- MyungHo Kim vs. Sungkyunkwan University -

2nd Round

Dear colleagues

It's been 10 years since the MyungHo Kim (MHK) vs. Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) case. As you know well, the Supreme Court judged in favor of SKKU and against MHK without a proper judicial deliberation.

I contest the judgment not because of the verdict but rather because the Court sees the matter as a purely private affair. In other words, the Court upheld the principle of "university privilege", which makes the Court's action a logical contradiction - if it's a purely private matter, why take up the case in the first place? I believe that the Court back then revealed a serious judicial incompetence by not seeking impartial professional advice for rigorous evaluation of the case.

The Court was unable to view the case as a public matter with significant consequences on the higher education of our nation. I can assert this evaluation, because the ferocious lobby of the association of private schools made a deep impression upon the Court. The Court failed to examine the appointment process along with concrete and verifiable data such as objective evaluation of research accomplishments by impartial third parties. The Court failed, because it did not insist becoming a Court. When the Court said it was impartial, it upheld the law of jungle where the stronger devours the weaker. In effect it has become utterly partial to the stronger.

This reading of the law has been the "orthodox" interpretation for about 15 years. For the Court that never shies away from a truly private affair like adultery cases, this is a uniquely peculiar reading of the law. This "orthodox" reading of the law persisted for a long time but at last, in 2003, it has become no longer tenable to persist "orthodox" when handling the cases similar to MHK v SKKU.

There are simply too many innocent victims. Steady stream of petitions on behalf of the victims took notice of the Court. Most victims were whistle-blowers who challenged the internal corruptions such as embezzlement at private universities. The number of such victims is estimated about 400-1000 nationwide. The sheer number of cases made a deep impression on the Court with a lasting consequence.

It saw that the private university, after all, is not completely private and isolated from the rest of society. This welcome change is indeed late, very late but it's never too late to correct what's wrong. Even non-unionized employees in private universities have some constitutional rights and therefore are entitled to a fair trial, unbiased with prior "custom" or "tradition". Basically the law says you can't do certain things just because it has been like that for a long time. As a result, the law changed in Jan. 2005 in full effect.

The Court does not create cases, but it only judges the cases presented to them. Hence it takes a few brave, persevering souls to correct past mistakes. The case similar to mine is that of Minsoo Kim vs. Seoul National University (SNU). Minsoo Kim was and is an Art Professor at SNU and he had to contest the case, initially outside the Court but eventually within the Court, for more than six years. The Court eventually looked into the case and it's plainly obvious that the heart of matter is the issue of research requirements, which is nearly identical to mine. Equally identical to my case is that the review process is grossly abused and arbitrarily executed to "enforce" a particular local culture. The act was in its purest form betraying the public trusts of higher education.

My assessment of the case, however, does not demonize the institution and its members. Rather, I point to the fact that those who wronged Minsoo Kim were merely being are human beings, fallible human beings. While the Court ruled in favor of Minsoo Kim, thereby correcting the past wrong, those who wronged didn't resist the ruling too strongly. Why? I believe they also knew it was a wrong, a kind of wrong institution inflicts upon a human being.

I was both delighted and disappointed with the Minsoo Kim case.

Disappointed, because his case gained much public attention thanks to the prestige of SNU, even though the essential point of the case is identical to mine and other numerous cases.

Consider another example: on the same day when SKKU gave an erroneous entrance exam, SNU also gave a potentially confusing problem that could cause public distrust of the system. Even before the whole test was over, media paid intense attention to SNU while it failed to take notice the even more problematic SKKU math case. Perhaps media considers entertainment value very seriously, but the Court too?

Still, I am more delighted than disappointed because the case of Minsoo Kim demonstrates the willingness of our Court to consider the matter and dispense its wisdom to warn the danger of abusive and arbitrary execution of academic appointment processes. The case of Minsoo Kim is very encouraging, despite the regrettable deep pain inflicted upon him. The personal suffering and injury to reputation are truly unfortunate and uniquely unjust, but perhaps healing is ensured. We might even be willing to consider it as a price to pay to build a better society. But we must refuse to pay the same price again and again in each and every case. I say once is enough! I say no more same mistake again!

The second round of MHK vs. SKKU case has already begun this March. I'll be in Seoul soon to contest my case. I deserve a fair deal but I wouldn't say I am fighting for justice. Justice is such a lofty word and I wouldn't use the word too liberally. But I had and still have a strong case, if not in the old Court, definitely in the conscience of fellow scholars, both domestic and international arenas. Moreover, even though the fact remains the same, I believe the Court has become wiser and responsible.

It's not just the Court that has changed in positive ways. SKKU too changed in the intervening years since my departure. Samsung has become a major benefactor of the institution and the faculty composition of math department also changed. The Samsung factor may encourage more transparency on the matters of the academic appointment. New faces in the department may encourage a fresh and unbiased consideration of the matter.

Even though I appeal to the Court, I am not interested in setting old scores. I want nothing but to correct the past mistake and move on. I cannot regain lost years and licking old wound is pointless, and I recognize the future is far more important and interesting.

Your support is extremely helpful in this avenue.

I most sincerely appreciate your support.

Sincerely, MyungHo Kim

Mar. 29, 2005