Three years down, one to go. Since Sohn Byung-doo, ex-vice chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries, took office as the 12th president of Sogang University in 2005, he has tried to shape the new era for the university. As the first lay-believer president, he introduced an enterprise management system into Sogang University which was his main business: reforming the school into an efficient organization with capability. This brought fresh air to the campus, but there was also controversy. The Sogang Herald (The S.H.), therefore, has surveyed public opinion from both professors and undergraduates, and has evaluated his three-year term as the president. In addition to this, on the basis of the evaluation, The S.H. interviewed President Sohn. Lastly, in this article, we will suggest the directions which should be pursued by both the president and Sogang University.
The image of President Sohn: going down but still good
In order to find out Sogangers' opinions about President Sohn, The S.H. conducted a survey of students at Sogang University from September 5th to 8th. 212 questionnaire papers were collected and here are the results. From the survey, The S.H. found out two essential facts. Firstly, the present impression of President Sohn by Sogangers is relatively worse than that of the past. According to question 1, almost all Sogangers had above average initial images of President Sohn. At present, however, a lower proportion has positive images of him. The percentage recognizing him as positive has diminished by half, and that of negative images has increased. Nonetheless, Sogangers still have on average relatively positive images of President Sohn. We can find this from the proportion of positive to negative.
Sogang 2010 Vision Project
Backgrounds and purposes
In reality, as the above suggested, the general image of President Sohn has varied a lot over the last three years. What are the projects he has done in his last three-year tenure?
All the things which President Sohn has done over the last three years can be summarized into the "Sogang 2010 Vision Project - Sogang in the World." The project includes six categories: (1) Strengthening Professors' Ability, (2) Innovations in Academic Affairs, (3) Reforming the Administrative System, (4) Expanding Finances, (5) Strengthening Internationalization, and (6) Expanding Facilities. The following two Q&As between The S.H. and President Sohn are about the major purposes and background to the project.
The Sogang Herald (The S.H.): "Sogang 2010 Vision Project-Sogang in the World" has been a synopsis of your pledges and visions over your last three years in Sogang University. First of all, could you explain what the major purpose of the project was?
President Sohn Byung-doo (President Sohn): The most important purpose was to encourage Sogangers' morale. When I started my presidency at Sogang University, Sogangers generally had low morale. In this mood, the project started; Sogang University has started its second take-off by achieving common objectives, and Sogangers' morale was encouraged by those objectives.
The S.H.: You mentioned that the morale of Sogangers was low at the time of your inauguration. Could you say more on the situation of that time?
President Sohn: In fact, before I was inaugurated as Sogang University's president, cynicism and defeatism had overflowed into the campus. While other universities were progressing rapidly, Sogang University had fallen into stagnation. Internationalization can be a great example of the stagnation. Sogang University started as the most internationalized Korean university. However, many other universities had become more internationalized than us, while we did not prepare for strengthening internationalization in advance. Moreover, three former presidents were not able to complete their tenures, and this made it more difficult to bring about any steady progress at Sogang University.
Evaluations on achievements
What were the achievements of the Sogang 2010 Vision Project, and what were Sogang members' general evaluations of the project? Firstly, the following Q&A will give President Sohn's own views about the project.
The S.H.: You have done a lot of things with the Sogang 2010 Vision Project for the last three years. As a producer of the project, do you think that it has worked well?
President Sohn: Yes, I do. Now, Sogang University has become more competent in many fields through the project. In fact, there were many inspiriting results over the last three years. For example, numerical results from two of Sogang 2010 Vision Project's categories, Expanding Finances and Strengthening Internationalization, were very optimistic. Above all, on the path of achieving common objectives, Sogangers were encouraged, and they have come to feel pride again through achievements derived from the project.
In question 3 of the student survey, eight out of ten Sogang University students also gave a pass mark (higher than average) to President Sohn? overall work during his three-year term.
"I can still say that his work was generally satisfying despite partial dissatisfaction," said Park (07, Dept. of Economics). However, as Park said, it is possible to have a positive/negative opinion of the work of President Sohn overall, though each of the individual achievements could be evaluated differently. In other words, we still have to know which things were done well and which were not done well among each category of the Sogang 2010 Vision Project. In order to evaluate each category in detail, The S.H. conducted a survey of Sogang University professors, and 43 professors replied to the survey. The Expanding Facilities category was excluded so the results concerned the remaining five categories, which are shown in the chart in page 14.
