The never-ending saga of resume padding by S. Korea’s new first lady

Posted on : 2022-05-29 08:54 KST Modified on : 2022-05-29 08:54 KST
An audit has found that Kim Keon-hee misrepresented her experience on her resume
Kim Keon-hee, the wife of President Yoon Suk-yeol, applauds during the inauguration ceremony on May 10. (National Assembly pool photo)
Kim Keon-hee, the wife of President Yoon Suk-yeol, applauds during the inauguration ceremony on May 10. (National Assembly pool photo)

The scandal over false claims in South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee’s resume isn’t over.

Just when the ordeal appeared to come to an end when the Ministry of Education announced the results of its special audit of Kookmin University on Jan. 25, it has recently entered a new phase with the belated discovery on May 4 that the university had requested an administrative judgment on April 25 to overturn the outcome of the ministry’s audit and the ministry’s instructions.

The fact is that the ministry’s audit didn’t reveal anything new. Kim herself acknowledged trying to make herself look better by padding her resume with incorrect information when she apologized to the public in a press conference on Dec. 26, 2021. The ministry then said its audit had “confirmed that Kim had included inaccurate information about her academic and employment background in her application for becoming an adjunct professor at Kookmin University in the first semester of the 2014 academic year.”

More specifically, the audit found that Kim had misrepresented herself in the past employment section of her resume as having been an “associate professor (adjunct)” at Korea Polytechnic University (Gangseo Campus) when she had actually been a “lecturer and industry-university adjunct teacher.” In the academic experience section of her resume, she also claimed that her master’s degree in business administration had been issued by the business administration department at Seoul National University (SNU), rather than by SNU’s separate business school.

Following the audit, the ministry asked Kookmin University to act upon its regulations by reviewing the academic and employment information in Kim’s application and canceling her employment. That request was based on Article 18 of Kookmin University’s regulations about hiring non-tenure teaching staff, which says that “the employment of non-tenure teaching staff will be canceled effective immediately when falsehoods are discovered in the information provided and documents submitted at the time of employment.”

When the results of a ministry audit are announced, universities typically ask the ministry for another review and only request an administrative judgment or file an administrative lawsuit after the ministry rejects that request.

But Kookmin University took a different course of action. It didn’t request another review, even though it had a month to do so. Instead, the university bided its time until two weeks before Yoon’s inauguration, when it requested an administrative judgment for what it described as “baseless and unfair observations that misrepresent the facts of the case.”

That move has been criticized by politicians such as Democratic Party lawmaker Kang Min-jung, who said that Kookmin University is “trying to curry favor by defending the first lady’s career.”

There’s no way to tell when a final decision will be reached. When other universities have requested an administrative judgment following a ministry audit and instructions, it has taken seven to eight months for a decision. But even if the university loses in the administrative judgment, it still has the option of filing an administrative lawsuit.

Ironically, the controversy over Kim’s falsified resume has helped bring about systemic improvements. The ministry revised its manual for managing university faculty last month, with the result that from now on universities will be required to only move forward with the main review of an application for a non-tenure teaching position if the information in the application is consistent with the supporting documents in the initial review. Universities will also be required to confirm that the supporting documents are genuine before making a final decision about hiring an applicant.

Furthermore, the revision to the rules for hiring public servants in the educational sector that the Ministry of Education announced on May 4 clearly requires universities to confirm whether the academic and employment information in the resume match documents submitted in the preliminary review stage of hiring tenure-track teaching staff.

In addition, the ministry plans to revise the Higher Education Act to create the grounds for directly asking universities to terminate both tenure-track and non-tenure teaching staff when falsehoods turn up on their resume.

While the government continues to move forward with various measures designed to prevent scandals such as the one involving Kim Keon-hee, it is uncertain how much Koreans will be impressed as long as the consequences for Kim herself continue to be delayed.

That’s sure to raise doubts about the sincerity of Kim’s apology. During her press conference, Kim said, “Looking back, I feel so ashamed. I will be faithful in my duties as a wife even if my husband becomes president.”

The country is still waiting for an outcome that will conform to the principles of “fairness” and “common sense” on which Yoon has promised to run his administration.

By Lee Yu-jin, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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