[KS] Bad habits in academia, too

michael Robinson robime at indiana.edu
Wed Dec 7 07:08:33 EST 2005

DEar Sam: 

The use of graduate students by professors for private and professional services has been going on seemingly forever.  I remember watching this when I was doing my dissertation research in the mid-1970s. Later, I used to complain occasionally to Korean colleagues about the difficulty getting research help or funds to hired RAs but stopped because they would always say, "get a graduate student to do that."  The customs seems a natural outgrowth of the strong emphasis on hierarchy in Korea whether it be in the academy, the military, or society in general.  I would discount any attempt to pin this on the Japanese.  It is interesting to note that the Japanese seem to be automatically evoked when refering to some social ill, but such influence is rejected if linked to a positive value. And by the way, the intimidation (keeping on the professor's good side for future favors) that keeps graduate students doing such scut work in Korea is not uncommon in the U.S., it is just more subtle.  Power corrupts across cultures.  

Mike R.
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Samuel Wang 
  To: Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws 
  Sent: Wednesday, December 07, 2005 3:31 AM
  Subject: [KS] Bad habits in academia, too

  Dear listmembers,

  Has anyone seen today's editorial on the Chungang Ilbo?


  The text is as follows:


  [EDITORIALS]Bad habits in the military

  Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung has ordered military commanders to stop using subordinates for private purposes. The usage of military vehicles during holidays and leaves has also been forbidden, while the number of soldiers that can be assigned to a commander's official residences has been limited. 
  Since the birth of the military, various methods of "privatizing" military personnel have existed. Soldiers doing private petty jobs for commanders at their official residences is not even considered a big deal. They also had to follow the orders of the commander's family members or wife. Privately tutoring the children of commanders or serving as a ball boy for commanders' tennis match or golf round are also some of the tasks given to soldiers. 
  Although these bad habits are not as commonplace as they used to be, there are still some left under the pretext of custom. Recently, a soldier was beaten by a commander for not taking good care of his anchovies. This is also an example of these bad habits.
  In terms of following orders from the top, the military is the place where a chain of command is most visible. This relationship between superiors and subordinates is for work and combat, but one's rank does not tell much about one's character. A superior-subordinate relationship is not equal to that of a master and his servant. It's a relationship between colleagues who have an equal social status and who fight against an enemy alongside one another. They are comrades, so to speak. The combat power of the military depends on the soldiers' morale. It's only natural for a soldier who is treated like a human being to be more committed in combat and at work than a soldier who is treated like a slave. This is especially true when a commander is respected by his soldiers ― the rank and file become one.
  The privatization of soldiers is proof that commanders have not gotten rid of habits that stem from old pre-modern Japanese influence. The former commander of the U.S. forces stationed in Korea once said, "If you take good care of your subordinates, your subordinates will take good care of you." This is a notion that our commanders need to take to heart. Soldiers serve for a certain period and return to society. If they return with negative feelings about military that still runs according to old habits, distrust toward the military will run high.
  Let's hope that the defense minister's orders don't end up being anti-climactic.


       I was surprised to see the editorialist attribute the private use of soldiers by Korean commanders to "old, pre-modern Japanese influence." It seems to me that these Korean commanders are simply abusing their position and want to save some money to boot. 
      Let me add that this kind of behavior is not limited to the rank-and-file of the Korean military. I've been attending a graduate program at a Korean university for about a year now, and Korean professors act the same way towards their students. Only two weeks after matriculating into the program, I was asked many times to edit, proofread, and translate materials for professors. As time went by, the amount I was forced to take on interfered greatly with my studies. I told my professors honestly as courteously as possible that I had paid my tuition so I could study (not serve as a full-time editor/translator for them). This didn't seem to make any kind of impact, as they felt entitled to request whatever they wanted of me. Finally, I made the excuse that the rates they paid me paled in comparison to the work they wanted me to do (which was true). Some of my classmates heard of this, and said that I should not cross my teachers, since they would prove crucial in my finding a position later on. These same classmates are requested to perform all manners of errands for their professors. There is also a pecking order, where the doctoral students receive the majority of the requests from the professors, and then "distribute" them among the new graduate students. One classmate of mine stopped coming to school, and selectively answered his cell phone to avoid these "requests." An American friend of mine recently commented bitterly that Korean professors rarely think of what they can do for their students, and instead focus on seeing what their students can do for them. 
      Have any of you had a similar experience? 

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