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Nominee denies scholarship interference amid snowballing accusations

April 27, 2022 - 15:57 By Im Eun-byel
Members of a student committee at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies hold a protest at the campus in Seoul on Wednesday, calling for Kim In-chul, the nominee for deputy prime minister and education minister, to resign. (Yonhap)

Kim In-chul, the nominee for deputy prime minister and education minister, denied allegations that his family unfairly received Fulbright scholarships from an association he was closely related to, arguing all procedures were fair.

On Wednesday, the parliamentary confirmation hearing team for the Education Ministry representing Kim released a statement denying the allegations brought against his family over the scholarship.

“Suggesting Kim’s family was selected as recipients because Kim was the head of the Korea Fulbright Alumni Association is only an allegation without an evidence,” the statement read.

Rep. Kang Min-jung of the Democratic Party of Korea suggested Tuesday Kim’s spouse and son also received the Fulbright scholarship to study or work at universities in the US, in addition to his daughter.

According to Kang, Kim’s spouse was an exchange professor under the scholarship between 2004 and 2005 at Temple University while she was a professor at Soongsil Univeristy. His daughter and son earned their master’s degrees at Cornell University between 2014 and 2016, and at Columbia University between 2016 and 2018, respectively.

Kim, a former head of the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, was the head of the Korea Fulbright Alumni Association, an organization founded for Fulbright scholarship recipients, from 2012 to 2015. Kim himself worked as a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins University in the US from 1996 to 1997 on a Fulbright scholarship.

The scholarship program is arranged by the Korean-American Educational Commission in Korea and supports students and professors to study or work at universities in the US.

“All of Kim’s family members received the scholarship which supports only a select few every year,” Kang said. “An investigation which looks into any wrongdoings in the process is needed.”

Kim denied the suspicions, saying it would be “impossible” for him to have intervened in the scholarship selection process.

“To raise allegations without evidences against the program which has been operated by the US government for 60 years since the 1960s is a defamation against the fairness of the scholarship program ran not just in Korea, but across some 160 countries,” the statement read.

The Korean-American Educational Commission consists of five Koreans named by the education minister and five US citizens appointed by the US Ambassador to Korea, Kim explained.

“Two of the five Koreans are public officials from the ministry, making it impossible for the selection process to be affected by outside influences. (My family members) were fairly selected,” it read.

Kim’s ministerial nomination has been followed by a string of controversies. He has been accused of working as a nonexecutive director of a private company while he was also the president of a university and of earning his master’s degree, partly when he was in the Army for his mandatory military service.

Furthermore, Kim is accused of collecting inappropriate information on students’ parents. In 2015, the university ran a survey on students asking if their parents are high-ranking public officials, lawmakers, doctors or took up other socially influential professions.

Kim has also been criticized for mistreating students, with some recently resurfaced videos showing Kim yelling at students protesting the university’s policies.

Meanwhile, a student committee at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies held a protest Wednesday morning, saying Kim should not be allowed to take up the post.

“The education minister should be someone who can strengthen public education and monitor universities,” the committee said, adding it could not see how Kim would be able to lead the Education Ministry without communication.

By Im Eun-byel (