Home > News > President’s response to protest by students
News

President’s response to protest by students

11 Dec 2012
Pakkamol Dherapongsthada
 Q1. What is your immediate response to the protest by
students at AIT on 11 December 2012?

I completely understand the frustration of the students. The students
came to AIT with lots of dreams for the future. They came here to earn
world-renowned degrees and have invested significant time, energy and
money. When the validity of the very same degree is questioned, it is
natural for them to be agitated. So at heart, I share the same emotion
that the students are sharing. There is a sense of helplessness and
there is a sense of desperation, especially with the next graduation
date so near.

However, all forms of protest must be within decorum and every conduct
should be honorable. I know some students behaved rowdily, used abusive
and vulgar language and some even threatened violence in the protests
organized on 11 December 2012. While I am sad at these behaviors, I am
also confident that this small number of violence-seeking students are
not representative of the culture that the AIT students have inculcated
during their period of stay at AIT. I believe that AIT students are
cultured and are responsible for their actions. They have continuously
demonstrated through their academic and research excellence that they
have the potential to be leaders for their communities and
academia.

Having said that, I forgive the students who went beyond their
boundaries during the protest on 11 December. I feel for them. They
have been put under great emotional turmoil and some of their behaviors
are natural expression of the frustration that they are feeling.

But still my message to them is that while they have the right to
freedom of speech and expression, they should also abide by democratic
decorum and should not transgress upon the rights and dignity of
others.

Q2. Students are worried that the degrees which will be
conferred at the forthcoming AIT graduation will be invalid. How will
this issue be resolved?

Not only are the students worried, but the whole of the AIT Management,
the AIT faculty, the AIT alumni and the stakeholders associated with
AIT are worried about this issue of validity of degrees. But the most
worried are of course the students because this is impacting their very
lives and future.

The validity of AIT degrees should always been linked to the academic
excellence of AIT. AIT has always been an international institute and
its degrees are recognized internationally by virtue of its quality of
education. AIT has been issuing international degrees through its
inception. Considering that AIT has evolved through generations and
that currently AIT confers many dual degree programs, it is clear that
validity of AIT degrees has transcended national boundaries long long
ago.

However, invalidation of AIT degree at any country, especially its host
country is serious and needs to be addressed and it needs to be
reaffirmed that AIT degrees are valid internationally. In order to
ensure this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thailand and the AIT
Council have been in constant dialogue and we are confident that with
the reassurances that AIT has received has received from both quarters;
this issue will be resolved soon.

Q3. Who will sign the degrees at AIT’s graduation to be held on
18 December 2012? Will they be valid?

As President of AIT, I will sign the degrees at AIT’s graduation to be
held on 18 December 2012 based on the recommendation of the academic
senate. Historically, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees would also
co-sign the AIT degrees. After dissolution of the Board of Trustees on
25 January 2012 and with the promulgation of the new AIT Charter, a
member of the AIT Council signed the AIT degrees.

Based on the ongoing discussions between Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Thailand and the AIT Council, they will soon arrive at a conclusion on
who will co-sign the AIT degrees along with the President of AIT. And
since the issue of validity of degrees will already be sorted out,
there should not be any questions related to AIT’s degree
validity.

I would like to again reiterate, AIT’s degree validity should rest on
the quality of education imparted by AIT. It will indeed be sad if
national jurisdictions start over-ruling internationally recognized
degrees over issues of interpretation of governance structures.

Q4. What about the regularization of AIT degrees which were
granted during the previous two graduation ceremonies?

They will be regularized as well. The ongoing discussions between
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thailand and the AIT Council should ensure
that.

Q5. Protesting students are demanding that you should resign.
Previously, student country representatives of eight countries had
supported the decision of the AIT Academic Senate requesting you to
resign. What is your reaction to this demand?

Demand for resignations should always be validated by sound reasons.
Suppose, a number of students were to demand resignation of a faculty
today, for any reason, will the faculty resign? Suppose three Research
Associates working for a faculty were to deem that the faculty should
resign, should the faculty resign?

If just cause exists, I can very well vacate the position of AIT
President and hand over responsibilities to the next level of
authority. But, there has to be just cause for the demand. What is the
cause for the demand of resignation? What are the transgressions? An
effective anecdote is: If somebody shouts that his/her ear has been
taken by a bird, should all involved check whether the ear has been
taken or should everyone start trying to shoot the bird? Even if the
ear has been taken, do they even know if the bird that they are trying
to shoot is actually the bird that took the ear?

