A number of foreign professors have packed up and flown home after failing to adapt to the Korean school system.
Two foreign professors at Seoul National University (SNU), which has around 60 full-time professors from overseas, observed that the problem derives from a lack of orientation. In other words, the school was more concerned with adding a foreign presence to their faculty, but neglected the professors when they arrived.
Douglas R. Gress, assistant professor of geography, and Lynn Ilon, associate professor of education, published this observation in a thesis.
In an interview with The Korea Times, Monday, at the SNU campus, Prof. Gress, the main author of the paper, suggested that Korean universities should introduce orientation programs for foreign faculty members so that the invited professors could understand the cross cultural and organizational differences between Korean and foreign systems.
He also pointed out the prevailing seniority system in which professors get promoted in accordance with experience, is in contrast with the merit-based promotion system overseas.
"Korean universities are competing for foreign faculty in an era of global expansion in higher education," said Gress, who has studied and taught students in Korea for eight years, adding that this clips a potential contribution by foreign teachers and deprives the students of a chance to learn from them.
"We need to simultaneously focus on student, faculty and administrative considerations with the goal of not only increasing the effectiveness of foreign faculty recruitment and retention, but also the overall productivity of all participants in the process," he added, noting that he personally has had no problems.
Foreign faculty members and international students have complained about the insufficient means of communication with the administrative staff.
SNU had a tenured foreign professor quit during the semester without giving prior notice. Speculation is rife that she departed for alleged unfair treatment and the 'dismal' future of the state-run university.
SNU hasn't commented on the two professors' recommendations.
It has so far ignored complaints and requests by foreign students about their needs ranging from more classes in English to a prayer room for Muslim students. Chung Min-ho, spokesman of the university, told The Korea Times, Monday that SNU was unaware of any problems with foreigner students or professors at the school.
Kang writes that "a number" of foreign professors have left, though he doesn't write what number. The case he refers to in the last paragraph is the only one I've ever heard of, one I blogged about a year ago Wednesday. From the Times and Kang in 2008:
A foreign tenure professor at the state-run Seoul National University quit the school during the semester without giving prior notice and is refusing to return to the job. Andrea Pearson, 45, American professor of the department of archeology and art history at Seoul National University (SNU), abruptly left Korea late September. Majoring in northern Renaissance art, with research interests in gender and sexuality, Pearson came to SNU a month ago for the position of tenured professor.
Her fellow professors, school staff and students remain perplexed. ``We have no idea right now how to deal with this situation. We have been unable to contact her yet,’’ SNU spokesman Chung Min-ho told The Korea Times.
Yi Seon-bok, dean of the department also said he had nothing to comment on. The professor, who stayed alone in the school’s faculty dormitory, apparently emailed her assistant professor that she had difficulty in adapting to life here and was unhappy with SNU over working conditions.
The first sentence of the last paragraph is typical:
Some SNU professors point out the university has been negligent in a screening system to recruit quality professors and only focused on attracting as many foreign professors as possible.
The last part reflects what Professor Gress says in today's article, though there's no evidence to suggest Pearson was a low quality professor.
Last year there was a lot of press about SNU hiring a bunch of foreign professors. From a university press release:
Barely a decade ago, the sight of a foreigner in Seoul would have induced whispering, gawking, and maybe even some frenetic pointing.
Sounds like Gwangju. Anyway,
Even a year before the 2002 World Cup, foreigners in Seoul rarely ventured beyond particular pockets near military bases or hakwon-filled neighborhoods. These days, it's a whole other story. With an ever-increasing influx of foreigners ranging from tourists to teachers and exchange students, Korean society is rapidly becoming much more heterogeneous than ever before, so it makes sense that the number of foreign professors at SNU is at its highest since the school's foundation in 1947. SNU currently boasts 86 foreign faculty members, 22 of whom are associate professors. So what is it about SNU that is drawing renowned scholars from abroad?
And indeed the release doesn't seem to question Pearson's quality or qualifications:
But why, you might ask, is it so important that SNU acquire more foreign professors? Bringing in professors from abroad will no doubt lead to the development of a more diverse and specialized faculty, giving students both a broader and more in-depth education that is essential to survival and success in this age of globalization. For example, Professor Pearson was already recognized in the United States for her sexual-sociological approach to the interpretation of 16th century Western art in her book The Portrait and Women in the Early Europe, which earned her associate professorship here at SNU.
The Korea Times seems to have an axe to grind with SNU, running pieces in September "SNU Behind in Globalization," "SNU Xenophobic," and "SNU Turns Deaf Ear to Student Complaints." Regarding the issue of foreign professors, an excerpt from that last article:
A foreign professor claims that SNU is not only insensitive to the complaints of foreign students but also to those from foreign faculty.
