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KAIST president faces grilling over students’ suicides

April 10, 2011 - 18:48 By 배지숙
KAIST president Suh Nam-pyo is to face questioning at the National Assembly and a board meeting over the suicides cases of four of his students, who have reportedly been under enormous stress stemming from his policies.

While the 74-year-old former MIT professor defends his rules as a necessary procedure to improve the overall competitiveness of the school, calls for his resignation are mounting within the campus.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology on Saturday said that an emergency board meeting regarding the deaths of the students will be held Friday at a hotel in southern Seoul. The board of directors, headed by former education minister Oh Myung, is deeply concerned about the deaths and will review Suh’s key policies, the ministry said.

The calling of the board meeting is exceptional, apparently showing the government’s willingness to take a hands-on approach to the issue, which has already triggered public concerns over one of the nation’s top science and technology university.

Lawmakers of the National Assembly’s education, science and technology committee have also requested that Suh show up on April 18 and explain the side-effects of the hard-line policies.

Suh, who took office in 2006, adopted a controversial enrollment fee system, collecting school fees based on GPAs: Students with GPAs under 3.0 out of 4.3 pay part of the school fees while those with less than 2.0 must pay the full fee.

“If you receive a scholarship, it is perceived as an encouragement and reward for hard work. However, if you collect more from less competitive students, it is natural that students think of it as a fine, or punishment,” an insider said.

Last week a 19-year-old male was found dead the day after he had applied for temporary leave, citing depression. His death makes four students that have committed suicide this year, apparently overwhelmed by the system.

Last Thursday, Suh held a press conference expressing regret for the deaths and said the enrollment fee policy will be scrapped. He said, however, he will keep the all-English class systems and several other controversial policies.

He also displayed no interest in stepping down. In his meeting with students’ representative last week, he said, “If there are people who think I should quit, it’s their problem.”

By Bae Ji-sook (