CU student president removed from elected office for speeches of political activists

On 18 February, Chulalongkorn University (CU) vice rector Chaiyaporn Puprasert issued a letter announcing disciplinary action against Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal and Pitchakorn Roeksomphong, the president and first vice president of the CU student government.  The action included removing Netiwit office.

Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal

According to the document, the two were punished from organising a ‘surprise activity’ for Freshmen Orientation on 20 July 2021.  At the event, they reportedly showed videos of speeches given by Parit Chiwarak, Panussaya Sitthijirawattanakul and Prof Pavin Chachavalpongpun without giving prior notice to the Office of Student Affairs.

The letter stated that Parit, in his speech, used crude language with freshmen and their parents. He also invited students to ‘give the finger’ to the university executives as a symbolic action that the students are equal in terms of the university ownership, a degrading expression damaging the unity and integrity of Thai culture and tradition which might incite students to violate the law.

The letter from CU regarding Netiwit and Pitchakorn point deduction

As Netiwit invited Parit to the event, advertised about a ‘surprise activity’ on his social media account and failed to stop Pitchakorn, the student officer responsible for conducting the orientation program as agreed upon by the Student Affairs Office, he was held to have violated Section 6 and 12 of the CU Student Discipline Code B.E.2529

Both students were ‘fined’ 10 merit points and Netiwit was immediately dismissed from his position as CU student president.  Pitchakorn is currently an undergraduate student of the Faculty of Education while Netiwit is a 4th year student of Political Science.

Netiwit told Prachatai that he will appeal the decision at the university and, if necessary, take the case to the Administrative Court.

He added: “Chula is like Thai society, where hierarchy is more important than reason and adults are more righteous than children. The university merit point system is out of date.   It has been used all along by teachers to exert power over students.  Students get points deducted if they wear their uniforms improperly or behave in a way teachers don’t like.  The regulation involves many things that are open to interpretation, like ‘the violation of proper Thai culture’.  It is about politics.  It is about controlling students, about not letting them grow up, about not letting them develop their own ideas and self-expression. The regulations are used against those brave enough to think outside the box.”

In Saturday, CU Executive committee of Student Government issued a statement objecting to the university decision, saying that the activity was still counted as an exercise of academic freedom in line with the Constitution and that it was unjustified action against legality.

"On the contrary, such arbitrary discretion by the Discipline Committee is what destroys global credibility of Chulalongkorn University as evidence by the fact that the Director of the Harvard University Asia Center warned Harvard students that they could be punished from expressing different opinions and that the academic freedom is suppressed in Chulalongkorn University. These worsen the position of Chulalongkorn University in the opinions of developed countries, and inevitably affects the prestige of the University."

"Hence, Executive Committee of Student Government of Chulalongkorn University asserts that the deduction of merit points and the removal of Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal from the office of President of Student Government are unjustified actions and severely against the principle of legality," stated the statement.

Netiwit was elected student president on 31 March 2021. He received 10,324 votes out of 14,691 voters.  The second most popular candidate received only 2,030 votes. The high turnout rate and landslide victory of a person demonised by conservative media since high school is remarkable.

In 2017, CU dismissed Netiwit from the position of student council president for staging a symbolic protest during a university initiation ceremony.   Citing King Chulalongkorn’s 1873 ban on prostration, Netiwit refused to prostrate himself in front of a statue of the king and walked out of an oath ceremony, a ritual held every year for freshmen students. The case ended in the Administrative Court, where he recovered some of the merit point deducted by the university.  He was not reinstated into his position, however.

In high school, Netiwit championed progressive issues like abolishing haircut regulations and mandatory buddhist prayers. He also advocated for ending military conscription. 

Before his dismissal, he and his friends were working on plans to improve the quality of living in communities around the University,  They also opposed university gentrification plans for its own land plots.

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