The revised Higher Education Act, named the Part-time Lecturer Law, has taken its first step since August 1. The law was made to improve the working conditions of part-time lecturers at universities, including employment stability, better treatment, and security of their status as faculty members. In 2010, a lecturer at Chosun University killed himself. This tragedy continued to expose the poor conditions that irregular faculty face. After his death, a voice spread throughout society demanding better job conditions for part-time lecturers. The law originally was passed by the National Assembly in 2011, after it was postponed four times for eight years by the strong protests. In September 2018, lecturers, universities, and education experts published the improvement proposals, which led to the revised act.
The law specifies employment stability, security of status, and better treatment for lecturers as faculty members. For employment stability, universities should appoint the lecturers at least a year and guarantee a reappointment process for up to three years. For the security of status, lecturers should get a position as faculty members along with professors, associate professors, and assistant professors. Also, they would have more recourse if they were fired unnecessarily. Regarding better treatment, they can receive four weeks’ wages during vacation. The law also stipulates work-related improvements, but that is left to the university’s discretion, so no substantial improvement has been made yet.
The purpose of the law is to reform the hiring and working condition system. However, with the implementation of the law, some have become concerned that it actually goes against its original purpose and that the quality of education will decline. Already many part-time lecturers have lost their job. According to Kwon Oh-geun, a Chairman of Yeungnam University Branch of Korean Irregular Professor Union, the number of part-time lecturers fell from 628 in fall semester 2018 to 500 in spring semester 2019 and it dropped again to 298 this semester. He said the number of lecturers responsible for 40% of the entire liberal arts curriculum decreased sharply, which caused an increase to tenured faculty’s teaching hours, a reduction in the number of class, an increase in the average class size, and a spike in the number of online classes. He pointed out that the university has hired adjunct professors whom they can fire easily to cut down costs instead of part-time lecturers.
He also pointed out the problems with the hiring process. Even though a university should run an open recruitment process, some classes were previously assigned to lecturers who teach just three hours and who hadn’t gone through any public recruitment process. He said it was unfair and violated the rule of open recruitment. He expressed concern over lowering the quality of education and the encroachment of students’ rights to education.
However, the position of our university was different. According to Lee Woo-won, manager of the Faculty & Personnel Team, before the law, some lecturers taught one, two, or three teaching hours a week. After the law, the lecturers had six teaching hours, and the number of courses was unchanged. It isn’t surprising to have reduced the number of lecturers by increasing the average class hours per person. On hiring adjunct professors instead of part-time lecturers, he answered that before the law, the lecturer faculty consisted of both full-time lecturers and part-time lecturers. After the law, the latter was classified as adjunct professors, so, it looks like increasing of hiring adjunct professors. He added that since the law is being implemented for the first time, our university couldn’t help but deal with the changes.
Park Kyoung-ri, assistant manager of the Curriculum & Registrar Team, said the reduction in the scale of classes is not because of the part-time lecturer law, but because of other reasons, such as readjustments in curriculum, etc. She also said the department assigned classes to professors taking into consideration the professors’ teaching hours. They do not over-allocate classes to each professor and pay attention not to decrease the quality of education. She added, “We admit there was some confusion, but the university is trying its best to promote efficient academic management.”
Finally, chairman Kwon asked students to pay more attention to the academic condition and environment of Yeungnam University after the implementation of the law, as it is a matter directly related to students as well as lecturers. He hopes the university will understand the intended purpose of the law seriously and follow it for the betterment of higher education.