5C Korean Student Association calls for apology from CMC professor implicated in controversial law journal article

The Kravis Center, a red building with glass windows. The sky can be seen on the left in the background.
The 5C Korean Student Association demands an apology from CMC professor Eric A. Helland for sanctioning a controversial article. (Liam Brooks • The Student Life)

Content warning: Sexual abuse

The 5C Korean Student Association is demanding an apology from Claremont McKenna College professor of economics Eric Helland for sanctioning an article in the International Review of Law and Economics — of which he is an editor — that contains what their statement calls “revisionist narratives” about comfort women.

Titled “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War” and authored by Harvard Law School Japanese legal studies professor Mark Ramseyer, the article claims that comfort women, or women coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, “chose prostitution.”

KSA issued a petition Feb. 27 that calls for the article to be “omitted immediately as it contains obvious, historically inaccurate claims which are damaging to the history of comfort women.”

The petition further cites that Helland’s role as someone overseeing the publishing of the article on the editorial board of IRLE is “academically irresponsible” and “pushes revisionist narratives perpetuated by wartime apologists with woefully insufficient supporting evidence.” 

In response to TSL inquiry, KSA co-president Andrew Lee PO ’23 shared a statement written by the KSA executive board March 26. 

“We call upon Eric Helland to apologize not just to Korean students at the Claremont Colleges and beyond, but especially to the women who suffered sexual slavery by the Japanese military and government,” the statement said. “We want him to acknowledge how his actions as a white male academic have contributed to the silencing of Korean and other Asian women who have survived sexual slavery.” 

Helland could not respond to TSL for comment about these accusations because, according to Helland, IRLE’s publisher asked him to refrain from publicly commenting, citing an ongoing investigation IRLE is conducting on the article.

According to Lee, KSA was first made aware of the article when they received an email Feb. 20 from Harvard’s Korea Caucus — a student organization at Harvard University — which notified them that CMC professors Helland and David Bjerk were part of the editorial board that sanctioned the article. 

Bjerk was not part of the editorial board that reviewed the article in question and is only an associate editor for the journal, according to CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby. While the petition initially called on Bjerk to also issue an apology, KSA removed his name from the petition March 27 after learning that he was not associated in facilitating the publication of the article.

In an email to TSL, Bjerk said that the first he heard of Ramseyer’s article was Feb. 24, well after it was published online in early December 2020. 

“I had nothing to do with the editorial process or its acceptance, and was caught off-guard as much as anyone,” Bjerk told TSL. He also expressed that, “even if Ramseyer didn’t misrepresent his sources,” the article doesn’t provide “convincing evidence” that women discussed in the article were partaking in voluntary contracts.

IRLE launched its investigation Feb. 10, according to Silsby, and posted an expression of concern online to notify readers of the ongoing investigation. 

The journal is in discussion with the author regarding these concerns and has also solicited further post-publication comments from several expert reviewers. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available,” the statement said. 

While the journal has delayed printing its March publication to accommodate any comments or necessary corrections to the article, the article cannot be taken down since it has already been published, according to Silsby. 

“Under [Committee on Publication Ethics] guidelines, once an article is published, it cannot be taken down or revised. This is common practice for scholarly research in academic journals,” she said. “The reason for this is to preserve a transparent record of what was published, the findings of any investigations, and any correction to the record, if needed. The whole process must be documented.”

Upon speaking to CMC faculty, KSA co-president Caroline Kim PO ’23 learned how tedious the process of removing an academic article from a journal is. 

“That’s why we transitioned into asking for an apology for being a faculty at the 5Cs and letting such an article like that pass without questioning it at all,” Kim said. 

Bjerk told TSL that he and other associate editors are waiting to hear more about the results of the investigation after meeting with the editors about the article early March. 

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