengthening universities” by the Ministry of Education on September 3. The Ministry of Education conducted an evaluation of higher education institutions across South Korea and assessed the capabilities of universities in three stages. According to The Kyunghyang Shinmun, the first and highest stage categorizes respective universities as an “autonomously improved university*.” If they fail to pass this stage, schools are then categorized into the second stage as an “ability strengthening university**.” Universities assorted in the third and lowest stage are referred to as the “restricted financial support university***.” The Wonju campus was classified in the second stage, and was put in an unfavorable position of having to decrease 10% of its student population as a consequence. It is believed that the President proposed the dualization of the Sinchon and Wonju campuses**** to the students of the latter in his attempt to alleviate the adverse situation it is in, which ultimately fueled extreme controversy among all students of Yonsei.
In an e-mail sent by President Kim to students of the Wonju campus on September 27, he stated the following:
(1) In order to resolve the problem of overlapping majors with the Sinchon campus, we are planning to lay the groundwork for the transition from a “main campus-branch campus” system to a “one university, multi-campus” system in the long term.
(4) We are planning on decisively lowering the barrier among majors, departments, colleges, and campuses to expand the students’ selection of majors, fortify the mentoring system, enhance the support for employment and start-ups, and invigorate lecture and research exchanges between the Sinchon campus.
According to Kukminilbo, Yonsei University has been administering the “main campus-branch campus” distinction in its management of the Sinchon campus—the main campus—and the Wonju Campus—the branch campus. This means that the administration system and finances of each campus have been separately managed with a level of independence. Such distinction has been applied since the creation of the Wonju branch campus of the College of Health Science in 1978 and the development into Wonju University in 1982, as noted in the official website of Yonsei University. However, President Kim’s remarks in the e-mail created room for ambiguity, which led many to believe that he was alluding towards the dualization of Yonsei’s campuses, which, in other words, would signify their unification.
The President’s remarks, therefore, were criticized by countless students of the Sinchon campus not only for their abruptness, but more so for their lack of consultation with the most important component of the school: the student body. In order to express their discontent towards this statement, students in the Sinchon campus have started an online petition for the nullification of the President’s dualization plan.
During the opening ceremony of the annual Yon-Ko Games on October 5, a group of students also conducted a collective action by shouting “one-sided administration, deception towards students, [we demand an] explanation from Kim Yong-hak” while President Kim was delivering his opening remarks.
The university’s stance
In order to provide a solution to the heated dispute, the General Student Council Emergency Exigency Committee conducted a face-to-face talk with President Kim, Provost Hong Jong-hwa, and Mr. Kim Dong-no, Chief of the Office of the President, on October 4. The transcript of the conversation was uploaded by the Committee to its official Facebook page on the same day. Below is the English translation of the transcript; for the convenience of readers, the General Student Council Emergency Exigency Committee was shortened as the student committee, and the President, Provost, and Chief of the Office of the President were shortened as the university authorities.
Student committee: The issues related to campus unification involve both the Sinchon and Wonju campuses. Why did only the Wonju campus receive the e-mail in question?
University authorities: It was a remark made in chapel that stirred the problem in the Wonju campus, which is why the e-mail was sent only to the Wonju campus. The statement was not made with effective integration in mind, but rather it spoke of a long-term vision that attempts to resolve the misunderstandings and problems of the Wonju Campus.
Student committee: What is the exact meaning of “one university, multi-campus”? Many students appear to be greatly confused about this wording; does it mean practical unification?
University authorities: The President never mentioned the word unification. It [the statement] absolutely does not point towards an integration, as is the concern of many students. Physical unification is legally and practically impossible. “One university, multi-campus” refers to the ultimate vision of developing together with the Wonju campus. Neither integration nor dualization has been considered—nor can it be realized. As mentioned in the FAQ of the Wonju Innovation Committee, “one university, multi-campus” signifies the creation of a cooperative system in which the two different campuses are able to coexist with independence.
Student committee: We are aware that there is a Wonju Campus Innovation Committee. Many students are expressing their concerns about how the Committee’s agenda may affect the Sinchon campus. What are your thoughts on this?
University authorities: The Innovation Committee places top priority in solving the problems of the Wonju campus. The Committee may influence the Sinchon campus, but it is never in a direction that the Sinchon campus has to make a sacrifice in any way. In addition, whichever type of impact is exerted on the Sinchon campus, we will not cease to exchange opinions with the members of the school community.
Student committee: Do you have any final words to the students?
University authorities: It is very regretful that the statement has been distorted from its original meaning. Upon making any decisions on important matters of the university, we have essentially sought the consent of the members of the university. And we will continue to do so in the future. I am glad that we were able to have this occasion to communicate with the students through the Emergency Exigency Committee.
Despite the clarification from the President himself, student dissatisfaction has been—and, for the time being, remains to be—growing. For one, Hwang Byeon-jun (Fresh., Dept. of Theology), the current temporary president of Yonsei Student Solidarity, kick-started an online student-led petition and headed a collective action as a form of demonstration against the President’s remarks.
The voice of dissatisfaction
The Yonsei Annals engaged with Hwang over an interview on October 7, in which he shared his personal aims and convictions that led him to spearhead the student movement.
Annals: Could you please elaborate on your motive for planning and managing the student-led petition?
