Korea highs

April 14, 2016

I read with great interest the article on morale at Yonsei University (“Foreign academics in Korea: disempowered and ready to leave?”, News, 15 March). It says that “Stephanie Kim, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Korean Studies, interviewed nearly 50 faculty, administrators and students at Underwood International College (UIC), which was opened in 2006 by the prestigious Seoul-based Yonsei University”.

To the best of my knowledge, Kim’s primary research was regarding students. Her latest work, upon which the Times Higher Education piece is largely based, appears to be an attempt to squeeze more out of her time at Yonsei than was warranted. First of all, what does “nearly 50” mean? The lack of an exact number is suspect. Much more damning, however, is the lack of a breakdown. If only three or four of that “nearly 50” were professors, can her findings be regarded as either serious or representative?

The article is misleading in that it appears to the unknowing reader to reflect the current situation at Yonsei and UIC. The fact is that it represents a brief snapshot of one person’s impressions of a very small and unrepresentative sample taken more than four years ago. Allow me to provide exact numbers and statistics regarding the hiring and departure of “foreign academics” at Yonsei and UIC. In 2007, Yonsei had a total of 30 tenure-track international faculty, six of whom were at UIC. By 2012, that number had grown to 57, with 17 at UIC. This year, the numbers are 79 and 32. Over the past decade, Yonsei’s international tenure-track faculty has grown from 18 to 79 professors, with UIC’s moving from one to 32.

As far as “flight risk” is concerned, Yonsei averaged 3.3 departures per year from 2006 to 2011. In 2012, eight professors left, the highest year on record. In the following years, however, the numbers fell to six, three, two and finally to one in 2016. Focusing on UIC, as Kim largely did, the numbers undermine her premise even more. In 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2016, not a single faculty member departed. In 2008 and in 2012, the peak of the purported crisis, two faculty members left. In 2010, 2013 and 2014, only one faculty member departed each year.

On a more personal note with regard to the various claims about academics leaving as soon as possible due to a lack of both academic and administrative opportunities, I write having been at Yonsei and UIC for 11 years. I was recently promoted to full professor and tenured, and I am serving a second term as associate dean for international affairs. Small wonder why I and those in similar positions were not interviewed.

John M. Frankl
Associate dean for international affairs
Underwood International College
Yonsei University

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Reader's comments (2)

