Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) fires first President, Robert Laughlin.

April 12, 2006 at 2:51 pm | | news

A few years ago, KAIST made a bit of a stink at Stanford by hiring away Nobel Laurreatte Physicist Robert Laughlin to be their first University President (they paid him about $500,000 U.S. a year). This was part of South Korea’s new initiative to compete with Japan, China, and India in becoming the premier Asian science nation.

Laughlin immediately expressed his wish to make a variety of “radical” changes – privitazing the university and charging tuition, adding pre-medicine and pre-law departments, and focusing on undergraduate education as well as graduate education. Basically, he sought to “Westernize” the univeristy. He came under just-as-immediate attack by the faculty, who claimed he was hired not to make drastic changes, but to simply make the university more prominent in the world by just…well…being there.

Anyway, the Board of Trustees for the university voted unanimously not to renew his contract.

Laughlin claims that he wasn’t given clear expectations, and (according to rumor) has been heard commenting that the University was backwards compared to U.S. universities, and that it wanted notariety, not reform. The University claims that Laughlin alienated the professors and failed to provide a clear vision for KAIST’s future. Shortly before his removal, they also began a campaign focusing on “abuses” of funding for business trips to foreign countries.

Regardless of everything that’s happened, both sides do agree on one ting – that for KAIST to successfully undergo reform, it needs someone that’s familiar not only with science, but with South Korean culture and politics.

Sources: Science, The Korea Times, San Jose Mercury News

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