On March 17, the Korean Ministry of Education announced its new personnel appointment, and as a result, Mr. Park Sung-min was appointed as Director of Office of Public Affairs in KNUE. Calling him unfit to be in the position, many people including students and professors strongly criticized the appointment and demanded to have it rescinded. After about a month of protests, the Ministry decided to accommodate the demand, and Park was transferred to the National Academy of Sciences.
The resistance at KNUE was somewhat anticipated. Mr. Park Sung-min, as a high-ranking officer of the Ministry of Education, was in charge of making the controversial government-published history textbook. As the deputy director of the task force, Park was embroiled in controversy because of some of his speeches in a debate held last December about the book. At one point during the debate he was quoted as saying, “History teachers are coasting and teaching with a left-winged bias, so students do not have any perception of our history. Instead, they just gather in mass whenever there is a candlelight rally.” These statements clearly did not sit well with a number of listeners, in particular for the faculty at KNUE.
During the National Assembly’s Education, Culture, Sports, and Tourism Committee meeting held on December 28, 2016, some members requested disciplinary action be taken because of his violation of duty. It is the responsibility of public officials to maintain political neutrality, yet his words lessened the value of the rally and disparaged teachers and students alike. The Ministry of Education, however, quietly issued a minor warning to him, which provoked strong opposition from Congress. Finally, Minister Jun-sik Lee made it public that Park would get transferred to another department before February ended, and Lee appointed him as the director of Office of Public Affairs at KNUE on March 17.
On March 20 and 21, students and professors held a rally to criticize the decision of the Ministry of Education. Since March 27, the demonstrations took place every lunch hour in front of the Student Center to urge him to resign, and since March 28, morning rallies became the norm in front of the Administration Building to block him from going to his appointed office. Candlelight rallies longing for the withdrawal of the personnel appointment of Park were held every Thursday evening starting on March 30. As time went by, more and more people began to participate in the rallies.
On April 7, roughly 200 KNUE teachers and students went to the Ministry of Education in Sejong Government Complex to protest against its personnel decision and submitted signatures from 149 professors and approximately 1,400 students. The rallies did not stop until finally, on April 14, the Minister accepted the call for the resignation of Park Sung-min in coordinance with the president of KNUE. The circumstance was resolved with the Ministry of Education’s announcement that Park would be assigned as the director of the Office of the National Academy of Sciences.
In the battle to get Park reassigned, students and faculty from KNUE played a leading role in the fight. Students majoring in History Education led the efforts to rectify the situation and started the rallies. After that, to prepare rallies more efficiently, an affiliated committee was formed under the Students’ Extension Steering Committee, which was known as a Special Committee to Urge Resignation. The members of the committee exerted every effort to encourage students’ participation and hold rallies. Furthermore, the committee made a Facebook page to inform the public of its efforts to urge Park’s resignation. It also held a campaign using hashtags that reveal the opposition of the appointment of Park.
Many school clubs gave helping hands to the committee. They put up banners that demanded the resignation of Park, and some of them did various kinds of performances to provide more weight to the committee during the rallies. For example, Eol-ne, the school acting club, did a short musical parodying the musical Hero. The song Who is guilty for the musical was used as a satirical approach. Also, Maek, school traditional arts club, showed several performances and even joined a parade for his resignation on March 31. Lee Mi-so, the leader of the club, said “It was a unanimous decision that our club would perform in support of the rallies. It will remain in our hearts because we participated aggressively in resisting against something wrong.”
Many organizations outside the campus also contributed to the elicitation of Park’s transfer. On April 13, alumni of the history education department sponsored a movable café truck so that students could enjoy some drinks freely during the candlelight rally. One of the alumni participating in the rally gave a speech on behalf of the association. External organizations such as the Korea Federation of National University Professor Associations, the National Federation of Teachers College Professor Associations, and some civil society associations including Good Teacher Movement and Chungbuk Civil Society Organizations Network issued statements condemning the Ministry of Education. Some members of these groups also participated in the rally at Sejong Government Complex. Their efforts in combination with those from KNUE clearly had an impact on making this a national issue.
In March, the brisk wind which Park had brought to KNUE swept through the school, but finally, true spring came with him stepping down. To make it last long unlike the Prague Spring, a short period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia, it seems that constant and profound attention of all members in KNUE will be needed. Jeong Eun-ju, the Chairman of the Special Committee to Urge Resignation, said, “I hope our university will be the one where every member works together as a whole like we did this time when something unjustifiable happens.”
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