Fletcher establishes Korean Studies chair
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 08:10
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy this semester created a chair position for Korean Studies, allowing for an increase in the school’s course offerings on Korean history and affairs.
Assistant Professor of Korean Studies Sung-Yoon Lee (F ’94), who specializes in Korea and U.S.-East Asia relations, was appointed as the first chair-holder.
“[Lee] is very much a practitioner,” Dean of the Fletcher School Stephen Bosworth said. “He writes opinion pieces on developments in both North and South Korea, he has an extensive [curriculum vitae] and he is an excellent teacher ... his student evaluations are outstanding.”
The Korean Studies chair will be funded by an endowment from the Kim Koo Foundation and the Korea Foundation, the latter of which is funded by the South Korean government, according to Bosworth. The endowment does not currently cover the full cost of employing Lee, but Bosworth is confident that it will grow.
Lee, who has taught for a number of years in the Department of History and at Fletcher, was hired for the professorship after an international search. As a tenure-track employee, Lee will be expected to teach three to four courses per year and regularly publish scholarly work on the Korean Peninsula before coming up for tenure review.
Lee immigrated to the United States in 1984 to attend high school and college, later pursuing a Master of Arts in law and diplomacy as well as a doctoral degree at Fletcher. Although he has worked with the Korea Institute at Harvard University, he said he has considered Fletcher his intellectual haven for the past 20 years.
“My role is to commit myself to teaching and doing research on Korean politics and to engage the students, scholars and policy makers in the region and at the Fletcher School to take an interest in Korea,” Lee said. “I feel very privileged to have that opportunity. It’s really a dream come true.”
Lee said he has been strongly influenced by his mentor and former academic advisor, Fletcher School Professor John Perry. The two first met in Seoul, South Korea and bonded over their shared interest in Korean history and culture, according to Perry.
“He has forensic eloquence,” Perry said. “He’s a master of the English language, and he’s a fine speaker. Many academics are not particularly interested in that, but he’s done extremely well as a practitioner of the spoken art.”
Korea’s role in the world today is an important success story and potential model for developing countries, according to Lee.
Although South Korea suffered from extreme poverty in the 1960s, Lee said the country is now a strong leader in the electronics, car and shipbuilding industries.
However, Lee explained that his main area of study is North Korea, which he calls an “exemplary failed state” in contrast to its southern neighbor.
“North Korea embodies all the problems that the international relations student is interested in,” he said. “You have a communist dynasty — which is a unique phenomenon — you have the world’s most isolated country, nuclear proliferation, gross human rights violations and a famine taking place in an industrialized, literate economy, which the world has never seen before.”
Lee said he is writing a book about democracy in the Korean Peninsula called “In Due Course: The Conception of Korean Freedom,” in which he postulates that South Korea will eventually absorb North Korea.
Sooyeon Kang, a second-year graduate student at Fletcher and one of Lee’s thesis advisees, believes the professor has a talent for engaging a classroom.
Kang also praised Lee’s support of the budding North Korean Scholarship Society, a group of students that gathers to discuss events and academic work related to North Korea.
“I think the establishment of the chairmanship itself signifies a growing interest in Korea,” Kang said. “Professor Lee will mobilize that momentum to increase the awareness of the significance of the region.”