The Humanities in the age of Neo-liberalism

The Humanities in the Age of Neo-liberalism: Faculty Evaluation and Funding System in Korean Universities


1. Universities in the Age of Neo-Liberalism: Competition and the Survival of the Fittest.


From the mid-nineties, the Korean government took the globalization as the new development strategy for Korea in the New Millenium. The "globalization" meant reforming the Korean society into the capitalist society of American system opening it up to the foreign Capital. Productivity and Competitiveness became the catchphrase for all social institutions and the university was no exception. The government began to subsidise the universities based on productivity and competitiveness. What does it mean, then, for a university to be productive and competitive? According to the new scheme of university evaluation, it means the higher rate of employment among the graduates, more funding from outside source, more research of the faculty members, and higher score in the student evaluation. The objective the university seeks has changed from knowledge to profit: the university, in a word, has become a company in itself. The new type of university presidents came along who unashamedly called themselves academic CEOs and openly wanted to run their universities like a company. If the medieval university in the West was to grow a priest for the church, the Korean universities of the 21st century have to produce labor force for the capital.


2. Market-Oriented University and the Humanities


The advent of the CEO type leadership in the university turned out to be an absolute disaster for scholars of traditional cast, particularly so for the professors of the humanities. The humanities scholars by definition are not fit for the market oriented academia. The humanities, as an academic discipline, are marginalized in the most universities, pressured to incorporate with some other disciplines of more practical nature,or even simply abolished altogether. The humanities scholars in Korea have witnessed in the recent 15 years or so the loss of students, the decrease of academic jobs, the reduction of payment and the downfall of social respect. The crisis of the humanities has been a real threat to the scholars of the humanities who have to fear the possible lay-off from the institutions they work for unless they prove to be as "productive" in research and as "competitive" in education as any other professors of different fields such as business and technology.Some humanities scholars demanded a special support for the humanities to which the government apparently reacted in a positive manner: they established a special fund to promote the humanities research and education which however was distributed only to a few selected institutions based on the neo-liberalistic principle of "unlimited competition." The market ideology that has quickly infiltrated the Korean academia in the last 15 years in the name of "support" and "special care" turned out to be even more fatal to the idea of the humanities than marginalization and negligence a couple of humanities departments became richer than the others, but all of which are now in more direct control of the government. Progressive ideas and academic idealism have become relics in a university museum. What we now have on campus is a few CEOs who want to transform a university campus into a luxurious shopping mall and a selection of hard-working, fund-seeking, article-producing technocrats who help them. Humanities scholars in Korean universities, who have a proud memory of being intellectuals of engagement in the recent Korean history, are becoming quickly extinct confined within the "humanities reservation"set up by the government officials.


3. Neo-liberalistic Funding for the Humanities


Korean universities are now completely taken over by the university evaluation system: every aspect of research and teaching is scrupulously evaluated based on a new evaluation schemes. Human judgments, which used to play an important rolein estimating the researches of humanities scholarship, are now absolutely outweighed by mechanical statistics. They do not ask what a scholar writes about but how many he or she writes in what journals. Articles published in the foreign journals listed in A&HCI (Arts and Humanities Citation Index) count many times more than those of Korean journals to which most Korean humanities scholars contribute their writings. The quantitative method in the evaluation system is in itself a problem for the humanities scholars, but the research system which it concomitantly imposes on the academia is even more serious a problem: it is basically a system for scientific researches. It, for example, encourages a lab-based, cooperative research where the main researcher writes an article in collaboration with many other assistant researchers which is absolutely not suitable for the Humanities scholarship. As long as the funding is given on the basis of neo-liberalistic values such as productivity and competitiveness, it is more a disaster than a blessing for the humanities scholarship.


4. The Future of the Humanities in the age of Neo-Liberalism

When the university is regarded as a company to "manage", and the objective of that "management"is to promote the capitalist values such as productivity and competitiveness, the future of the humanities is grim indeed. The humanities scholarship could not stand beyond the capitalist economy altogether of course. But it does not necessarily mean that all the scholarly activities within it should be measured by utilitarian standards. What the humanities need badly at this moment, therefore, is not simply a big sum of money but a social consensus that the values preserved and produced by the humanities are really important and should be appreciated by all of us to keep our lives sane and sound. The humanities scholarship surely requires the financial support from the outside sources including the government. But such support should be providednot as an input to produce an immediate output, but as a general investment to promote the social good in the long run.




In/Out 26(2009): 281-299


The Full Text in Korean