Recovering Status for University Teachers in Korea following mass dismissals

by E Wayne Ross on November 14, 2009

Recovering Status for University Teachers in Korea

On August 12, 2009, Korea University (KU) dismissed 88 lecturers who taught on the KU campus. The teachers who were dismissed were those who had taught four or more semesters and did not possess a doctorate.

Kim Youngkon (’68, Economics) a lecturer who now teaches “The History of Labor” at KU. Kim, is carrying out a one-man demonstration on the injustice of the dismissals, which nowadays is being referred to as “the massacre.”

Kim had graduated from KU, became an executive official of the Daewoo Heavy Industry Labor Union, and later worked as a chairperson for the National Labor Movement Organization Council, as well as writing the publication The History and Future of Korean Labor.

Kim can now be seen near the National Assembly building living in a blue tent, outside of which there stands numerous posters denouncing the current status of university lecturers and the injustice of the mass dismissals. Kim stated that he had started his one-man demonstration in front of the National Assembly building in 2006, and has been camping out in protest in the same place since September 7, 2007.

Then why is Kim putting up with such hardships? This is because of his firm belief as a professional in the field of labor as well as his strong convictions as a labor activist. He says that even if the law for “non-regular” workers were to change, he would not be entitled to benefit from such a provision because of his age.

The reason for the mass dismissal of lecturers at KU was the following policy: If a non-regular lecturer were to teach more than four semesters, he or she would have to be promoted to the status of full time lecturer. This would cost the university up to five times more for each such lecturer. The dismissals were the core incident that brought this issue to light.

Such dismissals are not unique to KU. According to the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MEST) as of September 9, 1,219 lecturers have been dismissed from 112 universities because they did not possess a doctorate degree. Consequently, from the total 200 universities located in South Korea, over 2,000 lecturers are estimated to have been dismissed for the same reasons.

Then what can be done to resolve this issue? “We need to democratize and normalize universities,” stated Kim. “Lecturers, who are widely recognized as having power within the classroom, actually do not have much power; we can say that they are ‘slaves’ to their owner, the head of the university. There are serious problems in the current law that regulates the status of all teachers, and the problem must be solved as soon as possible.”

In 1977, the South Korean statute on the classification of school personnel was changed. According to clause 2 of Article 14 of this statute, the teaching staff of a school should only include the dean, professors, assistant professors, assistant teachers, and full-time lecturers. In legal terms, this means that “non-regular” lecturers do not have the same power or authority as other staff members at the university at which they are teaching.

The two main goals Kim is currently striving to achieve are an amendment to include lecturers within the statute of official personnel and to provide better conditions for lecturers within the university. “When lecturers finally reclaim their status as teachers, this will bring about a chain reaction that will benefit all; and yes, this also includes students,” Kim stated.

From August 24 through 28 of this year, KU students had an additional period to apply for the lectures that they would take in the second semester of 2009. However, the lecturers were fired even after students had finished registering for the fired lecturers’ classes. “This action violates the students’ rights to education,” said Kim. “The students were ready to take a course, which was then abruptly taken away from them. Substantially, the mass dismissals not only violate the lecturers’ rights, but also the rights of the students. These are both rights that must be protected.”

Not only that, Kim argues that these mass dismissals will lower the standards of university education. “Because lecturers do not have authority and status within the classroom, this can greatly reduce the lecturers’ responsibility to and conviction regarding the students, as well as the quality of their lectures. This may further reduce lecturer and student contact, which will make the problem even worse. University tuition is continuously increasing, but ironically, education standards have plummeted. As anyone can see, there is something wrong with this.”

Despite the uncertain road that lies ahead, Kim remains convinced of the importance of his cause. “In order to solve today’s problem, the first, and most important, thing that must be done is that lecturers need to recover their status and authority as personnel at the university. And as this issue is a problem that stretches nation-wide, it must accordingly be dealt with on a national scale.”

“I am currently demonstrating in front of the Grand National Party building in front of MEST headquarters, at both the Anam and Sejong KU campuses, in front of the Seoul National University headquarters, and in front of Ewha University,” said Kim. “Many others are also expected to join me as well. However, this mission cannot be completed by us only. Students must become enlightened about this problem and lend a hand to solve it. Only then can our dream be achieved.”


Please write a letter of request to rivese the Higher Education Act to the Perosns as below email Adresses, containing words of below.

“Dear ****
Please, help to decide the issue of the Higer Education Act in Korea National Assembly to get back the status of teacher to the 70,000 parttime lecturers of universities. They were deprived the status of teacher in 1977 under President Park Junghee. The revision of Act will develop the study & teaching, help the students to escape from the education of memorization to initiativeness, adapt to the scoiety of knowledge and democratize the university. Some lecturers has been sitting in strike in front of the Korea National Assembly since Sept. 7, 2007 until now.”

President of Korea University, Lee Ki-su,
President of Republic of Korea, Lee Myung-bak,
Head of the Committee for Education and Science & Technology of Korean National Assembly, Lee Jong-kul,
Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Ahn Byung-man,
Head of Korean Council for University Education & President of Ewha University, Lee Bae-yong.


Center to Get Back Status of Teacher for Irregular Professor and Normalization of University Education.
Mobile phone: 82-10-9100-1824
Address: Yeongdeungpoku Dolimdong 186-5, 2nd floor, Nodognnet. Seoul, Koea.