One of South Korea’s most prestigious institutions has become embroiled in pay disputes with its language institute and cleaning staff, causing dismay among faculty and students over its treatment of employees.
Ongoing salary disagreements between administrators and teaching staff at Yonsei University’s Korean Language Institute (KLI) have yet to be resolved despite numerous attempts at negotiations since last December as well as a partial strike by instructors. Meanwhile, university cleaners continue to protest over wages and working conditions, most recently attracting media attention when they were sued by some students for allegedly disrupting classes.
Yonsei’s response to both issues sparked frustration among university faculty members, who said the disagreements were longer-term issues that needed to be resolved.
Jieun Lee, an assistant professor of anthropology at Yonsei, said as a faculty member and alumnus of the university, she was “deeply disappointed” by the administration’s lack of public explanation of the issues. of salary.
The handling of the dispute with the cleaning staff had been “irresponsible”, she added.
Dong-no Kim, a chemistry professor at Yonsei, noted that issues affecting Yonsei were also at play in other Korean institutions, adding that the protests may soon spread elsewhere, as has happened in the past.
“The fundamental problem underlying this conflict is the limited financial resources of Korean private universities,” he said. “With no tuition increase for more than 10 years and almost no government subsidy for daily university expenses, the financial situation of Korean universities is very strained and limited.”
Already, disputes between language institutes have had a negative impact on students’ experience there, said Nathan Kim, a senior student at Yale University who took classes at Yonsei in the spring.
“Students were constantly unsure of what our next assignment or grade would be, and especially for the final exam,” he said, referring to an end-of-semester announcement that students would take an exam at multiple choice that would count towards their entire semester grade.
He said teachers were “kept out” by administrators, which “created a frustrating time because we didn’t know what our grades would be like. [and] couldn’t really ask the teachers because they didn’t know much more than we did”.
But some academic staff were skeptical that the ongoing disputes would seriously affect the university’s reputation.
“I don’t really think Yonsei is too worried about reputational damage because it continues to be one of the top-ranked institutions academically – and in Korea, that trumps everything,” said a speaker, who asked to remain anonymous.
She doubted the protests would gain traction unless other departments got involved.
“I know that the language institute is not really considered part of the university, [seen as] a source of money for foreign students, and Korean teachers are not respected as tenured or tenure-track teachers, even though some have doctorates.
A Yonsei University spokesperson said Times Higher Education that unionized language teachers demanded a 48% salary increase and that “Yonsei KLI handled these events well, despite the financial difficulties” caused by the pandemic.
She said Yonsei’s treatment of part-time language teachers was “the highest in terms of salary and benefits compared to part-time teachers at other Korean language educational institutions. universities” and defended the management of the student experience by the language institute.
“Despite a partial strike, Yonsei KLI has tried its best to achieve a ‘successful’ Spring Semester 2022, and we will continue to do our best to resolve the current situation,” she said.