Wednesday, August 15, 2007

alas for Korean academe

I'm not surprised when I read reports like this, but I am bothered when I think about the folks I know who are actually trying to do good, scholarly work on the peninsula. The bad scholars make everyone look bad; it becomes guilt by association.

Some 60-70 percent of advanced degree holders in Korea are unqualified, and professors are to blame for approving substandard work, Sungkyunkwan University art professor Jung Jin-soo said Monday. In a phone interview with the Chosun Ilbo on Monday, Jung said, "I have approved many poorly written dissertations.” He said a scandal surrounding fake degrees from the U.S. was only the tip of the iceberg. “Master's and doctoral theses passed through the legitimate process are also substandard,” he said. “Graduate schools are bent on recruiting students, so they are lenient in approving theses."

"If I were to take issue with the matter by myself, I would have had to quit my chair long ago,” Jung said. “Most college professors are accomplices in this lenient screening. Seventy percent of papers written by professors themselves only to add to their resume are rubbish. They are assessed by colleagues who don't examine one another’s work thoroughly."

I'm not sure what to make of Prof. Jung's frankness. I want to respect him for his candor, but his blasé attitude bespeaks a pernicious complacency.


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1 comment:

Charles said...

I like how he just pulls statistics out of his butt to make his case sound more plausible. Isn't it ironic that someone complaining about substandard academic performance is trying to make an unquantifiable claim about academic performance more believable by quantifying it?

For all I know, what he says may be true, but does he really have the experience and knowledge to make such a blanket statement, or is he yet another academic pontificating on a subject about which he knows little (or at least not enough)?

I can only speak to a small slice of academia, but I can tell you that the Korean Language and Literature Department at Seoul National University is rather strict when it comes to approving dissertations (since last semester, the entire process has become even more difficult). The oral presentations (which now more or less begin the process) are open to all, and I have attended quite a few. At the last presentation I attended, two women submitting doctoral theses basically had their intestines yanked out through their nostrils for shoddy work. One professor went so far as to tell them that they should give up because they were hopeless (they had been working on their dissertations for about a decade and had been similarly lambasted at earlier oral presentations). And this was not an isolated incident--about 50% of the time there is at least one person during any given semester who fails to pass the oral presentation and either goes back to the drawing board or gives up.

Anyway, I wasn't really planning on writing such a long comment, but the longer I thought about it the more irked I got. I'm not saying that there is not a problem, but most academics, especially in Korea, are only exposed to a very small piece of the big picture. I don't think it is reasonable for any one academic to make such sweeping claims. Speak for yourself--don't try to paint everyone else with the same brush.

(And what the heck does "put the cat among the pigeons" mean? Well, I realize that it means something like "stir up the pot," but where did the writer get that turn of phrase?)