University Council petitioned to reject investigation into historian’s thesis

After it was disclosed that an investigation report into allegations that historian Nattapol Chaiching falsified information in his PhD thesis may itself contain falsehoods, political scientist Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead has published an open letter to the Chulalongkorn University Council, calling on it to reject the report.

Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead (left, on wheelchair) handing her petition to Pomthong Malakul na Ayuthaya (right)

Nattapol completed his PhD at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University in 2009. His thesis, entitled “Thai Politics in Phibun’s Government Under the U.S. World Order (1948-1957),” explores US intervention in Thailand during the period leading up to the 1957 military coup led by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

An article by Thongchai Winichakul and Tyrell Haberkorn, published on the New Mandala website, noted that Nattapol’s thesis contained an error construed by “some (royalist) academics and the Rangsit clan” as “seriously damaging to the monarchy.” The error was an assertion that the Prince of Chai Nat as Regent interfered with the government by attending cabinet meetings, citing a Bangkok Post article from 18 December 1950 which reported that the Prince of Chai Nat had frequently attended cabinet meetings, a move which was said to have upset the then-Prime Minister Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram.  The Bangkok Post has denied that it ever reported this information.

In 2018, Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, demanded that Nattapol’s thesis be revised to remove the mistake. He also allegedly accused Nattapol of falsifying the information in order to damage the monarchy and demanded that he be punished. The New Mandala article also said that Chaiyan allegedly threatened Nattapol with a royal defamation charge, an allegation that Chaiyan has denied.

A 2018 investigation by the thesis examination committee and the Faculty of Political Science found that the mistake was unintentional. Nattapol requested permission from the Chulalongkorn Graduate School to revise his thesis, but his request was denied.

Nattapol later published two books based on his thesis with the academic publisher Same Sky Books, titled “Dream the Impossible Dream” (“ขอฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ”) and “The Junta, the Lords, and the Eagle” (“ขุนศึก ศักดินา พญาอินทรี”). Same Sky Books later published a revised version of “Dream the Impossible Dream,” in which the text has been amended to remove the mistake found in the original thesis. The publisher also said that the mistake was unintentional and does not affect the overall content of the book.

In 2021, Mom Rajawongse Priyanandana Rangsit, a granddaughter of Rangsit Prayurasakdi, Prince of Chai Nat, filed a defamation lawsuit against Nuttapoll, Same Sky Books, and the editors of the two books, claiming that the two books contain misleading information about her grandfather, damaging his reputation, and requested 50 million baht in compensation. She is also suing Kullada, a former lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University and Nuttapol’s PhD thesis supervisor.

According to Same Sky Books, Chulalongkorn University has already suspended circulation of Nattapoll’s thesis, which currently cannot be found in the university’s research repository.

On 10 August, Matichon Weekly published an open letter written by Khemarath Osathaphan, lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering and member of the Chulalongkorn University Council, calling for a thorough investigation into a 2022 report presented to the Council by a committee set up to inspect Nattapol’s thesis, as he said it may contain false information which is being used to wrongly accuse Nattapol.

Khemarath’s letter, dated 7 July 2022, stated that he has closely inspected the report and spent 2 hours speaking to relevant personnel. He then urged members of the Council to read the report, instead of just listening to the presentation during a previous meeting, and raised several points which he said could be problematic to the investigation process.

Khemarath noted that the Committee sent Nattapol’s thesis, along with Chaiyan’s complaint, to 4 experts, 1 of whom said that the content of the thesis and its citations are acceptable and only need small improvements. The Committee then sent the experts’ replies to Nattapol, who submitted written explanations to the 4 experts, only one of whom replied, which Khemarath said could mean that 3 of the experts were satisfied with Nattapol’s explanations.

He also stated in his letter that he was told by a university employee that the Committee has never informed Nattapol that he was accused of using a false reference in his thesis by citing an article published in the Independence Daily newspaper of 10 November 1947 and did not ask Nattapol to submit the document he used. Khemarath said that this violates Nattapol’s right to defend himself against these accusations, and violates his right to due process, as the Council was aware that the investigation was not conducted properly but proceeded with the process, which could mean that the entire investigation would be void and must start over.

