[KS] Bad habits in academia, too

Samuel Wang samuel.a.wang at gmail.com
Wed Dec 7 20:42:27 EST 2005

> Dear Professor Robinson,

     Although it would be nice if these "requests" could be handled through
a work-study program similar to what has been implemented in the States, I
wouldn't mind doing these favors so much if the professors would reciprocate
through good teaching. I hate to say it, but most of the professors I've had
regularly skip classes and none of them has ever read the papers they ask us
to submit. I tried getting feedback from one of my professors once, but
since it was clear he never read my paper, he kept evading the subject. To
be fair, I have had two professors who have given excellent lectures on
     It seems to me that Korea universities have the ideal set-up if one
wants to publish non-stop. The semesters are only 3 months long, and even
shorter if one accounts for "missed" classes. Commenting on students' papers
and theses takes up a great deal of a professor's time stateside, but we can
discount that here as well. In the end, Korean professors probably have a
good 7~8 months in which they can write stuff for publication.
     I suppose I wouldn't feel so disappointed if I hadn't entered with my
own expectations of what education should be here. Most Koreans I meet are
quite proud of how "American" their higher education system is, but I think
they probably have no idea how such education actually works in the states.

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
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


      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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