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Dongguk Students Raise their Voices in Student General Assembly (SGA)Universities' student council started to hold SGA by collecting students and speak their voices to university administration
   
 
   
 

Dongguk University’s Student General Assembly (SGA) was held on April 4th, 2012, in Manhae square, and the student council presided over this students’ general meeting. This was the first SGA since 2004. The SGA is the top legislative organization. Therefore, it has an important meaning for all students and for the entire university.

At this meeting, many students from many different departments gathered together to exchange their opinions on significant issues and vote on proposals to address them. Recently, SGAs have become frequent events not only at universities around Seoul but many other universities across the country. SGAs at some universities were successful in passing resolutions because many students took an interest about issues and problems of university, but some failed because students’ participation was too low. Unfortunately, the SGA at Dongguk University failed to gather one-fifth (2,734) of all students, which is required for quorum at Dongguk under student government rules.

On April 4th, the atmosphere at Dongguk University was distracted. At 6 P.M., many students stood in line to go into Manhae square, waving flags which represented each department. The General Student Council (GSC) and students participating in the SGA waited nervously with a mixture of anticipation and worry. Even, Dongguk University staff participated in the SGA to show their support for the students. However, despite all these efforts, the SGA of Dongguk failed because only 1,756 students showed up and could not meet the quorum of Dongguk. Eventually, the SGA continued as an emergency measure meeting.

Lim Go-eun, who is studying in the department of Mass Communication and Journalism said, “I was interested in the demands to change the policy of English classes and to improve facilities. Especially, I had an interest to improve the facilities that foreigners use because it shows that students and university care for the minorities, too.” Oh Young-seok who is studying in the department of Food Science and Technology said, “I think many students are indifferent to social problems because they are focused on finding a job. However, I recommend that university students take part in these things. Dongguk took disciplinary action against some students and I want many students help our friends. Also, I was impressed with many students who gathered for the SGA.” Pyo Hyun-hoe, who is Chinese and studying in the department of Law, said that she wants to have more freedom in taking English lectures. She said that she had difficulty in understanding English lecture, and that they should be optional.

The nine agendas were discussed. They included tuition cuts, abolition of department restructuring, Ilsan campus problems, making English lectures optional, expansion of rest space for students, recruiting more full-time professors and the expansion of courses, the withdrawal of disciplinary actions against student government representatives and the executive branch, resolution of youth unemployment, and the welfare of female students. The SGA proceeded with student government representatives talking about an issue on the agenda, while participating students voted according to their opinion on the issue by picking up ballots handed out by members of the student government. After the nine agendas were discussed and voted on, the college agendas which were each college demand and the campus life agendas which were demanded about campus life’s inconveniences were discussed.

Also, there were other demands which were presented at the meeting. Kim Tae-hyun who is the president of College of Bio System said, “The decision to relocate the department of Food Science and Technology to Ilsan campus was done without the agreement of students, professors and alumni, who are the people directly involved. Many students are experiencing inconvenience because they can’t attend lectures such as ‘composition and presentation’ and ‘Buddhism and humanity’ in Seoul. Therefore, I suggest an addition to the agenda to discuss our opposition to the relocation of our department to the Ilsan campus.” Kim Jeong-do, who was expelled last semester, demanded the resignation of a vice-president of scholarship and the director of the headquarters in department of academic support.

During these discussions following the SGA, many students who participated in the assembly began to leave Manhae square. This was problem about representativeness. When many students left, some students brought up the problem about using the word ‘vote’ because they thought that the small number of remaining students couldn’t represent all students. Therefore, at the end of SGA, the word ‘suggestion’ was used instead of word ‘vote,’ and a show of hands was used to represent opinions instead of paper ballots. Therefore, SGA of Dongguk was finished without planned communication between students.

Then, how was the past SGA of Dogguk? In the 80s when Dongguk University students held their first SGA, the president of Dongguk came out to listen directly to the opinions of students and try to communicate with students. However, as time went on, the power of students became weak, their voices faded and an SGA had not been held since 2004. In 2012, students cooperated with each other again and held a SGA.

Why Student General Assembly (SGA) failed?