According to the results, professors gave the highest grade to item D-1 (Expanding finances by donations). In fact, 35,949 million won was donated to Sogang University from July 2005 to July 2008. Compared to past achievement (from June 2002 to June 2005, 8,748 million won was donated), the increase in donations was 27,200 million won. A-3 (Enlarging research expenses) was given a good grade, too. Concerning this, the total research expenses of Sogang University increased from 47,842 million won (June 2005) to 83,501 million won (June 2008). On the contrary, C-3 (Adopting ERP) recorded the lowest grade, and the result may reflect professors' unwelcome attention toward the exceedingly centralized administration system or discontent toward instabilities of the newly adopted ERP system.
According to the general opinions of professors and students, President Sohn has earned high marks on his Sogang 2010 Vision Project for the last three years, and among the categories of the project, President Sohn mainly referred to Expanding Finances and Strengthening Internationalization in the interview. The S.H. then gathered information about them, and in the process of gathering information, further details and in-depth research of each of the two categories were exposed. These are shown below.
Further contents for notable categories
D. Expanding finances
As shown, the amount of funding by donation has increased by roughly four times since President Sohn started his term. For these three years, there were two changes regarding Sogang University's fund-raising. Firstly, the former Office of Development Fund within the International and Public Relations Office was separated from the International and Public Relations Office and promoted to the Development Office managed by the Vice President. This means that Sogang University has increased the importance of fund raising even further. Secondly, Sogang University's fund-raising strategies have become more active. "We have adopted more active marketing strategies for fund-raising than before. For example, we targeted potential contributors, gave feedback to donors after donations, and constructed a database for ensuring potential donors," said Kwon Yong-il (Manager of Development Office).
However, most of those donations came from outside, not from alumni. Compared with the average proportion of alumni donations (50% to 60%), that of Sogang University is relatively low. Among the increased numbers of donations for the last three years, only 27 percent (7,362 million of 27,200 million) was from alumni. "A huge portion of the donation increment has relied on President Sohn's personal connections or influences. It may mean that not all of these achievements will be maintained continually after President Sohn's retirement." Manager Kwon was worried about this phenmenon.
In this mood, Sogang University is trying to be sure of a source of income besides fund-raising. Concerning this, President Sohn said that Build-Transfer-Operate (BTO) and the Sogang Institute of Advanced Technology (SIAT) can also be sources of income for Sogang University. "I hope that these will offer Sogang University a future fund for continuous development," said President Sohn. However, both have been exposed to some problems. Each problem is explained in page 15.
E. Strengthening internationalization
"Sogang University's efforts for promoting internationalization are, literally, aiming Sogangers at the world. In fact, there have been many visible achievements which are showing that we are becoming closer to the aim than before," said President Sohn. As he said, the numerical achievements related to this category are on the upward path, and Sogang University's two major efforts have contributed to that for last three years.
One of the major efforts was related to the increasing percentage of lectures in English. For the last three years, the proportions of lectures in English have increased (11.5% to 19.5%). To increase the number of sister universities was a second major effort of strengthening internationalization. According to the statistics gathered by the Office of International Affairs, the number of sister universities increased from 59 in 14 countries (2006 spring semester) to 147 in 44 countries (2008 spring semester).
However, some efforts like increasing the number of lectures in English have caused problems. In truth, according to the survey conducted in November, 2007 by The S.H., most students (71%) felt that currently Sogang University's quality of lectures in English is lower than that of those in Korean. "Because conducting lectures in English is much harder than conducting lectures in Korean, the lectures need to be prepared more thoroughly. However, Sogang University? preparations for conducting lectures in English were not adequate. In fact, there are still not enough professors who are able to conduct a lecture in English as well as in Korean,?said Prof. Baik In-ho (Dept. of History).
Moreover, not all of the university? efforts to establish sister universities are related practically to strengthening internationalization. ? can choose more universities to go to as an exchange student than before. However, there are not too many places I hope to go to in actuality," said an anonymous student (05). As he said, where Sogangers hope to go tends toward some specific countries and universities. They went to Japan, China, Taiwan, the United States, Germany, France, and Australia in the fall semester, 2005. Similarly, they only went to those countries in the spring semester, 2007, and for fall semester, 2007, Sogang University students only went to the above seven countries plus France, through the Exchange Student Program of Sogang University. This shows that students do not have much interest in countries where some of the newly appointed sister universities are located; they have an excessive interest in British/American universities. In other words, the increased number of countries where our sister universities are placed in has not been very meaningful.