“The behavior of SNU colleagues damages the international academic standing of SNU and Korea. Naturally, I am sorry for Professor Lee Jang-Moo, as president of SNU, having to lead an institution where professors behave like this to a colleague,” said American professor Douglas Rogersa, referring to a case in which Korean professors blocked a foreign professor from taking a post at the university.
In a separate case, Andrea Pearson, a tenured foreign professor at the university, quit the school during the semester without giving prior notice, with some speculating that she departed because she had been ignored by Korean professors.
Seoul National University is one of the most prominent universities in the country, and makes a big to-do about attracting foreign students and professors, though I'll bet you'll find similar complaints at most universities and colleges in the country, making me wonder why the Times is so eager to go after this one.
It's worth bringing up this Marmot's Hole post from 2007 which translates an article looking at the difficulties foreign professors face here. Two lengthy excerpts:
Journalist Noh visited four other Seoul universities, but the foreign professors were very reluctant to talk, fearing reprisals from their schools should their identities be revealed. Once they agreed to talk, however, they poured out their concerns about their failure to receive proper treatment. Prof. Yuri (fake name), a German literature professor, said not all, but most foreign professors working at Korean universities wanted not special treatment, but rather to be treated equally.
Prof. Marcus (fake name), who has worked for eight years at another Seoul university, said he’s never received — not even once — notification to attend a professors’ meeting. This, he said, was because he was a foreigner. He said he didn’t even expect a personal office; all he hoped was that the foreign professors wouldn’t be left out of the department meetings. He hoped that the foreign professors would be thought of as colleagues, just like the Korean professors.
A Professor Lee discussed the exclusion of foreign professors from the department meetings. He said the department could not hold the meetings in English for the benefit of the foreign professors, the minority, but if the meeting were conducted in Korean, the foreign professors would feel ostracized. So they aren’t notified at all. The reporter noted that Lee’s explanation meant that foreign professors received no consideration from the school.
. . .
The foreign professors complained that they are treated like hagwon teachers. They said they are sometimes told by the school to teach foreign languages to students outside their department, leading many professors to feel like they’re hagwon teachers.
Foreign professors are also being discriminated against in terms of hours and wages. Prof. Gabriel (fake name), who teaches at a certain university, said Korean professors teach an average of seven hours a week, while the foreign professors teach at least 12 hours. Prof. Karlson (fake name), who teaches at another university, said there were differences in wages, too, although he could reveal specific amounts. He also said Korean professors get bonuses such as research fees, but he didn’t know a single foreign professor getting such bonuses. He claimed that Korean professors get all sorts of allowances that foreign professors could only dream about. Prof. Michelle, who majored in Australian literature, said there was even one foreign professor who was earning only 2.2 million won a month teaching 20 hours a week. The professor eventually returned to the United States out of dissatisfaction with his pay.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of job security. Foreign professors sign contracts of 2-4 years. Yet they are often disadvantaged by the terms and/or timing of their contracts. Prof. Josephine (fake name), who teaches French literature, said there are many cases where schools sign their professors just three days before the start of the semester. If you can’t sign a deal by then, you have to leave Korea immediately. She said it would be nice if schools decided on their contracts at least one month in advance, and that she couldn’t even think about job security. Another professor said the contracts were simple, one-page documents with only the duration of employment, salary and date. Far from honoring the professor, he said, the contracts felt more like slave papers.
About this, the Ministry of Education said the hiring and administration of foreign professors was carried out in accordance with the regulations established by each school. Or, in other words, everything was up to the universities.
Jeong Gyeong-won, the dean of academic affairs at HUFS (where 113 or the 505 professors are foreign), said foreign professors were not assuming positions of responsibility, and because of this, there could be a difference between the way they and the Korean professors are treated, but the school would try to improve this situation. Hong Jong-hwa, the dean of academic affairs at Yonsei University (where 61 of 800 professors are foreign), said foreign professors would unavoidably experience difficulties due to cultural differences, and that work needed to be done to maintain smooth relations between them and their Korean colleagues. In the case of some universities, the journalist couldn’t even get the number of foreigners were employed at their schools.
The situation being such, a growing number of foreign professors were expressing their discontent with their feet. Yonsei’s Dean Hong said one professor even left after just one six-month semester. He said the failure of foreign and Korean professors to harmonize was his school’s biggest problem. Professor Peterson (fake name), employed at a certain university, said he wanted to leave upon the completion of his contract next year, even if the school asks him to stay.