Uthenthawai vs. Chulalongkorn: A Call for Urban Justice and Just Higher Education

Listen to this story

On the 27th of February, the education sector witnessed an unprecedented protest as over two thousand students and alumni of Uthenthawai Polytechnic took to the streets, marching from their campus, nestled in the heart of Bangkok, to the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovations, and the Industrial Works Department. This demonstration marks a significant response to the court-ordered relocation of Uthenthawai, situated on land belonging to Chulalongkorn University, to the outskirts of Bangkok. The move has been deemed unjust by the Uthenthawai community, who view it as an affront to their century-old legacy and a denial of educational opportunities for future generations.

As a Chulalongkorn University student and an observer of social phenomena, I acknowledge the prevalent negative sentiments towards Uthenthawai’s protest, primarily fueled by incidents of violence. While it’s disheartening that a substantial majority of Chula students may support the eviction, I stand among the few advocating for the right of Uthenthawai to remain—a call rooted in the principles of urban justice.

Uthentawai’s portrayal in the media has been far from flattering—labeled as unruly and gangster-like, in stark contrast to the perceived luxury, good manners, and high-class demeanor associated with Chulalongkorn University students. However, delving into history reveals a different narrative. Both universities were founded around the same time, and while Uthenthawai may have had its share of conflicts, Chula too faced upheavals, notably in the 1960s when engineering students made headlines for violence. The economic factor, coupled with societal bias against polytechnics, has led to disparate treatment, with Chula receiving substantial financial support while Uthenthawai has been left in the shadows.

The recent research conducted by myself and my team sheds light on the unseen consequences of Chulalongkorn University’s actions. Over 50,000 families residing in the claimed land have been displaced, including essential institutions like kindergartens and secondary schools for underprivileged students. This orchestrated gentrification raises questions about the university’s responsibility towards the communities it impacts.

The controversy prompts me to recall Baldwin Davarian’s excellent book, “In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower,” which exposes the use of fear by universities to justify expansion and gentrification. Chulalongkorn University, touted as a beacon of education, seems to be benefiting from the potential erasure of Uthenthawai, despite claims that the land won’t be used for business. The questionable transformation of Chamchuri Square from an education center to a commercial hub exemplifies the broader implications of Chula’s actions.

In the age of UniverCity, a concept pioneered by Davarian, where universities shape cities in the name of a safe urban experience for some while depriving many, Chula’s potential benefit from the erasure of Uthenthawai must be critically examined. Is it within the rights of Chula to evict at will? I argue that Chulalongkorn University, as a higher education institute, should prioritize justice over arbitrary decisions. Their actions demand scrutiny—are they just, do they harm vulnerable populations, and will they contribute to the city’s long-term well-being?

Addressing the concerns about Uthenthawai’s violence, one cannot overlook Chulalongkorn University’s role as one of the largest landlords in Thailand. Families have been uprooted, cultural heritage sites demolished, and the cityscape altered in the name of progress. Is this not a form of violence?

My stance is clear: I stand with Uthenthawai. It’s time to look beyond the surface, beyond public image failures, and advocate not only for this cause but for urban justice and a just higher education that caters to all its inhabitants. Chulalongkorn University should embrace collaboration, not eviction, fostering an environment where students from Chula and Uthenthawai can learn from each other. Let us envision a city where differences are celebrated, not erased, for the betterment of all.


Ivermectin not effective in treating Covid-19, joint Mahidol-Oxford study shows

Ivermectin is not shown to be effective against Covid-19 in clinical trials according to the findings of a joint...

Latest article