A decisive move, or lack of communication?
While doing the survey targeting professors, The S.H. found out that some members had hostility against President Sohn. They not only refused to answer the questions in the survey, but made it clear that they had nothing to say about him anymore. The faculty is not the only group who regards the project President Sohn has carried out as undesirable; students also do not evaluate the way he manages highly. An anonymous student (06, College of Humanities) said, "I got the impression that he is disposed to stand above students. It seems that he has never truly endeavored to listen to us." This tendency can be shown online as well. The online bulletin board, Sogang Sarangbang, was recently filled with hundreds of complaints about his project: schemes such as establishing the Paju Campus, adopting the BTO, and giving space for Homeplus. These were constructive criticisms, pointing out possible negative effects. However, as there seemed to be no sign of any acknowledgement of these opinions, many of the posts began to note that President Sohn pushes on with a project without showing any will to listen attentively to external opinions, especially opposite ones.
The S.H.: Many school members, including students and professors, have said that you do not pay enough attention to their opinions.
President Sohn: In every single task, the school intends to start by considering Sogang University students. The matter of giving space for Homeplus, for instance, progressed as a reflection of various opinions. In the conversation with students, I explained to them the general plan for this work, and had time for Q&A. I am still in the position of concerning myself with what other people think.
President Sohn admitted that his efforts might not be sufficient to meet other members' needs during the interview, but defended himself saying that he has made efforts to reach an agreement among a wide range of thoughts-one of the duties the president must perform. In fact, there were several meetings for the students to find out and give their opinions on details of each project in progress. Nonetheless, these meetings do not fulfill their functions properly. Most Sogang members consistently require more opportunities to convey their opinions in the process, pointing out there is not enough room for mutual communication.
How do they come to have that feeling? Park Seong-hong, President of the Student Union, pointed out the lack of communication. He remarked, "Students' opinions are not received well in practice: They can hardly participate in the school plan at all. We, as a representative body of Sogangers, have sent official documents to the school to suggest various thoughts on the project, for 'mutual communication,' yet this did not work." In the case of Homeplus, for instance, the Student Union brought up several expected negative effects, like traffic problems from insufficient parking lots or congestion caused by rapid increase in traffic in the small space; they are particularly apprehensive about this destroying the studious atmosphere on campus. However, their concern has not affected the project that much. "We do not start complaining in order to hold back the entire plan, but it was discouraging that we have no power at all to change any detail," said Park.
The Faculty Association of Sogang University agreed with this. Statements on careless administration were issued repeatedly, but there was no direct channel for their intercommunication. Both the school and the association confronted each other. Some professors placed the blame on President Sohn, saying, "The reason why some professors do not answer the questions in the survey might be from disappointment about lack of communication." Why did President Sohn have trouble with other members over communication? An anonymous professor found out the answer from his career. "A university is an extremely complex organization, I think. Its purpose is not fixed like business enterprises, which pursue profit; education, research, and profit are all mixed up. It is very delicate." President Sohn has filled significant posts in huge companies like Samsung. Being the president of one university might be a challenging task to him. "He might know little of the university. He set his plans going in one direction, and naturally met with trials; one of them might be lack of communication." He added, "However, that was not intentional. Without brilliant communication skills, he could not occupy that high position. Since he probably grasps the importance of intercommunication, I believe it will get better."
The path to go for the next year
The S.H.: What does the leadership mean to you?
President Sohn: I have a firm belief that leadership in order to serve others is true leadership. I am a Christian, as you know, so following the values of Christianity, I have tried to serve other people and society as well as to realize my dream. This point of view lets me find repose in myself, and I can be thankful that my life has been worthwhile. I really hope Sogangers are aware of this concept of leadership, and can be true leaders in the world.
President Sohn has only one year to go. In autumn, 2009 there will be a ceremony at which Sogangers can rethink whether he was a great president of Sogang University. What will their answer be at that moment--positive or negative? It is up to President Sohn alone. Many people still believe he will improve Sogang University in many respects. He needs to return their trust somehow. What Sogangers want to ask him to do most is to communicate with other members of Sogang University, as 90 of them (42.5%) answered in this way to the question, "Which of the following should President Sohn care most about for his last term of office?" Following his concept of leadership-serving others sincerely, he shows his improved side to other members. Then, the next year will be the time when Sogangers need to work in close cooperation.