Thais fight to save 'sacred' site

June 8, 2001

Hundreds of students and lecturers have signed a petition in protest at plans to move humanities and social science graduates from Thammasat University's central Bangkok campus to a second campus on the outskirts of the city.

Thammasat has long been a site of protests and demonstrations. Dictators and rightwing military governments of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s have come up against demonstrators from the Tha Prachan campus.

In turn, students have been fired at from army helicopters, fled from campus lynchings and been gunned down in the streets.

Many fear that the moves to shift undergraduates signal the end of Tha Prachan campus as a seat of undergraduate learning and will kill the "Thammasat spirit".

University administrators dismissed the concerns. They said student radicalism had little to do with the place and everything to do with what was taught and the ethos of the university.

They said moving undergraduates to Rangsit campus was essential if the university is to expand, improve cross-course links and provide students with dormitory accommodation and modern facilities. Tha Prahan will remain open for graduate studies, particularly for those on business courses.

Former rector Charnvit Kasetsiri has been leading the campaign to overturn the move. "We consider the site sacred," he said, comparing the campus area to a living museum that encouraged students to think about the university's pro-democracy heritage and issues of social injustice.

However, current rector Naris Chaiyasoot denied activism among the 16,000 undergraduates would die and said the move is essential. "We are not under dictatorships like we were in the 1960s and 1970s," he said.

Some students who have already moved to Rangsit complained that the new campus is characterless and said students spent their free time wandering around shopping malls or playing sport rather than talking politics.

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