Vote for Whom? for Democratic Sookmyung!
Vote for Whom? for Democratic Sookmyung!
  • Kim Lee Hyunmin, Kwon Jung Eunseo
  • 승인 2020.09.01 09:55
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''Which stakeholder is responsible for big change at Sookmyung Women's University? The student body! Please don't forget to vote.'' Calls were made for students to vote in this year's election on campus. About 5,000 Sookmyungians struggled to exercise their rights. Despite the ongoing online classes, the school's polling stations were crowded with them. Some students bought train tickets to Seoul from provincial areas in order to vote, and others exercised their right to vote during the exam period. The election pulled Sookmyungians together. While each voted for their own personal reason, in the end, the aim was the same. They wanted to show the school that they are a major stakeholder in the school's administration by voting in the 20th presidential election.


The struggle for rights

Sookmyung Women's University was crowded with students exercising their right to vote. The right to vote was a long battle fought by students. The real battle began with the election of the student council 'Oneul' in 2019. Oneul pledged to work towards having students participate in the presidential election and guaranteeing that the proportionate weight of student opinion would be 25% at least. At that time, Hwang Ji Su, president of Oneul, said, ''We have made our demands clear. We want improvements and to have students play an influential part in the determination of the school president, which has been discussed since 2016. We are demanding answers and the end to deceit.'' Hwang called for students to unify as one. Her work brought about a large gathering of the entire student body on May 23, 2019. A total of 2,990 students gathered to demand a voice by voting. In October, another 500 students gathered for the event 'Joint Action', details of which can be found in edition 355 of the Sookmyung Times, article section ON CAMPUS, <No Sookmyung Without Sookmyungians>. Despite the gatherings, the president of the school at the time did not address their concerns, and the teaching community remained silent. As a result, the president of the student council led sit-ins for a straight 44 days. They only ended after the school administration promised to revise the current presidential election process.
The result of revisions meant professors, employees, alumnae, and the current student body would share in a voting percentage ratio from 2020. The first round of voting for the 20th Sookmyung presidential election was held on June 22 and 23, and the second round on June 25 and 26. After votes were cast in the first round, because the voting rate of Sookmyung students did not reach 40%, student ballots were not included in the final result. Because the first round did not result in any candidate reaching a majority win, a second round of voting was carried out. In the second round, a total of 4,920 students cast votes, which equated to 45.5% of the entire student body, and as such, their voice was included in the final outcome. In other words, student opinion was reflected in the election. One Sookmyungian who voted said, ''As a first year student, I felt proud to be a part of the presidential election for the first time in our school's history. It was not easy to reach the 40% of the student body in order for our votes to make a difference in the outcome because of the COVID-19 and final exams, but Sookmyungians did it." This shows that this result that included the students' votes means a lot to Sookmyungians. In addition to the 45.5% student body turnout, the turnout for professors was 82.27%, school staff was 92.82%, and alumna was 54.81%. After vote tallying, Jang Yun Keum won a majority followed by Moon Si Yeon. Regardless of this result, the final decision for next school president was made by the school board. The university school board announced Jang as the 20th president.


Were students satisfied?

Jang Yun Keum became the 20th President of Sookmyung. While most are content with the outcome of the election process, some students voiced complaints. First of all, a large number of students had a hard time voting because of the short voting period. The presidential election was held at Sookmyung Women's University between the hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It was done the same way for both voting rounds. That is, it was only possible to vote during those 7 hours per day. This was less time than what is typically given for elections in the country. For instance, when South Korea holds a presidential election or parliamentary election, citizens are able to cast their vote between the hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. They are given 12 hours. However, Sookmyung Women’s University's presidential election only gave 7 hours to its community to vote. To examine student opinion, SMT conducted a survey. It was found that 70.6% (72 of 102 respondents) said they did not have enough time to vote. Most students felt they were under a time crunch to vote. When asked ''How many hours per day do you think would have been appropriate?'', 64 of 72 respondents said more than 9 hours. Students would have liked at least 2 more hours of voting time. Also, in addition to the short voting hours, voting was only carried out on campus. Especially those students living in provincial areas had complaints about this. The survey asked non-voting participants, ''Why did you choose not to vote?'' 13 of 22 respondents said they could not participate in the election because of the distance they would need to travel in order to get to school. In other words, most of the voting absentees live outside of Seoul. One Sookmyungian, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, ''It was not proper to conduct on-campus voting when classes, themselves, were being conducted online due to COVID-19. Electronic voting should have been introduced. Also, I think the daily voting hours were too short for students and graduates who could not leave their workplaces to meet the voting time hour''. Her comment summarises the disappointment at the short voting hours. To sum up, students were disappointed with the 20th presidential election voting hours and the absence of online voting.



