Friday, March 11, 2011

More Foreign Professors Coming to Korea?

Professor Jong-wook Lee
President of Sogang University
World Class University

David McNeill, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 27, 2011), offers a pertinent title for an interesting article: "South Korea Brings in Foreign Professors by the Thousands, but Is It Ready for Them?"

And are they ready for it?

For those of us already teaching in Korea, this is not exactly new news, but here goes:
Most observers expect the South Korean figure [for the percentage of foreign faculty] to grow sharply in the coming decade as the country's universities climb out of an academic ghetto that has kept them largely isolated from the global job market.
Probably true that the percent will rise . . . but sharply? I wonder. But there is the promise. For example:
Sogang, a private liberal-arts college set up by Jesuits from Wisconsin, is at the vanguard of this burgeoning internationalization. It plans to recruit 60 new foreign professors over the next four years, as it strives to push English-language teaching from 20 percent of its classes to 50 percent.
I keep hearing that Korean universities intend to do these things, and Sogang University can probably be taken seriously (based on my experience of the place), but the announced goal at Korean universities often exceeds the reality attained. I acknowledge the real changes, however, from the 'old days' in Korea:
Foreign professors in South Korea were once little more than exotic symbols of an aspiring globalization. Most were contract teachers who returned home after a few years, leaving little lasting mark on the higher-education system.
I reckon that's what I've often been. I even left once -- after a 1995/96 academic year at Daegu's Kyungbook National University -- for a postdoc in Australia and another in Israel, only to return in late 1999 to pursue my 'career' here in Korea . . . but leaving little lasting mark, I suppose. Might my fortunes change? Somebody's will:
But as the [South Korean] economy matures, colleges increasingly see foreign faculty and language programs as shortcuts to modernization, and the government is supporting them with millions of dollars in financing. The changes come as economists and other experts warn that South Korea risks falling behind its competitors unless it joins the world and overcomes a deficit in creative thinking and innovation.
That's quite a burden to put on newly-arrived foreign professors -- expecting them to teach creative thinking to Korean university students who are generally very passive in class after years of rote learning and in-the-box problem solving. And let's not forget the need for inculcating critical thinking among students, never an easy thing to do, and harder in a hierarchical social system like Korea's. I would hope that these professors receive an orientation from foreign faculty who've already taught in Korea for several years. New foreign faculty also need to know that if they are too rigorous in their grading and too intent on weeding out plagiarism, they'll receive low evaluations from students, which will be interpreted as evidence of poor teaching. I recall a student once complaining in an evaluation comment that I had been "too concerned about catching plagiarism," for instance. I had to chuckle, but some administrators might side with that student. Administrations do want to make sure that they're getting their money's worth, however, and there's a lot of money being invested in this proposed upgrade of Korea's university system:
The government's World Class University Project, which received 825 billion won ($752-million) last year, has fueled the process, pushing colleges to hire "outstanding foreign scholars." Seoul National University alone invited 59 foreign professors last year. Foreign hires are now a key criterion for government financial support, say experts.
Hey! I'm an "outstanding foreign scholar" -- just check out my blog! But maybe I don't really want one of those high-level posts:
The cost of recruiting from abroad has also come under fire in the South Korean news media. With salaries often pegged to the dollar, universities must find 80 million won (about $71,000) a year for a foreign hire, nearly twice the annual salary for a Korean professor at a public university.