Hwang: I set out to personally plan and execute a student-led petition due to the frustration and anger I felt towards the one-sided administration of our university. Despite the growing controversy over the alleged campus unification among students of the Sinchon and Songdo [Yonsei International Campus] campuses, the school administration remained silent on this matter for almost a week. I believe that it is imperative to promptly deliver the frustrations of students arising from a lack of communication in a united voice to the university authorities. The primary measure of achieving that was the student-led petition.
Annals: Please explain the progress of the student-led petition so far. Also, it was noted on the online petition from that you will receive petitions until October 27, and contact President Kim after that day. What specific plans do you have in mind?
Hwang: As of 11:21 a.m, October 7, a total of 4,200 petitions have been signed. I will receive signatures until October 27 and contact the President and the Wonju Ministry of Personnel Management with the petition results, utilizing both online and offline methods.
Annals: You mentioned the establishment of Yonsei Student Solidarity in furthering your causes; please explain what specific activities the organization is planning on executing.
Hwang: Under extremely tight schedules, Yonsei Student Solidarity has endeavored to continue the cause through overnight meetings and emergency meetings to maintain the student-led movement. Nevertheless, as of now, the organization of the community and its detailed structure are not adequate enough for it to be seen as a proper student organization.
All members of Yonsei Student Solidarity who took part in the voting consented to my being a temporary president of this organization until October 5, the day of student-led collective action at the Yon-Ko Games and of planned interviews with university and non-university press. After completing my appointed duties, I will immediately resign from the position of a temporary president*****. From then onwards, Yonsei Student Solidarity plans to discuss directions of its upcoming activities and consolidate its detailed structure.
Annals: What were the motives and aims behind the arrangement of a student-led collective action? Have these objectives been met?
Hwang: A student-led collective action took place at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Yon-Ko Games on October 5. One reason why the action was meaningful is because it was the first-ever offline movement of Yonsei Student Solidarity. It increased the organization’s internal unity and effectively promoted the organization’s activities to Yonsei’s student body. Through collective action, interests towards our activities have increased, and interview requests from university and non-university press have also intensified. Moreover, during the collective action on October 5 in the Jamsil Baseball Stadium, numerous fellow students shouted after our slogan and clapped after us. Such support from fellow students will serve as a great motivation and asset for Yonsei Student Solidarity.
Secondly, the collective action was significant as it delivered our voice directly to President Kim Yong-hak. The action effectively disrupted the President from delivering his speech at the opening ceremony. He stopped for a few moments during the speech and gazed at Yonsei Student Solidarity which makes us believe that our actions paid off.
Annals: Please tell us your thoughts on the announcement of the General Student Council Emergency Exigency Committee following its face-to-face talk with President Kim. How will this impact future actions of Yonsei Student Solidarity?
Hwang: First of all, I would like to thank the General Student Council Emergency Exigency Committee for taking an immediate action to reflect on the concerns of the student body. Nevertheless, Yonsei Student Solidarity perceives President Kim’s actions as unclear and irresponsible.
In his interview, President Kim stated that he did not consider uniting the Sinchon campus with the Wonju campus. However, according to an article written by EBS News, President Um Jae-ho of Korea University expressed that he, along with President Kim, is considering to unite the branch school (Korea University Sejong Campus) with the main school (Korea University Anam campus).
If the article from EBS News—which entails that President Kim, together with President Um, has secretly submitted documents to the National Assembly and contacted consulting companies for the union of the campuses—is true, it can be said that President Kim has lied to the General Student Council Emergency Exigency Committee, and, beyond that, the Yonsei student body.
If all of the statements above are true, it is a serious act of deception towards the student body. Yonsei Student Solidarity will make use of its internal meetings to devise effective means of delivering our suspicions and concerns [to the university authorities].
Annals: Are there any last words that you would like to share?
Hwang: As an inexperienced freshman, I could only have led a series of student-centered movements owing to the enormous support that I received from various people. I would like to thank Yonsei University’s General Student Council Emergency Exigency Committee and Korea University’s General Student Council for their cooperation with the collective action at the Yon-Ko Games. I would like to thank student organizations and individual students who have shown their support and understanding to varying degrees. I would like to thank members of Yonsei Student Solidarity who have been a great help with their enthusiasm and motivation. I am also extremely grateful for fellow students who bravely voiced out their opinions during the collective action.
I am carrying more burdens on my shoulder than what I am capable of. I made numerous mistakes due to my lack of abilities and inexperience, and I feel responsible for these mistakes—such mistakes may well be repeated in the future. Also, my position as a freshman serves as more of a harm than a benefit to the Yonsei Student Solidarity. I plan to resign from the position as a temporary president in the near future. Nonetheless, I will devote all my remaining capabilities and efforts in paving the right direction for Yonsei Student Solidarity.
* * *
With one hot-button statement from the President, Yonsei University has been undergoing a considerable commotion, not only among its own students but also among non-university affiliates who are spectating the issue with intrigue. Despite the face-to-face talk between the student committee and Yonsei’s authorities, student concerns and frustrations continue to dominate the atmosphere.
*Autonomously improved university: The original Korean term is 자율개선대학.
**Ability strengthening university: The original Korean term is 역량강화대학.
***Restricted financial support university: The original Korean term is 재정지원제한.
****Dualization of Sinchon and Wonju campuses: The original Korean term is 이원화.
*****As of October 9, Hwang continues to remain as the temporary president of Yonsei Student Solidarity.