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Professor, target of Me Too, dies

Ministry of Education to probe schools over cases of harassment
Mar 19,2018
A professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies who was being investigated by the university on accusations of sexually harassing his students committed suicide at his home in Seoul on Saturday.

The professor, who taught a foreign language at the university, was accused on Wednesday by three students of sexually harassing them.

“The professor would try to touch me or say sexually abusive things whenever I had a one-on-one class with him,” read a Facebook post allegedly written by three students of the university. “Once, during class he told me, ‘Don’t mumble at the end, that kind of sound is what men and women make when they are having sex together.’ Another time, in explaining how to pronounce a word, he said, ‘Have you ever kissed anyone? The sound is like when you are kissing someone.’

“He put his hand on my shoulder numerous times and moved my hair from one side to another while his hand lingered on the back of my neck,” wrote another student in the post. “Once during class, he told a male student, ‘I don’t like sticking my USB chip into the school computer, I’m afraid it might get a virus. Who knows how many different chips were inserted there? It’s like inserting my stuff into a prostitute, where different people inserted their stuff…Have you inserted your stuff a lot?’ None of us in the class knew what to do or say.

“He was basically the king of the department at the university,” the student said. “So even though I’d say to myself that I wouldn’t let things pass, it wasn’t easy to stand up to him because of the power and influence he held in the university.”

The university on Thursday said it would investigate the professor.

But two days later, the professor was found dead in his home. His wife found him around 1 p.m. Saturday and reached out to authorities.

“The professor died on Saturday,” said the university. “We think it was because he couldn’t stand the extreme level of pressure he faced [after the accusations surfaced].”

Police said they didn’t find any evidence of murder. “He wrote a note in his cellphone to his wife saying that he was sorry,” said a police officer.

The university and police decided not to reveal the name of the professor to the public.

As Korea’s Me Too movement grows, an increasing number of professors have been accused of sexually harassing their students.

The Ministry of Education on Sunday asked Myongji College in western Seoul to expel Park Jung-hyeon, a 56-year-old professor in the theater and cinema department who has been accused of sexually harassing students. Students accused Park of calling them into his office to give him massages on his thighs and even buttocks and groping the students in the office, and even in front of other students in class.

The university expelled Park from public service on Feb. 26. Expulsion from public service means a professor cannot take up a teaching job over the next five years and may face a cut in his or her pension funds.

Including Park, there are a total of five professors in the theater and cinema department at Myongji College who have been accused of sexual harassment. The Education Ministry said it requested the prosecution to investigate the case.

The department’s 37 students issued a joint statement accusing male professors of the department of sexual harassment earlier this month.

The Education Ministry plans to investigate universities throughout the country during the first half of the year to uncover cases of sexual harassment.

“Where we find evidence of sexual misconduct,” said Education Minister Kim Sang-kon, “we will take strict disciplinary actions and request that the authorities investigate.”

BY CHO HAN-DAE, SUNG SI-YOON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]