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SNU nominee withdraws over sexual misconduct

July 10,2018
Seoul National University, one of Korea’s most prestigious schools, is under fire for nominating a professor with a record of sexually harassing women to be its next president.

Kang Dae-hee, a professor at Seoul National University’s Department of Biomedical Sciences, was supposed to succeed Sung Nak-in, whose term as president ends on July 19, when allegations surfaced last week that Kang had a record of sexual harassment.

In one incident from June 2011, a female reporter said Kang sexually harassed her during a dinner. “A day after the gathering, the reporter talked to the university’s president at the time,” a member of the staff at Seoul National University said on the condition of anonymity. “Kang then resigned from his post as deputy head of a committee to incorporate the university.”

Other women came forward with allegations as well. “I heard from a professor herself that Kang sexually harassed her in a karaoke room one evening,” Jeon Wha-sook, a computer science professor, told Hankyoreh, a local daily, on Thursday. “I am quite confident that he did sexually harass her.”

Kang rescinded his candidacy on Friday after the Ministry of Education requested the university provide records of his alleged misconduct. Before the media reports surfaced, Kang was awaiting approval from the education minister. He already earned a nod from an internal committee and the university board.

“I am sorry to everyone for causing trouble through these media reports on me in the past few days,” Kang said in a statement. “This has been an opportunity to learn about my faults and look back on my past. I hereby rescind my application as a candidate. I sincerely apologize to everyone who may have been hurt because of me.”

With the nomination withdrawn, the university’s presidential appointment committee and board of directors are now facing flak for knowing about the allegations and still deciding to push forward with Kang’s nomination.

Lee Cheol-soo, head of the committee, said they had investigated the allegations and shared their findings with the board of directors before narrowing down the candidates to three. Kang was one of them.

According to Lee, the board spoke to the female reporter in May and still made the final decision to nominate Kang.

“We can’t say the committee or the board failed in their clearance checks on the candidates or tried to cover up the allegations,” Lee said. “We’re not trying to shirk responsibility here, but we also need to investigate and find out where the clearance check may have gone wrong so that we do not repeat what happened.”

Criticism is mounting against the committee and board.

“The board is going to try to select a new president now,” said Shin Jae-yong, the student body president, “but it better make sure it does not make the same mistake.”

In a statement from Friday, the university said it was “up to the board to decide how to go about the selection process to nominate the next president,” after Kang rescinded his candidacy.

BY SONG WOO-YEONG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]