Sungshin Takes Aim at Second Take-off
School President Shim Pins Hope on Second Woonjung Campus in Seoul
By Kang Shin-who
Nobody but Sungshin Women's University President Shim Hwa-jin could have put on such a sensational performance in front of thousands of freshmen. In February, Shim, along with three other professors, took to the stage to sing ``Nobody'' and danced to the hit song of the five-girl idol group Wonder Girls in a ceremony to welcome newcomers to the school.
The 53-year-old school president drew thunderous applause even the Wonder Girls might have envied. ``I was so thrilled by their enthusiastic reaction. We really had a great time,'' Shim said in an interview with The Korea Times. ``I was so worried before the performance. But it was definitely rewarding as I felt I got closer to the students,'' she said.
Shim said she practiced several hours a day for about a week before the performance. This is an example of how she seeks to distance herself from any authoritarian image and understand her students as much as possible.
Shim has carried through drastic plans to restructure departments and reform the way the school is managed.
She said Sungshin will implement strategies to allocate greater resources to the arts, social welfare and other fields where it can excel.
``Through restructuring, Sungshin will be more focused on specific fields where we can do better than our rivals,'' Shim said. ``There was some initial resistance from faculty and students to the departmental changes and the introduction of incentive systems. But our reform plans are on track.''
She is the type of a leader who is not complacent with the status quo, and has drawn up plans to build a second campus not far from the current one in Seoul.
The new campus is being built on 54,400 square meters of land next to Shinil High School in Mia-dong, Gangbuk. The university plans to complete construction by 2011 at a cost of 110 billion won. Sungshin will then become the first Korean university to have two campuses in Seoul.
The new campus will be named ``Woonjung Green Campus'' and the current one will be called ``Sujeong,'' or Crystal Campus. ``It's about five kilometers away from the current campus and commuting time by subway will be only 10 minutes. The departments of fashion design, welfare, sports and biotechnology engineering will be moved to the new campus and receive more focus. Arts and humanities studies will remain at the current campus,'' Shim said.
The school took over the site from the Shinil Foundation with relatively favorable conditions, she added.
Many women-only universities here and around the world have been transformed into co-ed universities, but Shim said she doesn't have immediate plans to open the doors to male students.
``It's expected that the number of college students will start to decrease from 2013 and we need to think about a shortage of students. But women's universities still have a lot of advantages and duties here in Korea. We also need to uphold our founder's educational philosophy to foster female leaders,'' she said.
Globalization and Challenge
Sungshin has been actively strengthening alliances with international schools and promoting student exchange programs. Shim believes the school's clothing and fashion departments, which place a greater focus on unique Korean culture and tradition, will appeal to foreign students.
``We are making greater efforts to make curricula for foreign students. I believe we can attract more foreign scholars and students through our unique traditional culture,'' said Shim, who studied clothing design. ``I believe that's the selling point.''
Since the small but charismatic woman leader took the helm of the school in 2007, the university has carried through a series of bold reforms. ``There was no choice for us but to reorganize our school to compete with other universities. We ranked the competitiveness of each department and removed uncompetitive ones or merged them,'' Shim said. During the process, she had to overcome severe opposition from professors and student union members who occupied her office to protest the changes.
``Many professors had to change their mindsets, and it's really difficult to lead a faculty in one way. I met all of our professors every morning to explain the necessity of our reforms and to persuade them,'' she said. ``I also met leaders of the students' union and explained why I had to push forward.''
Based on the results of research by a consulting firm, Shim announced last August the ``Sungshin 2015 Development Plan'' to nurture well-balanced and cultured talent.
For the development of the school, the president plans to raise 10 billion won in donations during her term and has already reached seven billion won.
``Due to internal disputes in the past, many donors were reluctant to offer development funds to our school, so I decided to raise money first from our professors and employees,'' Shim said. ``Thankfully, many school members contributed to the development fund. It was not a big amount. But it's very, very important that they are backing my plan.''
Sungshin was the first university to freeze tuition among Korean universities last year. ``When I suggested not raising tuition last year, many said our school would face financial difficulties. But I decided to do so, and instead asked all employees and students to reduce costs in other ways, such as using less electricity. It was successful, and now we can offer more scholarships,'' she said.
The women-only university has long been well known for its quality nursing school and in 2007 was allowed to take over a state-run nursing school, considered unusual for a private university. The university will foster graduates in the fields of care for the elderly, and health and stress management.
Founded by Dr. Lee Sook-chong as Sungshin Girls' School in 1936, Sungshin Women's University is composed of nine colleges offering 37 major courses and five graduate schools. Approximately 13,000 students are currently enrolled while 680 staff and faculty members work at the university.