Yes, I am home from my work meeting and the many ridiculous things discussed there are sinking in slowly. I will only recount one moment of the discussion, and it should encapsulate a lot of what I think needs to be addressed in the educational (and for that matter the political) arena in Korea if development is to go any farther in those areas… for it is certainly stalled, if not backsliding, at present.

Our University is opening an English cafe, a program that even the University’s very President is actually eager about. The Administration is trying to find a room in which to open this cafe, and one that was perfect was found. It is in the Student Union Building, a room in some way or another connected to the Music Department. From what I understand, each department has a room set aside in the Student Union Building. Well, the music department has not used that room in five years, and so it was proposed that room be used for the English Cafe.

Of course, as soon as this was proposed, some woman, I think connected to the Music Department or Student Services or something, stepped in and loudly forbade it, deciding suddenly that the room was in fact going to be put to use for, uh, um, something or other this year.

Now, I don’t know the specifics of the situation. I really don’t. Maybe there actually was a plan in place (or under development) to use that room before it was slated for the English Cafe. IT’s possible. But I do know that time and time again, I’ve seen this kind of thing happen in Universities here, and this is what it looks like to me: territorial defensiveness, and a demanding of respect… or, rather, the demand of the appearance of respect. You see, if there was real respect, if respect was simply assumed and understood to be there, then the Music Department or Student Services or whoever wouldn’t much care about a room they’re not using being used by someone else.

But when you’re continually jockeying for position in a hierarchy, it makes you paranoid. It makes you pay attention to every slight and take offense at it. I know because this was my experience playing in a big band, and it was a mindset that it has taken me years to overcome now that I’m playing in a (generally) more democratic band. (I still struggle with it, to be honest, but that’s the subject for another post, perhaps.)

I can understand why respect is not assumed, though. The professors who are “respected” are the ones who display the apparence of respect. They ride to school in chauffeured cars, they teach 9 hours a week, they have gigantic private offices (sometimes more than one, sometimes continually unused), and they get away with all kinds of crap if they want to.

Meanwhile, professors lower down on the totem pole (meaning, categorically, all foreign professors, but also a goodly number of Korean professors) tend to teach at least double the number of hours, face absurd and sometimes even illegal clauses in their contract negotiations (the last round of which apparently involved outright refusal even of discussion), and among the foreigners there’s continual chatter of a change in housing —also an illegal violation of contract on the part of the University. But then, I’m white, so whatever contract I sign doesn’t probably bind anyway. It’s sad, though: it sometimes seems as if the demands for respect also imply a demand of disrespect for those lower down on the food chain. I’ve heard some funny rumors about why we foreign teachers, who were quite happy to have most of our various classes held in the same classroom (using the same materials, having posters helpful to students on the walls, and so on) are now, suddenly, being required to hike all over campus with heavy tape players just to teach a single class on the other side of the grounds. Why? Because foreigners shouldn’t have the luxury of teaching classes in one room all day… not when real human beings (er, sorry, I mean highly respected Korean professors) have to occasionally go to different classrooms to teach their 9 hours a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The only thing I wonder is whether this is true of other universities in Korea, or whether it’s just the one at which I am currently working. I’ve heard much worse about hagwons, but I don’t know about other universities, except to know that I do feel deeply disrespected, as well as taken for a fool—and I am not alone in it. As one co-worker said after the meeting, “I can see the writing on the wall now, you know?” And I think I would be a fool to stay where I am one more year, after the end of this contract. So… it looks like that Hindu astrologer in Jaipur was right about August bringing big changes for me.

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