Chiang Mai Administrative Court rules in favour of CMU student

The Chiang Mai Administrative Court ruled in favour of students from the Media Arts and Design Department, Faculty of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University, who filed for a temporary injunction on 18 October after the University administration prohibited them from showing their final theses in the University Art Centre because some pieces dealt with social and political themes.

Media Arts and Design students and lecturers at the Administrative Court

The Court ruled that University Art Centre director Kitti Maleepan and Faculty of Fine Arts dean Asawinee Wanjing must consider and decide upon the students’ request to use the Art Centre once they received it. They should also not request additional documents or evidence and, if they content that the students have not submitted all the required documents, they must return the request with an explanation before the date and time the students request use of the building, so that the students and their lecturers can plan accordingly.

As students earlier occupied the Art Centre, exhibited their theses, and received grades from lecturers, the Court added that there was no reason to order the defendants to follow court guidelines or considered the matter of compensation for the students. It then ordered the case disposed. 

The lawsuit was filed in response to an order from the Faculty of Fine Arts forbidding 4th year students from exhibiting their final theses in the Art Centre, as it deemed some of the pieces political and therefore inappropriate for a public exhibition. 

An exhibition is required for the students to complete their project and receive grades from their lecturers. Unable to stage an exhibit, they were at risk of failing their class.

In an apparent effort to block the exhibition, water and electricity at the Media Arts and Design Department building were shut off, allegedly by order of the Faculty Dean. Entrances were also chained, locking several students working in the building inside the Faculty.

On 16 October, students and lecturers cut the chains, broke through the door of the Art Centre, and occupied the University Art Centre to set up their exhibition. The exhibit ranuntil 23 October as scheduled. On the closing night, they burned two coffins containing pictures of the Faculty Dean and University Principle in a symbolic act of protest.

Students also filed a petition on 25 October with the Chiang Mai University Council, the House Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice, and Human Rights, and the House Committee on Education to have university principle Dr Niwet Nantajit and Faculty of Fine Arts dean Asawinee Wanjing removed from office for attempting to prohibit students from exhibiting their theses and violating their academic freedom.

Students burned two coffins containing pictures of the Faculty Dean and University Principle on the exhibition's closing night in a symbolic act of protest.

Discussing the Administrative Court decision, Supanut Boonsod, a lawyer affiliated with Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that ruling confirms the rights of students and lecturers to use the University Art Centre, and must be taken into account if university administration tries to press charges against the individuals who occupied the Art Centre.

Supanut also said that the case sets a precedent for the future: if university administrators receive a student request to make use of facilities in line with established procedures, they cannot use unnecessary delays to block students’ freedom of expression. 

According to Media Arts and Design lecturer Pathompong Manakitsomboon, the court ruling confirms that the faculty administration’s actions were unlawful and likely to affect student graduation plans.  It also affirms that they have the right to use the Art Centre, as the Media Arts and Design department classrooms are also in the same area. He disagreed with the administration’s claim that the occupation of the Art Centre was an act of trespassing. 

Pathompong added that the exhibition was necessary, affecting students’ grades and graduation plans, and did not cause any damage to the Art Centre. He also said that museums and galleries normally do not have the right to interfere with an artist's work and the only thing they need to know is how the work is to be installed. 

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