Let us get back to the basics. The AIT Academic Senate is the highest
decision making body at AIT on academic issues. When they demanded the
resignation of the AIT President through a fraudulently arrived at
resolution, they transgressed their own boundaries and also created a
dangerous precedence. Tomorrow, any 33 faculty can gang-up on any other
colleague and pass resolutions to negatively hamper the career of any
of their colleagues. Similarly, any 8 country student associations can
determine that they want a particular faculty removed through motions
that they pass, without consideration to due process and justice.

I categorically reject the resolutions of the academic senate, and as
for the students, I have no other words than to forgive them and feel
sorry for their predicament. On the one hand, they are being threatened
that their degrees will be declared invalid. And on the other hand, let
us be candid here, some faculties with ill motives have been coercing
the students to act on their self-interests. What are the hapless
students to do?

Q6. Allegations have been leveled on abuse of power, lack of
transparency and good leadership. How do you respond to
them?

Anyone can harp on anything. What are the evidences to these
allegations? Bring forward the evidences to the allegations and we can
talk on level ground. All of the allegations against me are subjective
and without any grounds. I will not provide any substance to
intimidations, bullying and harassment. I not only speak for myself,
but for any faculty, staff or student at AIT who is being bullied and
harassed.

1. Abuse of power and poor governance

1.1 unfairly terminating contracts of faculty members and staff with
groundless accusations without following the proper
P&P.

There have been no terminations of employment of any faculty and staff.
That needs to be registered first. Yes, during my tenure, there have
been cases of non-renewal of contract. That does not amount to
termination. In spite of there being many instances where there were
just reasons for immediate termination of contracts, I have maintained
a just and reasonable stand to allow the concerned faculty and staff to
dialogue and reason and when all means were exhausted or when offenses
were severe in nature, I employed the authority vested in me as
President of AIT to not renew contracts of some individuals. Such
instances have not been many during my administration of AIT. In all
such instances, I have conducted affairs based on the duties and powers
vested in me as President of AIT, by the governing documents of AIT and
the relevant Policies and Procedures of AIT.

1.2 threatening faculty members, staff, students and
alumni

In my note to respond to Dr. Matthew Dailey which I circulated to the
whole of the AIT Community, I have adequately dealt on this issue. On
the contrary, it is the President of AIT who is constantly receiving
threats from faculty, students and alumni at the present
circumstance.

1.3 hiring people with criminal records and hiring people
without following the P&P

This is a reckless and baseless accusation. Such a claim is in fact
criminal in nature. Without citing clear instances, whoever has posted
this allegation is clearly bent on committing libel and slander. If
such instances have happened, why don’t the parties that are posting
such allegations actually post the evidence?

2. Lack of transparency in management

2.1 concealing and distorting information and facts, and blocking
access to information and presenting one-sided information to the AIT
community causing confusions and misunderstanding and divides among
faculty members, staff, student and alumni.

If divisions have occurred over faculty, staff, student and alumni of
AIT, then these are the doings of the constituents concerned. Any
allegation that have been leveled against the AIT administration have
been done by means of the exact terminologies used, concealing and
distorting information and facts.

My administration has been open and we have never blocked access to any
information. Any information demanded has been provided.

Over the past year, it is clear on who has been trying to create
confusion within the AIT community. How did AIT come to this stage and
how did the current problems emerge? Would anyone like to answer these
questions?

A group of select alumni with vested interest lodged a secret complaint
letter and derailed the institution, yet, blame is leveled on the
administration. Where is due course and where is justice here?

2.2 Signing a secret MOU with an international private company,
Laureate without revealing details of the MOU to the AIT
community.

At this juncture, the term “secret” needs to be defined. Something is
“secret” when things are done, made or conducted without the knowledge
of others. This is the dictionary definition of secret.

