Nearing Sogang’s 15th presidential election, many students protested that the undue proportion of Jesuits in the board of directors grants them too much influence on school management. Many students suspected Jesuit priest Park Jong-gu was unofficially nominated as the president and that Park’s election was not as it should have been, due to the unbalanced ratio of Jesuits among board members. Additionally, this election is not the first time suspicions have been raised over the excessive control of the Society of Jesus on Sogang.
Continuous Distrust in Sogang’s Presidential Election
Suspicions about the presidential nomination have made a steady comeback quinquennially. Looking into past in-school press eleases, The Sogang Herald found evidence of past conflict between students and the foundation in 1999 when Lee Sang-il, the 9th president of Sogang, was dismissed. The students demanded a logical explanation for this abrupt decision from the foundationʼs part. Seven members of the foundation partook this decision, completely excluding the decision of the labor union and the faculty. As a result, the student council issued a protest regarding the lack of reasonable grounds and the exclusion of studentsʼ opinion in the decision making process. In the 10th election, priest Lee Han-taek was elected as president in April 1999 after he showed his support toward Jesuits regarding the West Coast campus, leading to a student demonstration at the inauguration ceremony opposing his presidency. The 11th president Ryu Jang-sun was also a priest, and the foundation did not comply with students’ requests to open up the presidency to non-Jesuits. At this election, there were 4 candidates, some of whom insisted that Ryu had already been preordained as president. In spite of such allegations, Ryu was elected.
Imbalance in the Foundation
Undergoing such a series of events, Sogangers had no choice but to doubt the legitimacy of the presidential election, and thus the foundationʼs credibility has been cast under suspicion. Board membersʼ past actions have stood contradictory to the ideology or value they themselves emphasize, namely communication and cooperation. The board’s incommunicative attitude, as pointed out by many students and faculty, is due in large part to its composition. During former president Yoo Ki-pung’s term of office, 6 out of the 14 executives were Jesuit priests. Now, 4 members of the board are Jesuits out of 13 in total. Although the proportion of Jesuits has decreased, the overall ratio still remains at about 30%, which is significantly higher than those of other universities with Catholic or other Christian-affiliated foundations. For example, Ewha Womans University, whose foundation is Methodist, is composed of six board members, none of whom have religious backgrounds.
The Custom of Obedience: a Tradition or an Evil?
Member composition is not the boardʼs only problem; its operating system is also criticized for being irrational. Many consider the custom of obedience, one of the rules of the Society of Jesus, to be completely undemocratic, not to mention old-fashioned. This mandate is what engendered the closure of the board of directors, with the claws of a religious custom gripping administrative decisions. The administrative power of the Jesuits is well shown in the clause regarding the Presidential Election Committee: “The composition and functions of the election committee shall be seperately determined by the board of directors.” According to this clause, decisions wholly depend on the chairman without any other forces to keep him in check. Other than the Election Committee, most executives are chosen voluntarily by the foundation. The Namyangju campus project, which was a hot issue at Sogang in 2016, was also suspended by the foundation’s decision. It is impossible to find out exactly how much influence the metropolitan bishop wields. Therefore, it is highly probable that the bishop exercised more than his fair share of votes regarding the project cancellation.
Are They Truly Responsible for the School?
The influence of Jesuits on the board is indeed enormous. However, from the presidential election to decisions on important school matters, whether the foundation takes as much responsibility as power is unclear. Another problem that evoked dissatisfaction from Sogangers is the foundation’ attitude towards Sogang’s future development. At the Financial Planning Conference held by the board of directors on November 1, 2016, many students raised many questions regarding the financial problems Sogang faces. However, the foundation forbade the school press from televising the conference and did not give students enough time for Q&A. Participants at the conference asked the board members about future solutions for the current financial difficulties, only to be met with repetitive answers about how they were worried as well. Most students were curious about how the foundation planned to cover future court allotment payments, while the foundation merely asserted that they will somehow manage. The only tangible solution they offered was donation, an unstable source of revenue at best. Additionally, they begged students to give them time. What the foundation offered as financial breakthroughs remained at existing businesses Sogang already runs, such as the Sogang Residentia and the SLP Institute. Many students pointed out that the boardʼs inadequacy has been revealed through their recurring answers.
Moreover, chairman of the board Park Mun-soo commented on December 16 that students seem to be under the mistaken stereotype that the school foundation is obligated to raise donations, due to examples of other Korean universities. Such an assertion was sufficiently misleading as to indicate that the foundation does not bear any responsibility to collect income as a solution for financial problems.
Due to the Namyangju campus crisis and the prolonged mistrust toward the foundation, Sogang’s honor and reputation is fading. Moreover, the Jesuit foundation has consistently failed to present a sustainable future course for Sogang’s development. It is obvious that Sogang stems from the Jesuits. However, origin and religion cannot justify incompetence and dogmatic attitude. Whether the Jesuits remain favorably remembered depends on their next move.