Saturday, January 12, 2013

Foreign Professors in Korean Dragnet: "Just the facts . . ."

Although I taught three years at Korea University, I have no firsthand knowledge on the dispute reported in David McNeill's article "In South Korea, Foreign Professors Can Have a Hard Time Fitting In," The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 7, 2013) between Professor Michael Foster and the Korea University English Department. Because I taught in the English Department there, I have heard from both sides in mass emails (my address must be on a KU list), but having no firsthand information, I plead ignorance . . . except for one thing, the need for a factual correction about the academic career of another professor, Gary Kennedy:
The speed of internationalization has produced problems. Institutions often put much more effort into recruiting foreign professors in a short-term bid to raise rankings than into retaining them, says Gary Kennedy, an American who has taught in the English departments of three universities in South Korea over the past eight years. They fail to prepare for foreign hires, he says, adding that employment contracts, policies, and support structures are often lacking.

When they arrive, new foreign professors struggle to integrate into Korean faculty, where older professors dominate departments in a system Mr. Kennedy describes as "feudal." "Anyone who lacks a champion is likely to be in a weak position," he says, so when foreign professors run into problems, "there is nobody to turn to for help and advice."

In his experience, the employment arrangements seem to favor Korean academics, with many foreign professors working on contract. Dispute resolution often involves little more than simply agreeing with the most senior Korean faculty member, Mr. Kennedy says.
I know Dr. Gary Kennedy personally, he is a physicist from England, not an English scholar from America, and he has taught mainly in physics departments, not English departments -- assuming that there are not two Gary Kennedys, and I'm applying Occam's razor here.

As for the substance of Gary's complaints, it generally fits much of my experience: Foreigners are netted abroad and dragged into an academic system utterly unlike their own, and they must sink or swim in deep waters with no lifeguard to call on for rescue if they begin to drown . . .

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