Engagement with Laureate Education Inc. was being discussed at the
former Executive Committee level and at the level of the former Board
of Trustees since 2008. Upon many deliberations within the Board and
the Executive Committee spanning two years, a non-binding MoU was
signed between AIT and Laureate Education Inc. to explore possible
areas of partnership on 30 September 2011 which was duly reported to
the AIT Senate meeting organized on 2ndOctober 2012. This MoU was
signed by the Chairman of the Executive Committee of AIT and was fully
endorsed by the members of the AIT Management Team including the Vice
President for Resources Development who was instrumental in drafting
the MoU. Subsequently, AIT was inundated by the great floods on 21
October 2011 before substantial discussions could be held in-house on
the possible areas of partnership and the vision of the AIT Board and
the Executive Committee.

Due to a confidentiality clause in the agreement, I maintained that we
could not publish this MoU but it was available to any constituent of
AIT who wanted to peruse through it.

However, attacks commenced on this issue from elements with vested
interests. There were some within the prominent AIT Alumni,
particularly from Thailand, who had previous business deals with
Laureate Education Inc. There was significant conflict of
interest.

Laying matters aside, the floods of 2011 did not allow AIT any chance
to deliberate on how it could possibly manage online education programs
and possible satellite campuses, which were the core issues that AIT
wanted to discuss with Laureate Education Inc. through the signed
MoU.

Let me again reiterate that the MoU was non-binding in nature and it
was in no way inconsistent with the non-profit and non-political nature
of AIT.

Certain sections of the Thai alumni gave this a political nature and
why it was given should be asked to them. Asking me to resign on their
behalf is not only unjust but also unethical.

3. Lack of good leadership

3.1 Ignoring, opposing and challenging objections from all
stakeholders, be they students, faculty members, staff or alumni,
causing many problems including the problem of legal status of AIT, the
problem with the validity issue of AIT degree certificates, and
problems caused by the relocation to Hua Hin during the 2011
flood.

When I joined AIT as President in mid-2005, AIT was under significant
operating loss. Through significant hard work and dedication, we pulled
AIT out of the deep financial crisis it was in, and built the reserve
up to more than 500 million baht. This was accomplished within a period
of four years. When the period of my presidency will be over in
mid-June 2013, AIT will still be in a significantly sound financial
position than when I took over the presidency of AIT. If one were to
put it bluntly, AIT was already a sinking ship when I took over and it
is my administration that steadied the ship in very choppy waters and
difficult conditions and guided it to relative safety. Any comments
from the allegers about this?

Passing value judgments without considering facts and figures is very
easy and anyone can do that. However, AIT is an academic institution
with a proud research heritage. Any allegation should be backed up by
facts, figures and realities.

Let us all be clear about a certain fact. The flood that AIT witnessed
and suffered from in 2011 was unheralded and unexpected by any measure.
The technical experts at AIT were all in denial that AIT would be
flooded. There was no official information from the Thai government
about the seriousness of the flood. At the critical time when AIT
needed to come together, most of the technical experts fled from AIT.
However, in spite of no information and non-cooperation from our own
technical experts, we tried our best to save ourselves. This was
recognized by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority who gave an award to
AIT for the resilience it had shown during the flood.

Let us all again be clear here. In spite of life threatening
circumstances, over 700 residents were evacuated from AIT including
children and infants without any injury or casualty.

Post-flood, we were in a dilemma on how AIT should move forward.
Literature from education institutes all over the world clearly
highlighted that core institute functions needed to continue for
sustainability of the institute in spite of the hardships suffered.
Also, the same literature and experiences highlighted that education
institutions needed to minimize the negative impact on its students
resultant from such disasters in terms of opportunity cost from lost
time. This was the main issue of concern when relocation decisions were
made. Further the locations for relocation were determined on the
availability of teaching space and living space that could accommodate
over 1000 AIT students, and the cost factors involved. The decision to
relocate to Hua Hin was arrived at with all these considerations. It
was made cost neutral to students, the cost burden on the institute was
at a minimum, and the determination was that this was a temporary
relocation and we would be back to the AIT campus as soon as it was
livable, not only by virtue of water drainage but also by health safety
standards.

