Wednesday, May 15, 2013

SKKU: once more unto the breach

A few days ago, Sungkyunkwan University put out a new job ad which, according to my buddy T (can't use his name in this post lest his name be Google-associated with his opinion), is merely a cut-and-paste of last semester's ad, with a different administrator's name tacked on to the bottom. So, for the third damn time, I've sent an application in to SKKU.

T and I had a long conversation about whether applying to SKKU would even be worthwhile. His opinion of the school has changed radically since he started teaching there five or six years ago. He feels the ambiance has suffered in part due to a change in management, and the culture at SKKU has become dominated by corporate drones from Samsung, a conglomerate that essentially underwrites the entire school, according to T. The guys now working in the office, all of whom are Samsung pod-people, have no imagination or creativity. "It's all a matter of checking the right boxes and not making any waves," said T.

In that spirit, T strongly advised me not to visit SKKU on Wednesday. He thought the visit would militate against me because, as he put it, "An applicant is just supposed to email his application. Actually visiting the school? Well, that doesn't compute, therefore it's bad." This was all very disappointing to hear, so I asked T for his honest opinion: would it be worth it for me to apply? His answer was vague. He felt it would be worthwhile insofar as I'd get plenty of vacation time, decent pay, and decent benefits, but given the soul-crushing corporatization of the place, T felt that life at SKKU was now reduced to: "I come in, I teach, I leave. When I go to meetings, I smile, I sit there, and then I leave. I tried to help the department out at first, but no one's imaginative enough to do anything. I'm going to stop teaching my current-affairs course; it's no longer worth it."

T talked about the cutting-down of many of the original perks and benefits that had made SKKU such a great place to work at. He also bemoaned new requirements, such as the recording of video of at least one class session to be marketed as part of a video package of "international" courses. These courses, taken as a whole, give SKKU the bragging rights to declare itself an international school, and thus boost its ratings relative to other Korean universities. It's all about standing.

To be fair, T didn't blame only the administration or its corporate backers: he said that some foreign teachers, especially at the Suwon campus, have been troublesome, too. One teacher got in the habit of cancelling several weeks of class, of not showing up, and of skipping out to go on vacation with his wife in Southeast Asia. SKKU tried to fire this teacher, who cleverly pointed out that SKKU had failed to give him the official four weeks' warning. He ended up teaching the rest of his term, and was even given a cash settlement before leaving. This created an atmosphere of distrust between the faculty and the administration—a distrust that crept north to the Seoul campus from the Suwon campus. Quite the soap opera.

So even though I just sent my application to SKKU, I'm not really sure how much I want to teach there anymore. Life in the English department now sounds awful, and T sounds like a changed man. What will I do if SKKU asks to interview me? I'll think carefully, I guess.

ADDENDUM: The likelihood of SKKU's tapping me for an interview is approximately zero. The hiring committee will take one look at my application and reject me for living in America, not even considering the possibility of interviewing me via Skype. This is stupid and unprofessional, but if SKKU's past behavior is any indication, it'll be par for the course.


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