European and American transplants often deal, however, with more profound problems than resentful Korean colleagues and uncomprehending parents. Some experience deep culture shock as they try to acclimatize to life in a still overwhelmingly homogenous and hierarchical academic culture.
That shock can even be 'electrocuting':
Many universities are coy about revealing how long foreign professors stay, but an Education Ministry survey of 288 foreign academics last year found it averaged just four months. Last fall a foreigner hired as a full professor at Seoul National packed his bags after just a month, "citing difficulties adapting," according to the university.
An average of merely four months! I'd never have guessed that. I wonder why they didn't feel at home. Perhaps they found that some promises that had been made were not being kept? Foreign faculty often complain of this. Or they find out that 'tenure' might not mean the same thing in Korea for foreigners as for Koreans. A Korean university where I once taught reinterpreted its rules to exclude tenure for foreign faculty, so those of us with what we'd been told was tenure discovered that we no longer had tenure. But four months is way too short for that sort of problem to arise, so other reasons must account for this very brief average stay. Perhaps a lot of foreign faculty were 'run out of town' for the moral hazard that they posed? There's a degree of distrust, and even fearfulness, among Koreans about the motives of some foreign faculty coming to Korea:
One indication of South Korea's lingering fears about an influx of foreigners can be found at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, where $100-million in government money has been spent developing robot English teachers. Prototypes of the robot are operated remotely from the Philippines, keeping the "moral problems" associated with non-Koreans at arm's length, says Mun Sang Kim, director of the institute's Advanced Robotics Research Center.

"There are some problems and some accidents in hiring native speakers at the schools right now," he says. "For example, the immigration system in Korea is not good enough to examine whether the foreign visitors are clean or not, or they did some crime," he adds. "That's the reason why the government thinks about such robot systems. They don't have any such social problems, they don't do the drugs."
Yes, one doesn't want any immoral "accidents" among the foreign faculty. Mr. Mun Sang Kim means "incidents," of course. To be serious for a moment, I don't think that one can lump the various 'teachers' into one group. There are the teachers at small-scale academies who need only a four-year university degree, teachers at schools who likely need a master's degree, instructors at universities who also need a master's, and professors at universities who need a doctorate. Academies would have the highest percentage of teachers prone to the aforementioned 'accidents' since too many of these academies will hire any featherless biped claiming to have a college degree. But schools and universities are more discriminating about whom they accept and will therefore be likely to hire fewer moral reprobates.

The article thus mixes some apples and oranges in its report by not distinguishing clearly enough among types of educational institutions and kinds of faculty, but the report will surely draw more foreign scholars' attention toward Korea and likely result in a greater number of applicants to these World Class University posts.

More competition . . .

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At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Charles said...

Long time no comment! Caught this over at Kevin's place, and after typing up a somewhat lengthy comment addressing the "four months" figure, realized that I should probably post it here. So I'm cross-posting it with minor edits.


HUFS has one of the largest foreign faculty populations in Korea (I'm guessing it's the largest, but I don't have any statistics to back that up). I know the turnover rate here is relatively high, but an average of four months seems quite low.

My school (the GSIT at HUFS) may be an outlier, but it's my immediate environment and what I can speak to best. The Korean-English department has three foreign professors. I've been here the longest, at three years, another professor has been here two years, and the newest professor has been here a year. That's six years, or 312 weeks, for the three of us with an average of 104 weeks, or two years. Just to offset our time here, you would need at least 17 people staying for just a single week to bring the average down to around four months. And I'm not even taking into account the fact that our newest professor taught elsewhere in Korea for several years before coming to HUFS. Or the fact that the K-E department is among the "youngest" in the GSIT. THe foreign faculty in the Russian, Spanish, and German departments have been here far longer.

So, just to offset the time of the GSIT foreign faculty, I'm guessing we would need quite a few one-weekers, at least fifty and possibly as many as a hundred. Turnover is higher elsewhere at HUFS, but judging by how frequently people move into and out of my building (faculty housing), the minimum turnover time is generally a year. If we had that many one-weekers, the school would be in crisis mode.

My guess is that the "four months" figure is skewed by flawed sampling. I will admit that the rush to hire foreign professors is going to lead to a higher turnover rate, though--in the past only those of us crazy enough to want to teach here did so, but now people being hired from abroad may not know exactly what they're getting into.

Anyway, I have no statistics of my own to back up the idea of skewed figures, nor do I have the time or inclination to conduct my own survey, but four months does seem incredibly low for an average. Perhaps this is a survey of only newly-hired faculty?

