Rangoon University Looks to Keep Politics Off Campus

By Yen Saning 31 December 2013

RANGOON — Students in Rangoon University’s first undergraduate intake in decades have been asked to sign pledges that critics say are aimed at restricting protest on the once troublesome campus.

A new batch of more than 1,000 students began studying this month after the university, at one time one of Asia’s most highly regarded centers of learning, had been largely shut down for years after it was the seedbed for uprisings against Burma’s military junta.

Students—and their parents or guardians—have been made to sign a pledge agreeing to abide by the universities rules.

“[We] confess and promise that [we] will follow the rules and regulations set by the university, avoid all matters that will disturb peaceful learning and will learn peacefully,” a copy of the pledge seen by The Irrawaddy reads.

There are general rules about academic study, attendance of classes and plagiarism, as well as 16 specific rules for those living in on-campus hostels—no fighting and no coming back to hostels late at night, for example.

And while the rules do not address political activity directly, the hostel rules say students “Must not announce, advertise and organize without permission in the hostel and surroundings.”

One of the new intake told The Irrawaddy that the pledge appeared to be intended to prevent students from engaging in campus politics.

“It was written in a sense like ‘Do not get involved in activities related to political organizations,’” she said.

A lecturer at the University of East Yangon, one of the newer institutions founded as the former capital’s main university was dismantled, says the chances of the new Rangoon University intake having political freedom were bleak.

“I think they will not allow them to organize [political activities], even if they want to organize, they will need to send a letter of permission. Even then, I don’t think the permission might be granted,” the international relations lecturer, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, told the Irrawaddy.

The lecturer said that since students were “political animals” like the rest of society, they should not have restrictions imposed on them.

“For example, taking part in elections [voting] is also politics. Shall we say students should not be involved in politics then?” the lecturer asked. “Everybody above 18 has to be involved in the election, which means you are getting involved in politics…. No one can stay away from politics. It is in our daily life.”

Pyae Phyo Kyaw, assistant lecturer at Rangoon University’s archaeology department, said teachers had not been informed about any “statement restricting students’ involvement in political activities.”

It is unclear how restrictive the university authorities will be, but that may be tested soon. A group of female students is resisting relocation after they were told by university administrators that they must vacate the formerly male-only Shwebo and Bo Aung Kyaw hostels, which traditionalists argue should only be occupied by men.

D Nyein Lin, a former political prisoner who was released recently after being jailed for four years for protesting on campus during the military regime, said it was worrying that the authorities were still restricting political activities.

“Students should be allowed to take part in any activities that interest them. University is where students are prepared to develop their skills in various areas apart from learning,” he said.

D Nyein Lin said it was important that, especially as Burma is undergoing a transition toward democracy, students be allowed to express themselves.

“If students were not allowed to take part in political movements, our country would not have got independence. Political heroes like Gen Aung San or U Nu would not have appeared,” he said.