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Will Ewha Womans University’s 125-year-old policy of making classrooms off limits to men be repealed?

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Moon Hee Kim

“The female-only admission is in violation of constitutional rights.” “Ewha’s unique ideology and educational objectives needs to be respect for the autonomy of private schools.”

On February 10th, the Constitutional Court held a public hearing on whether or not the female-only admission policy at Ewha Womans University Law School had infringed upon rights to equality and other constitutional rights of male students. Three male lawyer hopefuls filed a petition with the court in 2009 to abolish the policy governing Ewha’s law school.

There are several women-only universities in South Korea, but Ewha is the only one to be given authorization to have a law school. Ewha Womans University was founded in 1886 by Methodist missionary Mary F. Scranton to provide then uneducated and underprivileged women in the male-dominated Korean society with choices for further education. Ewha is one of the twenty-five Law Schools in South Korea, which opened in 2009 to educate 2,000 students annually. The Ewha law school offers 100 new slots annually which is the third largest quota accounting for 5 percent of the total.

There were very different views between the two opposite positions at the hearing, male lawyer hopefuls and Ewha Law School. According to a lawyer Jeon Yong-woo, who represents the male students, it is unconstitutional that male students have to compete for the remaining 1,900 slots, while Ewha Womans University Law School offers 100 new slots annually among the 2,000 allowed number of students admitted to Law School. The lawyer Jeon added that this was “discriminatory against men” to exclusively allocate the 100 slots at Ewha to women.

He also said female students are already taking a greater portion in the local judiciary and they do not need any favoritism over male students. “Today, around 40 percent of new judges and prosecutors are female and the ratio continues to increase. So it’s no longer necessary to maintain the policy to boost gender equality with attempts to allocate more posts to females in the legal circle.” About 42 percent of successful test takers of the bar exam in 2010, or 338, were female, which was a record high. The ratio has hovered around 35-38 percent in the past five years, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Ewha Womans University’s representative, Lee Seon-ae, on the other hand, countered that Ewha Law School’s guidelines for applicants are not under the state, therefore it does not fall under Constitutional Acts. “There needs to be respect for the autonomy of private schools,” Lee said. “There is a logical reason behind solely choosing women for its school, it is Ewha Law School’s educational goal to ‘train lawyers for sexual equality’ and ‘raising female leaders of the future,” said Lee.

Lee added that the rights of men to receive equal education was not being violated as male students have guaranteed opportunities to go to twenty-four other law schools. Furthermore, application guidelines are not in violation of Constitutional Rights since admission into a Law School is not directly related to qualification for becoming a lawyer.

The Ministry of Education which endorsed the policy of Ewha, said the rule is not problematic. “The ministry allowed Ewha to run the Law School in the belief that the admission rule is not discriminatory against males.” Prof. Kim Ha-yeoul of Korea University said the disputed 100 slots should be seen as opportunity for the country to discover talented women and nurture them to become leaders in this still male-dominated society. “Ewha’s sprit of education is nurturing female leaders in Korean society. And the ministry endorsed its right to run the Law School to pursue that specific goal.” Kim said.  Prof. Jeon Hak-seon of Hankook University of Foreign Studies sided with the petitioners, saying, “Reserving a certain number of slots only for female contenders could be viewed as a restriction of equality and fair competition.”

Court official said that the ruling is scheduled to be released in three or four months.

Korea’s Top Women’s Law School Battles Reverse Discrimination Lawsuit

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Sangmin Lee

The Constitutional Court held a public hearing on 10 February 2011, discussing whether the women only admissions policy is in violation of the right of male students to equality and other constitutional rights. Three male students, who have been preparing for law school, filed a petition against Ewha Women’s University law school in 2009. At the hearing, the primary issues were the applicant’s claim of legality and whether or not it infringes on applicant’s constitutional rights.

According to Jeon Yong-woo, the male student representative, Ewha’s policy of restricting admission to only female students is a violation of constitutional rights, specifically the right to receive education, freedom of occupation and right to equality. The current law school system in Korea is set up in a way where the government limits the number of law school graduates to about 2,000 per year students. Ewha was one of the 25 universities authorized by the Ministry of Education and Science Technology (MEST), and allotted the third highest quota with 100 students. In particular, the fact that Ewha is the only women university to be given a license to run a law school eliminates the quota of 2,000 to 1,900 for male applicants.

Lawyer Jeon insisted that “law school is a training organization for national judicial officers and the admission rules of private law schools should be based on public interest as well. Ewha law school unfairly limits the opportunity to become a lawyer on the basis that the applicants are men. It violates the gender equality.” Therefore, claimants added Ewha law school should choose either to cancel the current guidelines for applicants or have their authorization to run a law school revoked in order to give fair opportunities between men and women.

Jeon stressed that prohibiting men’s admission itself is discriminatory in principle. If there is a need to protect women, preferential policies for women by giving additional points to female applicants will reasonably fit the benefit and protection of the law.

At the national bar examination as of 2010, 338 successful candidates (42%) were female, which was a record high. And the ratio has continued to increase in recent years.

On the contrary, Ewha Womans University’s representative, Lee Seon-ae refuted that Ewha is not a state institution and its guidelines for applicants are not under the state, thus it does not fall under constitutional acts. Furthermore, claimants have no eligibility to sue because they did not even apply to Ewha law school.

Kim Moon-hyun, dean of Ewha law school, said “women make up only 17 percent of the Korean legal circle, thus Ewha law school’s policy is an affirmative action and does not breach the Constitution. Ewha law school’s educational goal is to ‘train lawyers for sexual equality’ and ‘raising female leaders of the future.’ Specific educational goals and ideals of school should be guaranteed in terms of fundamental rights of autonomy of private school.” He also said, “it is desirable to have female-focused legal training institutes in the male-dominated Korean legal circles.”

Lawyer Seong seung-hwan for MEST also said women are proportionally still have a weak position in Korean society. “Ewha’s quota takes up just 5 percent of the total, thus its policy seems to be rational and a proper method,” he insisted.

The ruling is scheduled to be released in 3 to 4 months, according to court officials.