First, there were shortcomings in the preparation process. On March 13th, a group consisting of about 40 students was set up to convene the SGA. They promoted the assembly by putting up posters and banners, posting many things through facebook and distributing printed materials about the assembly. However, despite this promotion, some students didn’t know about the assembly and the issues.

Second, there were some opinions that the demands on the agendas were somewhat abstract and ideal. It was uncertain that the nine-point agendas really represented the opinions of all students. Requirements in them were stated four or five years ago and there were many ludicrous demands on the college agendas and the campus life agendas. This influenced students’ negative opinions about the assembly and the student council

Third, students’ indifference was the main problem which led to the failure of the SGA. Despite the publicizing by the general student council (GSC), many students did not come to the SGA. To meet quorum 2,733 students were required to participate, but only 1,756 students among 13,000 participated in this event. One fifth of the student body were required to come to the SGA to meet quorum; this proportion is much bigger than any other universities. Among the students who did participate, a large number of them just followed their seniors. Also, after announcing the number of students that came to the SGA, some participating students started to leave Manhae square before the discussions even began. Some of them thought their opinions would have no persuasive power. Cold weather played a role in causing students to leave. Students who wanted to ask their demands to headquarters stayed for the assembly. Many students who did not come to the SGA see the present student council as being ineffective. They doubted that student council could hold and pass an SGA. They jumped to the conclusion that an SGA would not be successful and they did not come to this event. Many Dongguk students didn’t feel a strong need for an SGA in the first place.

Recently between 2011 and 2012, many universities held SGA. Last year, half price tuition was main topic for the majority of students. Thousands of students have been taking to the streets to demand lower college fees. The Board of Audit and Inspection announced that if private universities conducted fiscal management well, tuition fees can be reduced by up to 15%. But, most private universities, except for the University of Seoul, suggested reduction rates from 2% to 5% in 2012. Each university’s student council started to hold SGAs by collecting students and speak their voices to university administration.

Konkuk University successfully held their SGA on March 15th, 2012. It has been over 12 years since this happened. 1,650 students came to SGA and they met quorum, 1,629, which account for 10% of total number of students. At the final, cumulative number of students was 1,850. The reasons why a higher proportion of students came to this is that tuition reduction rate was just 2.5%, required credits in cultural studies was increased from 2 to 3 and the 37 classes  in cultural studies classes were eliminated. So students felt class quality was decreased. Although there was no student council at that time, the emergency measures organization prepared for the SGA and hosted it. The first item on the agenda about reimbursement of the 4.7% increase in tuition fees was passed without opposition. Most of items were passed with overwhelming support but the proposal on visiting the president’s office was rejected. One of participating students, Ko Keyn-noh said, “The SGA held last year failed. But this year, I feel honored to be here in this historical moment and I wished for the administration to consider our demands and settle these issues.”  

Pusan National University also held an SGA on September 22th, 2011. The number of participating students was over 5,440, almost one-fourth (1/4) of total number of students, so quorum was satisfied. At this SGA, there were 4 resolutions including the undemocratic integration between Pusan National University and Pukyong National University, securing rights in electing a president, getting more places for students in PNU (Pusan National University), and realizing tuition reduction. Kim Jong-hyun, the president of GSC, said, “We regained the rights of ownership at PNU through this SGA. The GSC collected the voices of fellow students, and the remaining work is mine. Fellow students must have come to know that we can become a powerful force when we gather together.”

What about Dongguk University?

There is no active communication between university administration and students.  The administration is not interested in hearing student opinions. And students complain about problems in Dongguk, but they are not making efforts to resolve these problems. Students have their own problems on campus but because of assignments, and pressure to get certifications related to getting a job, problems at Dongguk are pushed aside for most students.
The rigid rule of the SGA is one of problems that need to be addressed. Quorum of Dongguk is one-fifth (1/5) of total number of students. Quorum requirements at Seoul National University, Yonsei University, and Hanyang University are one-tenth (1/10) of the student body. Sogang University requires one-ninth (1/9), and Sookmyung Women’s University requires one-seventh (1/7). At Dongguk University, it is difficult to satisfy the number of quorum. The regulations of the SGA have not been changed for 8 years. If the rules of SGA had been changed, the most recent SGA here at Dongguk University would have succeeded and delivered the voices of the students to university administration much more clearly.

