Ja Song, who was a student on the vanguard of WashU’s earliest links with Korea and rose to become president of one of its top universities, died on August 22.
Song was among the first Korean students to come to Washington University when the US government tapped Olin Business School to work with two South Korean universities to rehabilitate their business programs after the war in that country. Song earned his MBA from Olin in 1962 and his doctorate in business administration from the school in 1967.
South Korean news sources reported last week on Song’s death at age 83. He had served as the 12th president of Yonsei University from 1992 to 1996. The same reports indicated Song had also led Myongji University and the Cyber University of Korea before serving as South Korea’s minister of education in 2000. Olin named Song a distinguished alumnus in 2003 when he was CEO of Daekyo Co. Ltd., South Korea’s leading educational information service provider.
While leading Yonsei, he and then-Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton launched a student exchange agreement between Yonsei and WashU. Song also served as a member of WashU’s International Advisory Council for Asia.
‘A very good friend’
“More than anyone, he maintained the connection of the school with Korea, and that’s continued through to the present day,” said Robert Virgil, WashU Olin dean emeritus and a contemporary of Song’s in the business school in the early 1960s. “I remember him as a very good friend, dedicated academic, a very serious person and a great ambassador of his country and of the Olin school.”
In an interview with Olin Business School in 2017, Song was effusive in his praise of the contribution WashU made through the so-called “Korea Project,” partnering students and faculty with their counterparts at Yonsei and Korea universities to establish quality business curricula at the two schools.
“It was not only trying to train the teacher, they trained industry people,” Song said on the occasion of Olin’s 100th anniversary. “They had conferences for them. That project had many purposes to help us know the new developments and skills in teaching about business.”
After graduating in 1962, Song served a mandatory 16-month tour in the South Korean army and returned to Olin to earn his doctorate in accounting. He taught for 10 years at the University of Connecticut, then he taught in Korea until 1992 when he began his tenure as Yonsei’s president.
‘A great champion of Olin’
“Ja Song was a great champion of Olin Business School, Yonsei University and other business schools,” said former Olin Dean Mahendra Gupta. “He was instrumental in re-establishing relationships with Yonsei and starting the global master of finance program.”
Media reports from South Korea said Song had received honors from his country in 1997 for his contributions to education and alumni honors from Yonsei in 1998 and 2003. School officials noted that Song was instrumental in starting Yonsei’s first school development fund, raising 100 billion won during his tenure—or about $82.3 million today.
He was reportedly involved with a number of South Korean social service agencies for children and wrote several groundbreaking accounting textbooks.
Song’s survivors include his wife, Tak Soon-hee, his daughters Eun-mi Song and Jeong-yeon Song, and his sons-in-law Park Ki-nam and Choi Jae-hoon. Funeral services were reportedly held the morning of August 26 on the Yonsei University grounds.