THE's original article insinuates a negative predicament at one of Korea's most prestigious universities but it now appears not only one-sided but also based upon specious evidence. You would expect more rigor and integrity from the editors in terms of checking basic facts for articles.
Dear Professor Frankl, Thank you for reading and commenting on the THE article that is based on my recent work entitled “Western Faculty ‘Flight Risk’ at a Korean University and the Complexities of Internationalisation in Asian Higher Education” published in Comparative Education that can be found here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03050068.2015.1125620 https://www.academia.edu/20416086/Western_faculty_flight_risk_at_a_Korean_university_and_the_complexities_of_internationalisation_in_Asian_higher_education The journal article was based on a chapter within my doctoral dissertation filed in 2014 at the University of California, Los Angeles on the role of an international college in a Korean university’s internationalization agenda. The full dissertation is available on the University of California e-scholarship database here: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/23x20509 Here I’d like to set the record straight on several points of contention that you raise. RESEARCH METHODS For this project, I had interviewed 48 participants, which includes 21 faculty members, 23 students, and 4 senior administrators at UIC and Yonsei University at large. Indeed, I interviewed the majority of UIC faculty members: 13 (out of 15) full-time faculty members in the Spring 2012 semester. Each interviewee was aware of my larger research project and signed an informed consent form allowing me to use what information they voluntarily provided for research purposes. The interviews were audio recorded and then transcribed. Following our interview, I sent each faculty member a written transcript and asked him or her to indicate whether there was any portion of our interview that should be recanted or otherwise not quoted, especially since I was inquiring about a sensitive topic that might affect their employment status. Further details on my interview methods and ethical considerations are well documented in my dissertation, which was overseen by the Institutional Review Board that handles ethical issues in research. FACULTY RETENTION STATISTICS It is fair to point that faculty retention statistics are missing from my study; I certainly tried to acquire such only to be rebuffed by UIC senior administration. I thank you for voluntarily sharing them here. So let’s analyze them: According to your numbers, a total of seven faculty members have departed since Underwood International College opened in 2006; meanwhile, two faculty members (yourself included) have acquired tenure. I am unclear how these numbers discredit my point about “flight risk” when clearly more people have departed than have acquired tenure in the last decade. According to the numbers you gave, over the last decade Yonsei University has lost nearly 40 foreign faculty members, seven of whom were part of UIC. These are not small numbers considering that today, as you point out, there are 79 international tenure-track faculty members, 32 of whom are part of UIC. If approximately half the size of the current foreign faculty body has left a tenure-track position within the last decade at Yonsei University (or nearly a quarter when examining UIC in isolation) and this does not warrant a “flight risk” by your measure, then I’d be curious to know what threshold you are using to discredit my findings. Furthermore, I would like to point out that faculty hiring practices at Yonsei University have changed recently and now include a number of temporary contract positions for foreigners. Perhaps the falling number of faculty departures in recent years that you point out can be attributed to better retention efforts. Or perhaps the falling number is because departures are now preemptively anticipated and systematically accounted for through temporary contract positions that then leave the tenure-track retention statistics unaffected. In other words, regular departures of foreign faculty members are now built into the university’s hiring structures through the proliferation of temporary contract positions. EXCEPTIONS DO NOT NEGATE A GENERAL TREND The main point in my work is that “flight risk” implies that foreign faculty members are not well integrated into the highly rigid alumni networks and power structures of a Korean university as part and parcel of their foreigner status and therefore face a glass ceiling in their career prospects that then discourage them from staying very long. This complicates the commonly understood narrative that foreign faculty members are inherently advantaged in hiring and promotion activities at a Korean university against the backdrop of internationalization efforts. Nobody is arguing that a faculty job at UIC is a bad option for young Ph.D.’s. On the contrary, UIC faculty members should be encouraged to stay since they are fortunate to hold a tenure-track position at a prestigious university in a very tough job market. Still, your colleagues have shared with me their feelings of isolation and marginalization that I suspect have largely gone unmediated. I understand that you are keen to use yourself as an example to discredit my findings. Indeed, as the original UIC faculty member to be hired and the first to reach tenure, you are an exception to a general trend, but this does not mean that many of your colleagues are having the same experience as you. A similar rhetorical side-step was given when I asked a UIC senior administrator whether it is a problem that UIC students graduate without sufficient Korean language skills to enjoy an active professional life in South Korea. This person responded that the top 10 percent of UIC students are sufficiently proficient in Korean, effectively side-stepping the issue that 90 percent are not. This is documented in my dissertation as well as in another journal article about the linguistic contradictions of UIC students that can be found here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03057925.2014.922409 https://www.academia.edu/7362644/English_is_for_dummies_linguistic_contradictions_at_an_international_college_in_South_Korea ADMINISTRATION STIFLES CRITIQUE It is disconcerting that senior administrators are more concerned with showing how false my study is rather than using it as a tool to address some very real issues that I’ve outlined based on the testimonials that UIC faculty members have shared with me. Your letter perhaps proves another point: that senior administrators are more concerned with actively stifling and discrediting any critique of UIC rather than earnestly engaging with it, even as the institution bills itself as an “American-style liberal arts college.” Interestingly, I re-listened to the audio recording of our interview in 2012 to revisit the information you shared with me. Perhaps your sentiments have changed since then, but you yourself even shared with me some similar points as your colleagues that I’ve quoted in my dissertation and journal article with your full understanding and consent (all of it well documented in our email exchanges). Indeed, this is not an isolated incident. A similar reaction occurred when UIC students tried to publish a critique of their own college in their student newsletter. What a potentially valuable source of information when the UIC students themselves highlight genuine issues that should be addressed to improve their own college. Instead, the senior administration actively censored their articles before they went to press. This was such an egregious act that the students even launched an online petition demanding a redress: https://www.change.org/p/dean-park-hyung-ji-and-the-uic-office-grant-the-uic-scribe-the-editorial-independence-to-freely-examine-and-report-on-critical-issues-that-are-important-to-the-student-body-2 UIC is a fascinating forerunner of internationalization of the Korean higher education sector, which is why I focused my attention on it. If UIC is indeed the bastion for liberal arts education that it claims to be, then I would hope that those who have a stake in the college will engage with an honest research inquiry into the issues that UIC faces rather than spend time and resources to stifle and discredit it. I thank you for paying attention to my work. I am encouraged by the fact that it has stimulated important conversations amongst you and your colleagues. I look forward to continuing these conversations through my future publications. Sincerely, Stephanie K. Kim, Ph.D. http://www.stephaniekim.com

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