On April 6th, at 4P.M., the College of Education held their Student General Assembly separately. The total number of students in the College of Education is 1,080, and quorum is 230, but over 310 students participated in the SGA. 10 demands about the expansion of courses, space utilization of Hakrim Hall, making seminar rooms for the Department of Physical Education and providing places for relax etc. were suggested and passed. The student council have succeeded in holding regular meetings with the administrative staff of the College of Education. At this meeting, The Student council of the College of Education passed the proposal of visiting the main building of Dongguk and they delivered the official agendas which were passed at the SGA to student service team. Many students participated in this event and the meeting proceeded smoothly. They raised their own voices through a fair way, so SGA of College of Education was a good model for the next SGA at Dongguk University.

As half price tuition was the main issue last year, SGAs were held in universities around our country. Ajou University held SGA on March 22th, Yeongnam University, located in GyeongSangBuk-do, held on 27th, Duksung Women’s University was 28th and Sookmyung Women’s University was 30th. Unfortunately, SGA of Dongguk University which held on April 4th ended unsuccessfully. But, this SGA was the chance to build momentum for students to become interested in the problems here at Dongguk University. Although satisfying quorum failed, there were students who stayed at the SGA to the end and many students came to support the SGA, including the presidents of each college and staff of Dongguk. The SGA was a meaningful event in the way that so many people came and discussed problems of Dongguk. Through this event, we expect that all of the Dongguk students will come to discuss their problems and raise own voices at the next SGA.

 

Interview with chairman of SGA, Choi Jang-hoon

Q. How did you feel after the SGA?
A.
In fact, before holding the SGA, I expected that fewer students that were needed for quorum would come to the SGA. At the last SGA held in 2004, 1,400 students participated. But this year, about 1700 students come to SGA. I regard it as meaningful that so many people participated. Most participating students would remember it as a big memory of student society in Dongguk University.

Q. Why did you plan to hold SGA?
A.
Although 9 points on the agenda such as tuition fee, department restructuring problems have been stated for about 4 or 5 years, I think, to realize the demands of all students, it was necessary to hold an SGA. Through holding SGA, I wanted to collect the power of students, and certify the rights to discuss and suggest demands suggested at the SGA to headquarters legally.

Q. There are so many demands in SGA. Did you collect public opinions of the president of each department?
A.
Yes, the 9 demands are for all students, and the individual college agendas were made through collecting each department’s opinions. Campus Life agendas were made after we see some posts at the CS homepage of Dongguk. And we heard opinions directly through students at Manhae square and the dormitory etc.

Q. How did you prepare for the SGA? Did you have enough money?
A.
It was operated by student fee.

Q. There are rumors about a boycott by the College of engineering and the College of Law. Is that true?
A.
That is completely untrue. The Presidents of College of engineering and Law came and support to SGA. These are just rumors.

Q.  Are there any ways to change the regulations of SGA?
A.
I thought 1/5 is unrealistic too. It can change through the SGA, and departmental meetings of freshman and sophomore student representatives. The president of this is Lee Hee-jung who was the former president of College of Education so I contacted him and discussed it recently.

Q. What is your opinion about indifference of students to problems in Dongguk?
A.
I think, it is from the system of pressing students to get a specific certificate and focused on examination such as bar exam or civil service examination. This is not wrong, but students have the right to voice their opinions to the school and change things. Students tend to think they cannot change, but actions can make outcomes. A university belongs to students. Students should know about that.

Q. The SGA of College of Education was held successfully. What do you think about it?
A.
They have succeeded in having regular meeting with the administration of the College of Education. It could be a good example to realize our demands. Participating students would feel they can make and change things. And students from other colleges would hear about it and talk with fellow students. That is the thing I wish.

Q. Last question. Is there any last word to say to students?
A.
Student council is limited to hold events and do a venue rental recently. They are trying to improve students’ fair rights of studying in good environment. I hope that students become more interested about their problems around campus, and share them with their fellow students, taking these very seriously. Students have the rights to make a bright and promising future.

Sim Su-ji, Park Su-jeong  suji306@dongguk.edu

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