Regarding degree problems, this issue which should never have cropped
up, did because of the vested interests of a group of AIT detractors.
AIT always followed the guidance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
Thailand and of the governing Board. When the Board dissolved itself
and instructed AIT to be governed under the AIT Council as per the
Charter that came into force on 30 January 2012, and within the
framework determined by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand,
AIT had to comply. It was neither up to the AIT Administration nor any
constituent within AIT to determine its own governance. However,
scenarios changed when the AIT Alumni Association Thailand Chapter
lodged a secret complaint with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thailand
against AIT. In spite of many attempts made by the AIT administration
to have the complaint letter disclosed so that AIT administration could
clarify itself, the letter was never revealed. Subsequently AIT degrees
were decreed to be invalid in Thailand. However, we are convinced that
this issue will be resolved at the earliest and that AIT Administration
will be allowed due course of justice to clarify itself on any
outstanding issue.

3.2 Seeking loans from AIT to settle personal debts (i.e.
credit cards) and for personal use (home improvement in Sweden) whereas
AIT’s money should be used to improve the conditions of
AIT.

These are issues that have been conducted under the existing P&P of
AIT. Any staff member of AIT can take out a loan on the provident fund
that s/he has deposited and this was what I followed with approval from
the Chairman of the former Board of Trustees. Due to Human Resource
principles of confidentiality and privacy, the names of people within
AIT, faculty and staff, who have made use of this policy, cannot be
disclosed. However, it should be noted that AIT is earning an interest
through such loans and this is very well defined by the Policy and
Procedures. Disclosure of such confidential and personal matters reeks
of injustice and the vested agenda to discredit AIT’s governance
mechanisms. Also, it should be noted that this loan was taken quite
some time back and not recently. People continue to allege that in
spite of floods loans are being taken personally from AIT. This is
ridiculous and false.

3.3 Ignoring and challenging legal suggestions from the Thai
government (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Office of Higher
Education Commission, the Council of State) regarding the adoption of
the new Charter, leading to the current problem with the legal status
of AIT which is affecting students and non-Thai faculty members and
staff.
Due to the afore-mentioned issues, both AIT Alumni Association, the
Academic Senate and the majority of students have agreed that we can no
longer have confidence in the management of Prof. Said
Irandoust.

Issues regarding governance of AIT were determined by Ministry of
Foreign Affairs Thailand and the sovereign nations who developed the
new AIT Charter. MoFA Thailand was clear in its vision of upgrading the
status of AIT to that of an international intergovernmental
organization. How the process was halted has already been explained
above.

But, it needs to be clear in everyone’s mind that AIT cannot dictate
the terms of its own governance. The Board of Trustees dissolved itself
on 25 January 2012 and instructed AIT Administration to work under the
AIT Counil. This was vetted by the representative of the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs Thailand during the last meeting of the former Board of
Trustees. So how can AIT determine its own governance functions when
sovereign states have agreed and fulfilled the diktats of international
laws governing international treaties? These issues needed to solved by
MoFA Thailand, the initiator, depository and guardian of the new AIT
Charter and the sovereign states which had signed the AIT
Charter.

So allegations related to ignoring and challenging legal suggestions
from Thai government are utterly misleading and false. No Thai
government agency has made a ruling on what AIT should do, by course of
law. Every institution is making their own interpretation and
suggestion on what AIT should do. AIT is guided by its governing
documents and cannot prescribe its governing structure. It is up to
MoFA and the sovereign states to figure out and chart a way forward for
AIT.

Regarding vote of no confidence, again, these issues need to be put in
perspective and issue of claiming majority needs to also be put in
perspective. A fraction of faculty gang-up on me to bully and
intimidate me through a vengeful path determined by the Academic Senate
Chair, and some of these same faculty intimidate their students to
protest. The AIT Administration has received complaints from students
that they are being unduly bullied by some faculty to join in the
protests. It is the same with the Alumni body as well. Majority of the
Alumni body are writing that they support the AIT Administration,
however, a section of the Thai alumni have their own hidden motive and
that is the only voice which is being heard, especially by the media.
Let us again be clear that the issues to AIT’s governance problems were
initiated by the AIT Alumni Association Thailand Chapter when they
submitted the secret letter of complaint with the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs Thailand. It is the vested interests of a small number of
people, supported in faith or by coercion by another minority group
which is the heart of the problem.

Portrayal of the current problems as related to AIT President versus
Country Governments is a concerted effort to slander my name and
reputation. AIT is indebted to the Royal Thai Government for the
support that AIT has received over the past 53 years and we are
confident that they host country will continue to guide AIT on a secure
and sustainable path.