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Students from the Media Arts and Design Department, Faculty of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University, filed a lawsuit with the Chiang Mai Administrative Court on Monday (18 October) for a temporary injunction after the University administration prohibited them from showing their final theses in the University Art Centre because some pieces deal with social and political themes.

CMU students and lecturers filed a lawsuit against university administration

Thasnai Sethaseree, artist and Faculty of Fine Arts lecturer, said that they have requested the temporary injunction because the students must complete their project and the lecturers have to submit their grades within the semester. If lecturers are not able to issue them a grade, students may fail their class, so he said that they are asking the court for a temporary injunction so that the students can hand in their works.

Thasnai also said that the Faculty administration has filed charges of trespassing and destruction of property against students and lecturers who occupied the Art Centre on Saturday (16 October). He said that the Art Centre area is an educational space which is always used by students and lecturers, and that in fact, locking the gates is destruction of property, adding that several students were locked inside the building all night without water and electricity.

Thasnai said he wanted the Faculty and University administration to keep in mind the students’ future and the faith of future students, and that they should not see students as their enemies. If there is a problem, they should instead talk to the students, not run away.

Students and lecturers occupied the University Art Centre on Saturday (16 October) to set up their exhibition, after the Faculty and University administration refused them permission to use the Art Centre for the thesis exhibition, required for 4th year students in the department, claiming that some pieces are political and therefore inappropriate for a public exhibition. Water and electricity at the Media Arts and Design department building were also cut on Friday night (15 October) and Saturday morning, reportedly by order of the Faculty Dean.

In March, the Faculty Dean and several other faculty personnel also attempted to remove students’ art projects from the department building without first informing the students, claiming that some pieces could violate the law. Students also said that police officers came to the building to monitor the students the night before as they were working on their projects.

Meanwhile, lecturers from the Multidisciplinary Art programme in the Visual Art Department, Faculty of Fine Arts, issued a declaration earlier today (19 October) saying that an art space in an educational institution must allow for freedom of expression without obstruction, and must provide opportunities for artistic expression and academic discussion. The declaration also said that an art space must encourage activities that benefit public participation without obstructing content associated with civil society and politics, and empower the new generation.

The Student Government of Chulalongkorn University (SGCU) also issued a statement in solidarity with Media Arts and Design students, saying that the Faculty administration’s action can be considered an attempt to censor artworks that are related to politics, and therefore a violation of academic freedom. Such action shows that the administration not only lacks awareness of their duty to protect academic freedom but also obstructs students’ learning process, which is the main purpose of a university. 

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