In February 2021, Chulalongkorn University (CU) began an investigation into Nattapoll Chaiching, a historian who received his PhD from CU, apparently as a result of external political pressure stemming from his dissertation.
Nattapoll is a historian and professor at Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University in Bangkok. In 2009, Nattapoll completed his PhD dissertation, entitled “Thai Politics in Phibun’s Government under the US World Order (1948–1957),” with distinction.
In 2018, CU professor and royalist, Chaiyan Chaiyapon, found an error in Nattapoll’s thesis and demanded that the university take action against Nattapoll. The mistake Chaiyapon referred to was a paragraph stating that Prince Rangsit, who headed Thailand’s monarchy from 1947-1951, attended a cabinet meeting, and therefore would have been perceived as interfering with the government. Following an investigation, the university determined that Dr. Nattapoll’s mistake was unintentional. Nattapoll revised the dissertation, while the university restricted public access to it.
In 2020, Nattapoll published a book based on his dissertation (with the erroneous text corrected), entitled The Junta, the Lords, and the Eagle. The book was widely popular among young, pro-democracy activists, especially amidst a series of major protests against the monarchy that began that year. However, the book also prompted criticism from conservatives and royalists, including a member of the royal family who filed a lawsuit against Nattapoll.
In February 2021, CU launched a new investigation into Nattapoll following royalists’ accusations that the professor had intentionally tarnished the monarchy, and their calls to revoke his PhD. On April 5, Prachatai reported that hundreds of international scholars sent letters to CU asking them to stop the attack against Nattapoll, calling the campaign against him a threat to academic freedom.
As of this report, CU’s investigation of Nattapoll is ongoing. The results of the investigation could result in the revocation of Nattapoll’s PhD.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about an apparently politically-motivated university-led investigation into a scholar for their academic work. External actors, including political actors and civilians, must respect universities’ institutional autonomy, including by refraining from interfering in or pressuring disciplinary matters for nonviolent, responsible academic activity. Such efforts undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.