Korea University Award for Samsung Chairman Ends in Debacle

      May 03, 2005 21:54


      The administration of Korea University on Tuesday tendered their resignation after student protests turned the planned presentation of an honorary doctorate to Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee into an undignified farce.

      Lee was to be given the decoration at the university's Inchon Memorial Hall at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, when up to 100 students massed in front of the entrance calling Lee an "enemy of the worker's movement."

      Lee arrived at 5:20 p.m. but had to be bundled through a side entrance by bodyguards because the protesters were blocking the main gate. Korea University then barred students from the ceremony, and university staff and Samsung personnel pulled down the shutters.

      A curtailed award ceremony finally took place at 6:40 p.m. in the office of the university chief director, with only a few stragglers present. Lee slipped out of the memorial hall through the backdoor at 7 p.m. and did not attend a celebratory dinner afterward.

      Nine officials of Korea University including its vice president of general affairs Ahn Moon-seok announced their resignation at an emergency meeting on Tuesday morning. “We take responsibility for our inability to stop the student demonstration," the administrators said. Euh Yoon-dae, the university president, wrote to Lee saying “We are deeply sorry that we insisted the ceremony go ahead despite your consistent refusal to accept the honorary degree.”

      Minister of Information and Communication Chin Dae-je told reporters, “Considering how much Lee has contributed to the country’s economy, that was not a way to treat him.” Senior policy adviser Kim Young-joo said, people must "recognize the positive aspects" of businesspeople, adding the student protests were counterproductive.

      A spokesperson for Samsung Group said it did not wish to make matters worse by having the university administrators resign. When president Euh earlier warned Lee there could be student protests, Lee reportedly said, "I have prepared two suits for today’s ceremony. Even if eggs are thrown at me, I will definitely attend.”

      The debacle also sparked outrage among Korea's online community. Korea University’s website was inundated with complaints against the student protests. “We must combine efforts to block any violent protests by activist students at the anniversary celebration on Thursday," a Korean Language student wrote. “We must oust the arrogant and insolent student union and elect a new representative body.” Another netizen (Julius84) said, “Why must students who love their school be harmed by the actions of a minority? Those responsible must be punished.” The student union's website was also flooded with criticism and was temporarily shut down on Tuesday morning.

      A student demonstrator, 23, said, “We protested because we believe that issuing a doctorate degree in philosophy to a capitalist who abuses the human rights of workers is incomprehensible.”

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