Former president Choi Kyung-hee is the only president in the 131 years of Ewha’s history to have dishonorably stepped down from her post on Oct. 21 last year. Her resignation was soon followed by the school’s board of directors’ announcement that the 16th president would be determined by February this year. However, the election is to be delayed due to the school members’ conflicting stances regarding the electoral reform.
Many faculty and students believe that the need for reform stems from deep-seated institutional issues. Among the most significant accusations that former president Choi faced were her undemocratic administration and her role in the illicit admission of Chung Yoo-ra, daughter of Choi Soon-sil, who is suspected of abusing her friendship with President Park. However, many students and faculty believe that the fundamental problem is not confined to former president Choi, but lies in the arbitrary powers of the school’s board of directors.
“The current structure and operations of the foundation board of directors are neither valid nor competent in this era,” read the official claim to reform Ewha’s board of directors presented by the school’s Faculty Council on Dec. 21 last year. “We pass on Ewha members’ demands for the board to form a democratic power structure and management method that will take a foremost lead in Korean society through public interest, openness, and transparency.”
In response to many faculty and students who have pointed out the lack of democracy in the presidential electoral system, the board of directors announced a reform on Jan. 16.
“The upcoming election should be the beginning of the end to the board of directors’ long dictatorship that supported the undemocratic administration of previous presidents,” said Kim Min-joo (alias), a senior in the College of Liberal Arts.
Before the electoral reform, the school used an indirect election system where the Nomination Committee of Presidential Candidates, comprised of representatives of faculty, anonymously balloted for three presidential candidates. The president was then selected by the board of directors.
The key changes in this system since last year are that there will be a direct election when choosing the presidential nominees and that a small ratio of student votes will be included. The rate of the votes applied to select the nominees are 100 for full time faculty, 12 for faculty employed for over a year, 6 for students, and 3 for alumnae (100:12:6:3).
Students, however, are not satisfied. Starting Ewha, the Student Government Association (SGA), demanded that the ratio be equal between professors, employees, and students. They also stated that the voting members should be eligible to vote for the president, not just the nominees.
“According to the current reform, the school members can only elect the presidential nominees and not the actual president, leaving the final decision to the board of directors just as in the previous indirect election system,” Kim said. “The ratio of student votes is also too small to exercise any valid influence.”
Although omitted in the SGA’s demand, students added that the eligibility rule of setting age 61 or younger should be abolished. A Task Force formed by students from “Ewhaian” website received 2,169 signatures demanding the abolishment of the age limitation and the expansion of the ratio assigned to student votes.
Reporting the conflict surrounding the electoral reform, a report from the Kyunghyang Newspaper also viewed with suspicion that the age limit was set to exclude 62-year-old Professor Kim Hye-sook specifically. Kim, the co-chairman of Ewha’s Faculty Council, led the faculty protest that demanded former president Choi’s resignation in October last year.
“The point of the direct election system is to guarantee anyone the freedom to run as a candidate,” Kim explained. “It is the indirect election system that has certain restricting rules for a presidential nominee not direct election.”
Apart from Ewha, Busan National University is the only school with a direct election system that has restrictions for presidential candidates. This would make Ewha the only private university in Korea to do so if the further reforms are not implemented.
Whether the board of directors will accept students’ demand or not still remains uncertain. Meanwhile, the entrance ceremony held on Feb. 24 and graduation ceremony on Feb. 27 is to proceed in the absence of a president for the first time in Ewha’s 131 year history.