Keimyung president in hot seat
Father-to-son succession stirs dispute
By Na Jeong-ju
The board of Keimyung University has given another four-year term to its incumbent President Synn Il-hi, raising questions about managerial practices at the private school.
Synn’s new term will begin on July 7 and he could remain in the position until 2016. That means that the 73-year-old will have served as Keimyung’s president for 28 years. He is the longest-serving private school president.
Synn’s father, the late Synn Tae-sik, was also president of Keimyung. He occupied the position from 1961 to 1978. Synn was chosen as a successor by his father.
Now, there is speculation that there could be another dynastic succession of the position because Synn’s 44-year-old son works as a professor at the Daegu-based university.
The school hired Synn junior, who has U.S. citizenship, in 2009. The president promoted his son the following year to occupy the post of policy planning chief despite questions raised about his qualifications.
The school has denied that the younger Synn will succeed his father as Keimyung president, but many both inside and outside the school speculate that he may take over the position in 2016.
Many observers say Keimyung is neither owned nor founded by Synn’s family.
“Keimyung is a private school that has the freedom to choose its own president. However, the majority of students and alumni don’t feel good about letting a single family run the school for such a long period of time,” said a Keimyung graduate.
Corruption at private schools
The dispute came amid a series of corruption cases involving managers of private schools.
A group of professors at private universities have launched a campaign, calling for the government to revise regulations to make it obligatory for the chairmen and presidents of private schools and their foundations to make their financial assets public knowledge.
Under the current law, presidents of state-run universities are required to make their assets public knowledge, but presidents of private schools are exempt.
Currently, a number of private universities including Sangji, Sejong and Chosun are under fire for alleged corruption involving school owners and managers.
“Private universities account for 80 percent of higher education institutes, therefore we need to verify the integrity and morality of their owners, presidents and their family members,” an official from the Korea Association of University Professors said.
According to audit results by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the number of private school staffers caught for corruption surpassed 2,000 over the past three years.
In one case, a school founder employed his son as a member of a research team and overpaid him by 17 million won.
Some private schools extorted money from professor hopefuls or parents of children applying for the schools. Also, one school founder used tuition money for his private interests. Some universities were also found to have given degrees to graduates who had never participated in lectures.
Such corruption cases are largely linked to opaque and questionable management practices at private schools, experts say.
“In that sense, the father-to-son succession of presidents at Keimyung could be an example of mismanagement. It can ruin democracy in the school,” the official said.