This statement is written in response to many news reports, articles and commentaries that appeared in the international press in relation to the recent ruling at Chulalongkorn University on a group of students for their disciplinary misconduct associated with their disruptive behavior at a university’s function in early August. While we appreciate that members of the international press see our internal matter as newsworthy, there are a few clarifications that may deserve your consideration.
First, we are reticent about public communication on this matter. In the past, we have kept details of such ruling confidential for fear of affecting the future of the students. But in this particular case, a fair amount of false and distorted information have been disseminated in different media, so the university is obliged to get its story straight while refraining from revealing the identification of the students.
Secondly, we want to assure that the ruling followed all routine procedures of the university’s disciplinary protocols. Such protocols also exist and are implemented in leading universities around the world. Independent facts-finding and deliberation were carried out in the same manner as would be in other disciplinary cases and in line with the university’s regulation on student discipline. If dissatisfied with the ruling, the students hold the right to appeal
Thirdly, while criticisms have been abound about the university’s conservatism and not being open to differences, we would like to stress that the university does respect different opinions and accommodates different beliefs. All of the university’s functions including the “oath of allegiance” ceremony which has been organized since 1997 for all first-year students to pay respect and take an oath before the statues of King Rama V and Rama VI, the two founders of the university, are voluntary activities. Students are free to opt out with no consequences whatsoever.
Moreover, although paying obeisance (thawai bangkhom) has been a common form of paying respect to the two statues, a space was also designated and sufficiently notified for students with special physical condition, religious beliefs, or political attitudes and ideologies that would interfere with their kneeling and paying obeisance. The reprimanded group of students were aware of this designated space as evidenced in the fact that they have been advocating for this new alternative via their social media platforms. But they chose to disrupt the process by strolling out of the line reserved for their rank as university council members and performed their “symbolic act”—bowing – to contrast with hundreds of other students who were paying obeisance in unison. (See…Difference between paying obeisance and prostration)
While the reprimanded group of students are not wrong in advocating on grounds of freedom of expression, we also insist that every community and society has the right to reserve a certain space or activity as an exception from the free speech rule. This space could be a space of holiness, sensitivity, or pain. The “oath of allegiance” ceremony, although conceived 20 years ago some years after the installation of the statues in 1987, has been widely regarded as a holy ritual in the university’s community which extends from students to staff and alumni. (See…The oath of allegiance ceremony for first-year students at Chulalongkorn University)
Meanwhile, an investigation and disciplinary procedure are underway for the lecturer who restrained one of the students during the incident on 3 August. What happened is an unpleasant episode for the university. This lecturer resigned from his position as assistant to the president (student affairs) since 7 August 2017, a few days after the unfortunate incident.
While we understand that news media have freedom of speech, we also ask that journalists be accurate, unbiased, and fair to our situation. Our handling of this situation, albeit culturally sensitive, is purely an internal affair that should not be linked with divisive politics and suppression of dissent which seem to be the dominant discourse or news frame presented in western and local English-language media. Our university has a long history and a royal lineage that are imbued in our tradition and beliefs that may be uncommon to western liberal values. Much that we support liberalism and freedom of expression, we also have our cultural roots and harmony to balance. We would appreciate understanding and sensitivity to our standing in media coverage.
Amended on 6 September 2017, 19.00 hrs.