Earlier this month, a former professor lost his appeal in a lawsuit against the university that fired him for sending inappropriate messages to a female graduate student. The professor sent sexually suggestive messages to the student and threatened to fail her dissertation if she rejected his advances. This is an example of “gapjil,” which is when a superior abuses their power over someone lower ranked, often through harassment or exploitation. Gapjil is common in universities between professors and students.
The #MeToo movement exposed the abuse of power by authority figures, including in Korean universities. Many universities now have human rights centers on campus, although they may not always be effective. Regular faculty evaluations by students have given undergraduates a voice in the academic system, but the experience for graduate students can be different.
Graduate students have closer relationships with their professors, who have significant influence over their studies and careers. It is difficult for graduate students to speak out against their professors due to fear of reprisal and limited networks. Surveys show that gapjil is still prevalent in universities, and students feel that the authority of professors and the culture of professor-student relationships contribute to these violations.
The on-campus human rights centers are often seen as ineffective, with a lack of dedicated personnel to handle these issues. Some universities have separate counseling and gender equality centers, which are viewed as more effective. Improvements are needed in the size, funding, and independence of these centers to ensure their proper functioning.
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