I could comment on some of the other ideas in your post, but as I've gone on long enough, I will simply say: this post should be required reading for incoming faculty to Korea.

(The idea of robot teachers blew me away, though. That's pretty much everything that's wrong with the educational system in a nutshell.)

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, thanks for the comment.

I agree. My post -- actaully all of them -- should be required reading, and not just for prospective faculty but for everyone, preferably by paid subscription.

I also agree about the flawed sampling. Four months average for all foreign faculty would be impossible.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:26 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Congratulations on being an outstanding foreign scholar! I knew you would eventually get the recognition you deserve.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

If only it were true . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point regarding the fact that a distinction needs to be made between different academic positions. On a similar note, I think a distinction also needs to be made between difficulties in adapting to Korean teaching culture, Korean research culture, Korean publishing culture, and Korean culture as encountered in daily life. In that sense, the article below does a much better job (recently posted in a thread on Dave's ESL Cafe and in a thread on The Chronicle):

Successful integration of foreign faculty into Korean universities: A proposed framework

Given that my wife is Korean, I experienced most difficulties in adapting to Korean research and publishing culture. That was, and still is, a major source of discussion and frustration. If I would have blindly followed the advice (read: orders) of my Korean supervisors, then this would have seriously tarnished my reputation among my international peers.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for that link.

My biggest problem has been adapting to Korean teaching culture, and I could have used some judicious advice at the beginning.

One thing that I would advise foreign faculty is that they not express outrage at plagiarism. Treat it matter of factly when it occurs, explain why it's wrong, and ask students not to do it again. I overreacted to student cheating at the beginning, but I've since figured out how to deal with this problem among Korean students.

Korean culture in daily life is one area where I'll never excel, for I do poorly in that area even within the Western system.

Thanks for the comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You’re welcome!

I agree with your advice regarding the treatment of plagiarism (Eastern/Confucian attitudes are very different from Western attitudes in that respect). I think your advice also holds true when having to deal with other academic issues in Korea. Direct confrontation and expressing strong outrage tends to be highly counterproductive here. So, in the beginning I found the experience of having to draw a line to protect my international reputation (which is one of the most important assets of a scientist) and my international employability, while at the same time not endangering my local employability, very tiresome. Although things are much better now, my Korean supervisors are still testing me now and then, but I have more or less learned to live with that.

(administrations at Korean universities and Korean funding bodies should definitely pay much more attention to research ethics/integrity, both at the level of students, who do not know any better, and faculty, who should know better)

At 12:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe one more comment: teaching students creative and critical thinking, as well as making appropriate bibliographies and research ethics, is of course important. However, this is pointless when the Korean powers that be (professors, university administrations, and funding bodies) do not have these skills or are not willing to provide room for that, given the strict hierarchy in Korean society. As an example, creative thinking requires time, something that clashes with the "quickly, quickly" attitude of the older generation, not to mention their penchance for micromanagement.

At 6:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, it's definitely a learning experience, living and teaching here in Korea.

If I might express it very generally, one has to learn how to deal with people who feel shame far more acutely than they feel guilt. That's the difference between a shame culture like Korea's and a guilt culture like those in the West.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ah, I've just noticed that your comment on critical and creative thinking got shuttled off to the spam folder. I don't know why this happens with Blogger, but I've recovered your comment.

Anyway, thanks for the thoughts on those issues. I hadn't thought about the 'quickly-quickly' attitude as a block to creative and critical thinking (though I'd seen it prevent the development of proper citation skills), but I suspect that you're correct.

I'll add your insights to my stock of ideas on how to deal more effectively with my Korean students.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

Once I'm through with my current project, I will make sure to purchase a subscription to your blog. Where do I send my check?

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Make it out to Dr. Doom, and send it to my wife, for she handles my finances.

Jeffery Hodges

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