Private campus tours impact SNU campus life

"[Private campus tours] are too noisy and make campus life uncomfortable," said a Seoul National University student.

"It's fine for them to come to the campus, but it seems they shouldn't enter spaces where they're not supposed to," said another graduate student.

Who are these individuals dissatisfied with?

Many of you have probably seen a group of students dressed in school uniforms walking around the campus. They are students who have come for a “campus tour” along with university student mentors, touring around campus and engaging in various activities.

There is a clear distinction between privately organized campus tours and official campus tours organized by Seoul National University. Official campus tours are programs available at many universities. In the case of SNU, there are several campus tour programs conducted in collaboration with student ambassadors, such as SHINE. These official campus tour programs are typically well-organized with appropriate group sizes, structured curricula, and well-trained mentors, and they are generally carried out without significant problems.

On the other hand, private institution-led campus tours often cause issues on campus. These private campus tours are conducted by tour agencies that recruit students and college mentors to participate in campus tours through the Internet and print advertising. The participating student groups vary depending on the nature of the tour. For simple visits, students from elementary school to high school may participate, but for career and education-related campus tours, the age range of participants tends to be slightly higher. Private campus tour companies charge a participation fee from students and distribute a daily wage to mentors, keeping the remaining amount as profit. Their main goal is not to accurately transmit credible and exclusive information about the university, nor is it about managing the students; they primarily aim to generate profit which is why the companies do not have any incentive to control the problems that may arise during the tour. Students participating in private campus tours sometimes make excessive noise within the campus, and this can be a source of inconvenience to other students. Furthermore, a significant number of the mentors responsible for managing these students have not received proper training, making it very challenging to effectively control their behaviors.

In a survey conducted by The SNU Quill, 54.2 percent reported experiencing noise disturbances due to private campus tours. Furthermore, 92.3 percent of respondents answered that the noise disturbances had an impact on their university life. The location where noise issues were predominantly raised was the Kwanjeong Library, followed by department buildings, and the Student Center. This indicates that students at SNU are indeed experiencing the effects of noise disturbances caused by private campus tours.

It is easy to find more concrete examples of the problems caused by private campus tours. On Everytime, a social networking service frequently used by SNU students, there are numerous posts expressing dissatisfaction with campus tours. According to these posts, some students currently studying at SNU have had their study environment significantly disrupted by the noise coming from students participating in campus tours, particularly in areas near the library. Furthermore, in recent incidents, more campus tour students have been seen entering Kwanjeong Library, potentially indicating the increasing severity of the issue.

Another commonly mentioned issue was the inconvenience caused in the university cafeteria. Private tour participants share the university cafeteria with SNU students. As tour mentors instruct all tour participants to use only one cafeteria, SNU students who dine together with tour participants inevitably have to endure long queues. This is especially problematic for students who need to eat quickly between classes.

"I have to finish my meal at the Arts Building cafeteria within 30 minutes, but due to the longer lines created by campus tour students, I’ve had to give up on my meal," complained a SNU student.

Another problem lies in the suitability of the mentors conducting campus tours. In preparation of handling official campus tours, SHINE (SNU's official student ambassadors) members thoroughly familiarize themselves with a detailed script. This is an all-encompassing guide, consisting of the history, geography, and other comprehensive information related to SNU. After mastering this information, mentors undergo extensive training through rehearsals. Only after completing all these steps do they become eligible to conduct campus tours.

On the contrary, mentors for private campus tours are individuals who work for a daily wage and may conduct tours without having extensive knowledge or experience related to SNU. They typically receive brief pre-tour training on the day they are scheduled to conduct the tour. As a result, the possibility of these mentors conveying inaccurate information remains, and their ability to effectively manage the students is not guaranteed. However, as campus tours serve as a way to introduce the university to external individuals, there is a significant responsibility to spread accurate information. Therefore, campus tour mentoring is not a task that can be done by just anyone or with a minimal burden, as job postings for these short-term gigs often emphasize.

A student who had participated as a private campus mentor shared their experience, stating that being a mentor posed challenges including the need to conduct campus tours based solely on their limited knowledge about the school. This not only created difficulties due to a lack of information but also made it challenging to capture the attention of the students during the tour.

Another worrying aspect of tour mentors is that it is not uncommon for them to have no affiliation with the university at all. Private campus tour agencies, in cases where they cannot find Seoul National University students for the job, often recruit students from other universities and even non-students as mentors to conduct campus tours. If a non-SNU student serves as a mentor for the campus tour, it becomes more likely that they will convey information about the school that is far from the truth. Additionally, since they lack a sense of connection to the school, they are less motivated to show the university in a good light. They also may not feel the need to prevent actions that could harm the school because even if campus tourists cause issues, it is not the mentors’ own university, so they are not directly affected.

The last and perhaps most troubling issue is the damage inflicted on the university by students participating in private campus tours. On 2 June, 2023, students who came for a campus tour at SNU played a game of tag and activated an emergency shower on the first floor of building 504. Building 504 is part of the College of Natural Sciences, a space where lots of experimental research is conducted. If the water from the emergency shower or the students' carelessness had damaged experimental samples, it could have resulted in significant setbacks to research and harmed the university's research capabilities.

Another example can be found at Seoul National University's main gate. Recently, the university repainted the main gate as part of renovation work. Less than a year later, it is already covered in scribbles from students on campus tours such as “Class of 2029 OOO, OOO was here.” SNU students have expressed dissatisfaction with the appearance, and repainting it would result in a loss of both time and resources for the university.

So, is there a way to address the problems caused by private campus tours? Some members of the university community argue that private campus tours should be banned entirely. However, due to the nature of our campus, completely prohibiting private campus tours is very challenging; SNU is a public institution with an open campus, which allows not only enrolled students but also the general public to visit freely.

Since a complete prohibition of private campus tours is difficult, all stakeholders — current students, users of private campus tours, and the university itself — should strive for mutual coexistence. Within the university, the administration needs to clearly define the entity responsible for managing private campus tours, as the ultimate responsibility for campus management lies with the university administration. Currently, the administration is aware of the potential for conflicts during the tour process. However, since there are no regulations or policies regarding private campus tours, they should establish an internal system to address these matters as soon as possible.

One example could be providing an official letter to private campus tour companies, containing the necessary guidelines for conducting tours. This letter could explicitly state the areas that students participating in the campus tour are allowed to visit and places they should refrain from visiting. Additionally, it can include details about the school's history, structure, and other relevant details to guarantee an accurate and comprehensive campus tour.

Mentors engaging in private campus tours must be mindful not to disrupt the education and research activities of university members, emphasizing the importance of respecting the campus as a dedicated space for academic pursuits and advising tour participants to refrain from disturbing students and researchers. Since the participants themselves may not realize this, the organizers and mentors responsible for the campus tour should consistently communicate this information to them. If campus tour companies fail to show even the most minimal effort, dissatisfaction among students will likely continue to grow.

The campus is a place for academic research, and at the same time, it's an open space for everyone. Until now, SNU students, though reluctantly, have been understanding of private campus tours and the associated inconveniences. This understanding stemmed from the students’ acknowledgment of the university campus as an open space and also remembering the admiration they had for the school when they were young. However, if the issue of private campus tours remains unresolved in the future, their patience may be put to the test. In light of this, institutions such as the university administration and the student council must promptly propose solutions to address the matter.