As the first year of the interim-presidency of Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae draws to a close on July 31 he has asked me (Dr. Kenneth Dobson, Adviser to the Interim President) to moderate an “Open Line” between him and all of us in the Payap community. His wish is to provide information directly to you and to answer your questions in a way that all of us can know what’s going on, because a lot is happening.
To get us started I will be posing some questions for Dr. Amnuay to respond to.
K: What has been your initial accomplishment since last August 1?
A: I have tried to cut the operational expenses of the university. Finances have been our presenting issue. Minimizing waste has been a focus. We have tried to reduce the cost of electricity and utilities. One way of doing that has been to recondition air conditioning equipment, for example, and renovation of classroom buildings. In addition, we have tackled labor costs by outsourcing some services and using technology and police protection rather than excessive personnel of our own for campus safety.
K: In terms of operational expenses, I understand you have investigated the costs of our departments. What did you find?
A: It came as a surprise that only 2 of our 12 faculties and colleges were profitable. Nursing and Pharmacy are the only ones that are not operating at a net loss. This has been going on for so long that the university has accumulated 200 million baht in debt, which has driven us to the point of crisis. We might say that this has happened because we have been slow to respond to declining enrolments by restructuring.
K: Some of our largest costs are fixed by policy, are they not?
A: Yes, we are committed to payments into retirement funds and health plans, but I have been surprised to find that we have also had to shoulder costs of hidden benefits. For example I discovered that former presidents and spouses have been entitled to lifelong health care paid in full at McCormick Hospital. I have asked the Payap Board of Trustees to rescind this policy enacted by Dr. Boonthong.
K: Have we been able to embark on financial recovery?
A: Actually, we began to investigate how to utilize some of our land now that our number of students is lower than expected 20 years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in prospective clients being cautious. So the Board of Trustees has requested that the Foundation of the Church of Christ in Thailand provide funds so we can continue to operate without increasing our debt, which we cannot do. The CCT officials have considered our recovery plan. One important thing to understand is that the Foundation of the CCT is the owner of the university and has ultimate authority over the Board of Trustees.
K: How has the foundation responded?
A: The CCT has agreed IN PRINCIPLE to provide up to 500 million baht to enable us recover our financial balance and develop our new vision for the future. But the CCT has imposed a number of stringent conditions.
K: What are the conditions that we must meet?
A: The first condition is that we had to hand over to the CCT officers the land deeds for 105 rai of land before the CCT would transfer the first installment of 20 million baht for us to meet our payroll. I believe all of our people reading this know about that agreement first made in October. It has been modified many times since. But we have complied and the CCT made the first transfer. The plan included a decision for the CCT to undertake renovation of the Law Building, International House, and Men and Women’s dorms. Then the CCT and Payap will be partners in using those buildings. However, since the US government’s American Schools and Hospitals Abroad program provided some funds for the construction of those buildings, the CCT lawyers want a response from ASHA that the plan will not meet with any objections from them. This is a condition for the CCT making the next transfer of 20 million baht. We are waiting anxiously for a response.
K: Are there other conditions we must meet? These are difficult times for our institution and our people.
A: You are right, but we have to try to do what the CCT is telling us to do. The CCT has asked us to contact the Ministry of Higher Education about this agreement to provide funding for us and we are waiting for the Ministry’s response. Even before we get that answer, we have begun to comply with the most complicated condition. The CCT has DEMANDED that we downsize our faculty and staff. We need to lay-off excessive personnel to bring the ratio of faculty in each department in line with actual student enrolment in those programs. We are not going to be able to do that immediately, as I hope the CCT will come to understand. We need to comply with two major sets of regulations, namely, Thai labor laws with regards to terminating employees and the requirements of the Ministry of Higher Education with regards to fulfilling commitments to present students and the numbers of qualified faculty for each department. This is going to take time. We have begun. I hope the CCT will be patient.
K: It certainly sounds like your “plate is full.” Can you get all the things done that the Board of Trustees has expected you to do when they called you out of retirement to come back into this office to work for free?
A: I was glad to return, and it was my decision to do this without accepting a salary. I want to help Payap survive. I love this university. The Board has been very supportive and I am encouraged by them. They have agreed to extend my term as interim president for one more year. That’s the limit the law allows, by the way. This must be approved by the CCT as the holder of the title to the university, and the CCT has yet to reply. They must do something before the end of July. Personally, I am willing to continue in order to finish what we have started. But I’ll be 86 years old on June 22 and I have other things roles for the Asia Disaster Foundation, the Friends of Asia Foundation, and as Chair of the Board of the Chiang Mai International School.
K: Many of us are concerned about the future of Payap. What are your concerns?
A: My main concern is our immediate financial crisis. If we do not get timely help from the CCT we will not be able to pay salaries in June. That would be instant hardship for everyone who has dedicated themselves to the university. It would be heart-breaking.
K: Do you expect the worst?
A: No. I have confidence that this institution has a future. We are not only working for our own wellbeing. This is God’s handiwork. We are in good hands.
Now Payap friends, the line is open to you. Direct your questions to Dr. Amnuay at email@example.com. The next session of Open Line will be on-line in a few days. Anyone in the Payap community is invited to ask Dr. Amnuay anything you wish. Questions are welcome from students, parents, prospective students, faculty, administrative staff, support staff, alumni, and friends of Payap.