State-run Korea National University of Cultural Heritage is embroiled in controversy over a professor who was dismissed after a series of allegations of sexual harassment were made against him.
While fellow professors call the incident an “embarrassment,” a high court nullified his dismissal and the Cultural Heritage Administration fueled the dispute by appointing him to a prestigious project within the organization.
According to a group of professors at the school, which specializes in teaching Korean traditional culture, related techniques and cultural heritage management, Kim Ho-suk, a former professor of traditional art and handicraft, in May 2011 was fired by the school board for sexually harassing students. Kim reportedly made inappropriate remarks in reference to female students’ bodies between 2008-2010, which resulted in a 39-year-old woman submitting a petition to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, as well as the Cultural Heritage Administration.
Kim denied the allegations and filed a suit against the school for the nullification of the dismissal, but was eventually convicted of sexual harassment in 15 out of 17 cases submitted. The Daejeon High Court added that on top of the sexual harassment, Kim had received kickbacks from businesses.
However, the court ruled that Kim should be allowed to return to the school because the punishment he received was too harsh. The school appealed and the case is now pending at the Supreme Court.
“It is a great shame that Kim is thinking about returning to the school and it seems that he doesn’t see the gravity of his deeds. A victim is still undergoing psychiatric treatment and some more have testified that they have been traumatized by his remarks, which prevented them from continuing their studies. Sexual harassment is a grave matter for the academia, which has a responsibility to nurture future leaders. It should not be dealt with lightly,” said a professor who is among a group that released a statement denouncing Kim and the CHA last week.
Kim has been appointed as an adviser for a project to preserve the Daegokcheon Bangudae Stream Petroglyphs, which are being considered for recommendation for UNESCO World Heritage status.
The conservation of the petroglyphs is a pet project of CHA administrator Byun Young-sup, who has publicly said her mission at the post was to save Bangudae, which she described as “worth dying for.” Byun has reportedly dismissed criticism of Kim.
“It is a great shame that Byun, who vowed to root out all sexual harassment and offenses in the organization, is using such a person. We have received information that the CHA has been pressing the school to rehire Kim but we will keep seeking what is in the best interests of the school and the students,” the professor said.