Second, the proportion of student votes in the outcome was low. The percentage of student votes in the final outcome was only 7.5%. On the other hand, the proportion of teacher votes was 82%. The number of students who could vote was 10,823 students but the number of teachers who could vote was 361. This equals a vote per capita of about 0.2% for teachers and 0.0007% for students. On this occasion, SMT calculated the value per person of vote (297 teachers and 4,920 students). Results indicate that one vote by a teacher was 329 times more valuable than a student's, clearly demonstrating that students are still not equal stakeholders of the school. According to the survey, when asked, ''Do you think the present ratio of the final decision of the student vote is appropriate?'' 97.1% (99 of 102 respondents) said it was not. Many students felt the present ratio was too low. They wanted the student ratio in the final decision to be raised to about 56% on average. Students appear to believe it was necessary to modify the present ratio of the final decision. One anonymous Sookmyungian participant in the survey said, ''While it was a great opportunity to vote in the presidential election, I see students' vote as having less power, considering that their percentage ratio was only 7.5% of the final outcome. I hope in the next presidential election students will be given a higher stakeholder percentage in the final tally outcome''. As her comments indicate, a number of students are dissatisfied with the low proportion rate given to students' vote. In the future, it seems necessary to change the rate because it is Sookmyungians who will lead to school growth.



For authentic democracy at university

The 20th election, regardless of its downfalls, was historic. After the election, however, the 52nd student council 'Modu' received an email titled <Information about the 20th presidential election>. Because of the contents of the email, Modu called for an end to corruption in the election process. According to the email, illegal voting practices had occurred among school staff. There was even a screenshot provided as evidence. The student council publicized the email, but the election commission and staff union denied the accusations. There is now huge disagreement between Modu and Sookmyung on whether illegal election campaign practices had taken place. Officially campaigning should have ended on June 21, but it continued after that date among school staff. The election commission said that the continued campaigning was not in violation of election management rules because the person who had done the campaigning was not an actual candidate but a supporter. Modu rebutted with this statement: ''We are not arguing the continued campaign practices of a candidate. We are arguing that the election commission allowed others to continue campaigning during the voting period.'' Modu also argued that the corruption relates to anonymity. After releasing to the public the contents of the email, the election commission claimed it was unverified and called an official objection. It argued that if a person wishes to voice corruption charges, the person should reveal their real name. The employee union also said, ''This is defamation. We will investigate the true intention of the informant who has spread false information.'' Both the election commission and employee union are taking issue with anonymity. In response, Modu said it would thoroughly protect the informant's identity and that it would not let the issue be directed towards the informant but on statements and evidence in the email. Modu is demanding an investigation into email claims and has held a signature-collecting campaign that calls for an official investigation. It has also demanded a visit to the president's office and has voiced the need for picketing to against the president’s appointment.
When asked, ''Do you know about the controversy surrounding the 20th presidential candidate election?'', 98% (100 of 102 respondents) said they were aware of the issue. Most Sookmyungians seem to be aware of the controversy. When asked if they thought it was necessary to investigate the truth about the election fraud, almost all respondents said there must be a formal investigation (98%, 100 of 102 respondents). In other words, students agree with the student council and its position of keeping the informant's identity hidden. Most students also felt investigation into the truth of accusations in the email had not been carried out properly. One anonymous participant said, “Participating in the voting process, I felt students had finally been granted power, but now I question whether it was false hope. This election is spoiled with controversy including a possible rigged election, but I am still hopeful. I believe that students will work towards and practice democratic behavior at Sookmyung. I also hope the school will listen to students' voices and respond appropriately.” Students are hoping for a democratic and transparent investigation into the practices among the university community.



Right will prevail in the end

Students' efforts to win the right to be among the stakeholders in the presidential election paid off. The 20th presidential election moved Sookmyung towards democracy and secured students' rights. However, there are still a number of problems that need addressing such as the short voting hours per day and the low ratio percentage of student votes on the final election outcome. In addition, the controversy linked to a rigged election has shown the possibility that democracy at Sookmyung Women's University could collapse. If Sookmyung were to take into account the problems discussed in this article and strive for a fair vote process in the next election, both the university and Sookmyungians will become more democratic. Furthermore, it needs to pay continual attention to the voices of students and make every effort to consider their opinions.


Kim Lee Hyunmin / Editor-in-Chief
Kwon Jung Eunseo / Reporter

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