Friday, April 20, 2007

Uni Lecturers: You may want to rethink that PhD you're gettin'

Last November, the Korean government passed a law that was intended to protect contracted workers by requiring employers to make an employee permanent after they have worked two years. The law has basically backfired because now the employers are firing their long-time employees to avoid making them permanent. Now a new wrinkle in the law means:

...employers will not have to give certified professionals,
including lawyers and doctors, and university lecturers with PhDs regular-worker
status even if they have been working for a company for more than two years. The
act also exempts office assistants and postpartum-care assistants.

How this makes any sense at all is known only to the people who passed the laws (and those that may have bribed them to do so) but what is interesting about the law is the part about university and college lecturers. If you have an M.A. you are covered under the law and should be made permanent after working for two years (no grandfather clause as I understand it which means 2 years from last November) but if you have a PhD. you are not protected.

I am going to wait and see how this effects the lives of the foreign lecturers around Korea. My guess is that the universities will do what has already been done wholesale to Koreans nationwide: let them go before the 2 years are up to avoid making them permanent.

That said; I think now might be a good time for foreign university lecturers around Korea to start an organization of some kind in order to take collective legal action should this become reality. As this law starts to take effect a lot of us could find ourselves looking for a job every two years. While some may not have a problem with this, I believe there are a lot of us out there who have been in Korea for a long time and have put down roots in hopes that we will be able to stick around and make a life for ourselves and our families without being forced to be transient.

The idea of compulsory tenure for foreign lecturers seems to be at a crossroads. There have already been some disturbing trends of unis suddenly setting contract limits and letting long-time foreign lecturers go for spurious reasons. On the other hand, I have also heard of a few people who have received or been offered tenure in some tertiary institutions here when they jump through the usual hoops. The stories vary widely but it seems to me that they should not. There are rules that govern the allotment of tenure for Korean professors and those same rules should be applied regardless of nationality.


Joe in Korea said...

You are right, that Korea is at a crossroads, indeed. However, I think that since they are so worried about international rankings, and how to get Korean universities in the top 100, that they will start to hire more foreign professors. I think they want it both ways. They want to have the prestige without paying the professors what they deserve. Which way will the pendulum swing? I have an idea that the higher-ranked universities will start hiring, more qualified professors (not lecturers with an MA, but “real” professors complete with PhDs and a history of research/publishing). In order to do that, they will have to offer competitive salaries and someday even open the door to tenure.

The second tier universities will want to do this, but won’t have the ability to do this. They will try to get foreign professors, but they won’t be able to keep them.

There are an increasing number of full time lecturers here who are in the process of getting that diploma and the letters behind their name. If Korea doesn’t want to keep them, then there are other places in the world where they can go and be valued.

Fencerider said...

thanks for the comment joe (i get so few :(

I'm personally hoping that the pendulum swings in favor of those of us who have been here for a while. I work in a 2 year college that has Korean MA holders on the faculty with 'professor' status and pay. I'm just hoping that the laws will fall in my direction and get my pay up to pace with the other profs.