Ever since the emergence of the Namyangju project crisis in 2016, the board of directors and the Jesuit foundation have been fiercely criticized for their incompetence and self-righteousness. Skepticism over the unofficial selection of the new president of Sogang University is one of the most important parts of this controversy. Former president Yoo Ki-pung, who resigned before the official end of his term due to conflicts with the board, asserted that the Society of Jesus and the board are exerting an inordinate amount of influence on the selection of the president. Yoo argued in an email sent to graduates and other members of the school on September 16, 2016 that the Jesuits had already decided to select Park Jong-gu, a Jesuit priest, as the new president. Moreover, Yoo contended that the Jesuits prefer a priest as president, revealing as an example the exile of priest and former chairman of the board Yoo Shi-chan (who is also the person responsible for appointing Yoo Ki-pung himself as the 14th president) for disobeying the Jesuits and not electing a priest as president. Lee Chang-kyu, former Executive Vice President of Research and External Affairs, also mentioned the rumors of this unofficial selection in an email on September 2016. And indeed, priest Park Jong-gu was inaugurated as president on March 3, 2017. In light of this quote from the metropolitan bishop Jeong Je-cheon, “The next president should be one of the Jesuits,” suspicions over the presidential election are a considerable task that highlights the incompetence, arbitrary decisions of school affairs, and unreasonable prerogatives given to Jesuit members.
At the onset of the presidential election, there were three candidates: Park Hee-jong, Lim Seong-ho and Park Jong-gu. Among them, only Park Jong-gu is a Jesuit priest. Many students considered Park Hee-jong as a strong candidate because of his career as former president of Kwandong University. That was, until his sudden and unexplained resignation as candidate. The presentation of the rest of the
presidential candidates in November 8, 2016 sparked a fierce debate among Sogangers over the two other candidates’ capability as president.
Lim was the first to present, displaying an utter lack of professionalism. Emphasizing the importance of communication, he promised to attract donations of two billion KRW from major firms such as Samsung. He also stressed his acquaintance with Hillary Clinton and former US president Barack Obama. However, he failed to propose any practical method to raise the donations, and the email he presented as evidence of his acquaintance with Obama turned out to be a mass email sent from Obama’s campaign headquarters. Park Jong-gu also put forth irresponsible pledges. He promised to amass one billion KRW through donations and sponsorships, but failed in suggesting a specific financial plan. He also pledged to develop Mt. Nogo in order to build new buildings. However, Mt. Nogo is designated as a first class Biotope area, which must be preserved to support the wildlife. It is also within the Coordination Zone for Anticraft Defense, and is known as a Catholic shrine where martyrs are buried. All things considered, a project for developing the mountain is highly unlikely but Park has never presented any realistic or elaborate plans regarding this complicated matter.
Many students were outraged over the two presentations, contending that the pledges of both candidates were unrealistic and far from student needs. After the presentation, some students staged a protest against the unofficial selection of the president. The school finished the presentation earlier than previously intended, stating the protest as the reason, and restricted inquiries to online only. Yet, there were no competent answers from either candidates online as well. Rather, the cursory presentations only served to aggravate the suspicions further with one preordained president and two nominal candidates.
Refusal to Communicate
Many students, professors and alumni expressed, and are still expressing their discontent in various ways, but the Jesuits and the board remain consistent in their uncommunicative stance. The President Recommendation Committee (PRC) was in the center of this controversy. Former Student Body president Jang Hee-woong (13, Computer Science & Engineering), who served as a member of the PRC, issued a statement on November 9, 2016, criticizing candidate Lim’s inadequacy for publishing false information about his relationship with Obama. In his statement, Jang protested through his own resignation, demanding of the PRC to put forth a new qualified candidate in place of Lim. The representative of the Alumni Association, the student president of the graduate school, and professors from the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy also resigned from the committee, protesting against the arbitrary decisions of the Jesuits and the board.
There were also several student protests initiated by the Student Body Council of 2016 Woo:ri or the informal student organization Sogangsarang. Woo:ri led a march on November 11, 2016, and Sogangsarang organized several protests before its dissolution; both parties urged for the normalization of the board and a fair election. The Jesuits and the board, however, demonstrated a consistently aggressive and dogmatic attitude toward protests. In one notable instance, the school mobilized two ADT personnel at a peaceful demonstration enacted during
a PRC conference on November 15, 2016. The school even blocked students’ access to the conference site with desks and chairs. At the demonstration on Christmas Eve as well, students stated that some priests exerted physical violence on participating students and took pictures.
Just the Beginning
The unofficial and partial selection of the school president that threatens Sogang’s democracy cannot simply be dismissed as an unlikely hypothesis. This kind of undemocratic decision-making process can only decay Sogang. During the election period, Jesuit priests and the board showed lack of management ability as well as unwillingness to communicate with school members.
Such favoritism toward Jesuits, incompetence and selfrighteousness on the part of the foundation are not issues that have cropped up out of the blue. The next Cover Stories will deal with the prevalent problems of Jesuits and the board that are impeding Sogang’s potential for future development.