|▲ An empty office of the General Student Council on the second floor of the Student Union 1 building
Chonnam National University (CNU) has been facing a crisis of student autonomy. The General Student Council has not been formed for the last two years due to the low turnout of voters in 2019 and election failure in 2020. The 2021 GSC inaugurated in January, but at the non-contact Student General Meeting (SGM) on March 16, students voted to impeach its president for unsavory incidents. Their impeachment, however, was rejected due to a low turnout, and he submitted his resignation letter to the Central Operation Committee (COC) on March 18. The Chonnam Tribune looked over the current situation concerning the GSC and listened to students’ opinions about the necessity of student self-government at the university.
The Past and Current Situation of the 2021 GSC
Last December, the COC held a lottery event with prizes to encourage people to vote in the presidential election of the 2021 GSC. The event had some issues including redrawing the prize after the closed lottery and having blurred videos during the livestreaming. In addition, as one of the prize winners was one of the authorities, suspicions were raised about manipulating the prize draw.
Through further investigation, it was proved that there was no evidence of manipulation. Students, however, were disappointed with the lack of communication and late response of the GSC, regarding the problems. After that, another doubt arose about the religion of the GSC’s vice president Han Che-young (Senior, Dept. of Agricultural and Biological Chemistry), and she resigned with the suspicions unclarified. “Resignation is not an individual problem but a systemic problem. It was caused by maintaining the old system to the present,” said Hyeon Jae-hwan (Senior, Dept. of Philosophy).
On February 17, the Student Council Expanded Operation Committee decided to have an online vote on the impeachment of the 2021 GSC President Lim Gi-ahn (Senior, Dept. of Statistics) at the SGM last Tuesday, however, his impeachment was disapproved. Voting rates should be over 50 percent of the voter eligible population and the agreement of the two thirds of the voters. Consequently, the presidential by-election for a new GSC will be held this semester.
The Need for Change in the System
Over the past two years, the GSC and even the majority of college student councils were vacant. The 2021 GSC organized last December ended with the resignations of its presidential members. Many students have likely been getting used to not having the student councils, and they do not feel uncomfortable without the student self-government bodies. They also may think that student councils are unnecessary, particularly the GSC. The absurd situation of the 2021 GSC made students question the necessity of the GSC. Some students insisted the need for change in systems and policies of the student self-government body at CNU.
“Over the past few years, the GSC seemed to be more interested in protesting for other’s rights outside the campus rather than students’ rights and welfare. I think the GSC that did not give students trust does not need to exist. A communication group consisted of students would be better to play the role of self-governance rather than the irresponsible GSC,” said Jung Dong-hwan (Junior, School of Polymer Science and Engineering). “I had always thought that the organization was unnecessary, until I noticed the reliable actions of former president Lim like gathering students’ opinions which made me feel the necessity of the GSC,” said Kim Hyeon-jin (Sophomore, Dept. of Computer Engineering).
The GSC is the top organization that represents the opinions of the whole student population. To gain students’ trust, it should be an organization for students’ rights and welfare. Rather than fighting with the school authorities, the GSC needs to negotiate with them in reasonable and democratic ways. If the GSC is ready to be the ‘real’ representative group for students, they would feel that the council is absolutely necessary for their campus life. Actually, Lim’s GSC suggested extending the opening times of the CNU Library 1 building and the stabilization of the course registration server, during its short working period.
The Future of the GSC
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the absence of the GSC makes freshmen and returning students more confused. They may need ways to convey their demands and feel the necessity of the independent student body, expecting that it will do its proper roles as a representative student self-government organization. The COC has renovated bylaws related to the presidential election to prevent similar problems from recurring, starting from the next by-election. The voting rate for being elected as the GSC’s president has been changed to be over a third of the voter eligible population, and students will be able to cast blank ballots. The presidential candidates must be open about their religion and their favorite political party before the election. “Students got more interested in the GSC than they were in past years. Being the representative organization of the students, the role of the GSC has to work for students’ rights and interests. I hope the new GSC does the job well and matches the students’ interest and expectation,” said Lim.
The current situation has received a lot of attention from students. They hope the new GSC is established and continues to communicate with students. The presidential by-election will be a chance to prove the necessity of the council to students. Therefore, presidential candidates for the GSC need to present pledges and positive images so that students may feel the necessity of the council. Students also have to thoroughly judge the candidates and vote for a candidate who is able to guarantee the rights and welfare of the students. If so, newly-elected GSC members will not ignore students' opinions, and their interest can be sustained. The upcoming election is very important for the future of the GSC and students. All students should cast their vote and make their voice heard. After that, they can continue to pay attention to the students’ union for their welfare on campus.
By Baek Du-jin, Tribune Reporter