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Post Doctorates Vulnerable to Exploitation

Tues June 7

Mirae Kang

A 45 year-old adjunct professor of 10 years committed suicide by carbon monoxide

The Will of Dr. Suh. Yonhap News (cbebop@yna.co.kr)

poisoning in his home on May 25. The man, Dr. Suh had been an adjunct professor for Chosun University.

As reported by Hankyoreh News, his 5-page will, written to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, criticized the corrupt process of hiring tenure-track professors and the lack of job security. His will elaborates that during his 10-year attempt to be hired as a tenure-track professor, he was timelessly asked to pay nearly 60 to 100 million won ($50,000-$85,000) for employment.

A former colleague of Dr. Suh mentioned that, “It is a well-known secret that monetary payment for professorship is one of the last requirements to be hired. Through this incident the treatment and hopelessness of part-time lecturers as well as the corruption amongst professors needs to be revealed.”  Unfortunately for Dr. Suh, he didn’t have the economic ability to pay the cost for a professorship.

In 2008, an opinion poll by Kyosu News reported that 54.6% of professors hired were done in an unjust way. Adjunct professors, often called part-time lecturers, consist of professional lecturers usually with Ph.D degrees or are graduate teaching assistants. As many schools have lost funding over the recent years due to economic backlash, the number of part-time lecturers has increased. It has been reported that more than half of all teaching faculty members in South Korean post-secondary institutions are adjunct professors or part-time lecturers with nearly 52% of the group not covered by health insurance, pension, or unemployment benefits.

In an interview with the Korea Human Rights Foundation, an anonymous part-time lecturer at a well-known university in Seoul stated that, “it must be frustrating remaining at school as a part-timer without any promise despite years of education, and a suitable diploma. What I think we should do is to reduce part-timers and increase full-time jobs such as adjunct professor positions so that fewer people would suffer from being insecure about what they do. It might be controversial where a part-time lecturer’s job might be at stake but it would bring a more positive outcome for people who have committed their lives to academia as both schools and the government can provide them with better work conditions.”

On 27 May, while laying the remains of Dr. Suh into a crypt, his older brother expressed that, “It’s a pity that my younger brother couldn’t become a professor because he didn’t have the bribe money.” While working as an adjunct professor for a public university in Gwangju for 10 years, Dr. Suh earned 34,000 won ($27) per hour and worked 10 hours a week which equaled to an average salary of 1.4 million won per month ($1,133) to support a family of four.

This is not the first incident of part-time lecturers expressing their grievances in extreme acts. Since 1998, there have been 9 similar incidences. In June 2004, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea expressed that “part-time lecturers in post-secondary institutions compared to full-time lecturers are discriminated in working conditions, not guaranteed ‘teacher’ status, and adequate wages without a rational explanation which constitutes as a violation of equality.” Part-time lecturers have also voiced their opinion on the violation of equality as workers who aren’t guaranteed the rights outlined above.

Lecturers in South Korea have historically been oppressed since the Park Chung-hee presidential administration in 1977. As the first president Rhee Syngman was ousted from office through a student-led uprising, the authoritarian rule of Park Chung-hee kept students and teachers who helped instigate the uprising under tight surveillance. As a punitive measure, lecturers were demoted in status which has prolonged and manifested into incidents such as this.

The South Korean National Assembly submitted a bill on 7 September 2007 as recognition to reform the current standards of part-time lecturers which has been left on the back burner with no suggestions of bringing it back to a standing committee. ■

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