Part of a page from the 10 November 1947 issue of the Independence Daily

One of Chaiyan’s accusations against Nuttapol was that the Independence Daily, called “Ekkarat” in Thai, did not exist in 1947, claiming that it was founded in 1948 by a printing press called Ekkarat, and that because of this, Nattapol could not have used it to back his claim that King Bhumibol and Princess Srinagarinda were aware of the plan to stage a military coup in 1947. However, the newspaper referenced in Nattapoll’s thesis was another newspaper founded before 1947 by writer and journalist Issara Amantakul, while the newspaper Chaiyan referred to was a local newspaper in Lampang

Khemarath’s open letter stated that the fact that the 10 November 1947 issue of the Independence Daily existed meant that the investigating committee presented misinformation to the Council and used it to wrongly accuse Nattapoll, meaning that Council members were not given correct information when making their decision.

Following the publication of Khemarath’s open letter, Kullada went to the Chulalongkorn University Council on 25 August to deliver an open letter calling on the Council to uphold the result of the investigation conducted in May 2018 by a committee led by former Faculty of Political Science lecturer Chaiwat Khamchoo, which found only 1 mistake out of the 31 that Chaiyan claimed Nattapol’s thesis contained, and because Nattapol was willing to correct his thesis, the committee ruled that it was unintentional and not done in bad faith.

Kullada also called on the Council to reject the report of the new investigation conducted by the committee in which Faculty of Communication Arts Deputy Dean Parichart Sthapitanonda is the secretary general on the grounds that the report could be false, as pointed out by Khemarath in his open letter. She also called on the Council to investigate whether the report is correct and whether Parichart presented the correct information to the Council.

Kullada’s letter also stated that the Council must also take responsibility and press charges against any related person if the alleged false information and misconduct cause damages to Kullada.

Her letter was received by Pomthong Malakul na Ayuthaya, Vice President of Chulalongkorn University and Secretary General of the University Council, who did not speak to the media but said that a meeting was ongoing before leaving.

Kullada said that she wanted to file a complaint because the result of the investigation conducted by the new committee could have a negative effect on the lawsuit she and Nuttapol are facing. She also said that the accusation that Nattapol used a false document is serious and not true, so she has to demand that the Council uphold the result of the 2018 investigation, but if the Council insisted on using the report conducted by the new committee, the report should be reconsidered because it is not in accordance with the opinion of the experts who studied Nattapol’s thesis.

As for the defamation lawsuit filed against Nuttapol, Kullada, and Same Sky Books, the Civil Court scheduled a witness examination in mid-2023. Kullada said that she has also filed a defamation lawsuit against MR Priyanandana and has requested 5 million baht in compensation.

Kullada (centre) being photographed with Nattapol (front row, first from left), and other lecturers and students who came to support her

Kullada was joined during her visit to the Council by Nattapol and a group of students. Activist Siraphop Attohi, currently a student at the Faculty of Arts and President of the Student Government of Chulalongkorn University (SGCU), said that what happened to Kullada and Nattapoll is a serious violation of academic freedom, and should not happen in a university, where academic freedom should be protected.

“Academic criticism and investigation of the facts can take place, but not political lawsuit or persecution,” said Siraphop.

Kullada also issued a statement on her Facebook profile page saying that she is sure that, once the truth is revealed to society, it will be beneficial to the university and academic progress, and also protect students, lecturers, and thesis supervisors and examiners, allowing them to go about their work without being concerned about the limits of what they can study or about the threat of legal prosecution.

She thanked students and colleagues for seeing the importance of academic freedom, and members of the Council who showed kindness to her while she waited to submit her letter.

“I sincerely hope that the Chulalongkorn University Council will uphold truth and what is right to create an academic standard for the society in the future,” Kullada wrote.

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