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  1. theravadan

    Title: An open letter to Dr Giuliano Giustarini, Mahidol University

    To: Dr Giuliano Giustarini,
    The Department of Buddhist Studies,
    Mahidol University

    5th June, 2017

    The main objective of documenting this open letter of complaint is to bring to the concerned department close attention and detail of the unacceptable behavior and conduct of the Italian lecturer, Dr. Giuliano Giustarini, who teaches in the International Ph. D Program in Buddhist Studies at Mahidol University.

    He may be a professional knowledgeable in Pali language, but he is certainly not a lecturer who is reasonably acquainted in the doctrines of suttas and important Buddhist concepts as this department, and also he, proclaims himself to be. Take for instance, he could describe the fundamental Buddhist concepts of the five aggregates, four noble truths, 12 dependent originations, and so on with ease. But, let me tell you, his description of those concepts are just the word-for-word translation of the surface meanings from Pali to English, and for that any Pali language student can do so even they have never before read any Buddhist sutta. He could not explain the intricate aspects of the interrelationhip between the different aggregates, the different causal-effect relationships of the four noble truths, the conditionality modes of the 12 dependent originations, and so on. Neither is he capable of correctly interpreting the other equally important methods such as the four applications of mindfulness, four means to psychic powers, noble eightfold path, and other fundamental methods. And when he did try to explain the underlying details of the four noble truths, 12 dependent originations, and noble eightfold path, to my amuse he got them all wrong. And of course, it is very very difficult for me to tell him the inconvenient truths that he is wrong, albeit in a polite way, and for him to willingly recognize and accept his mistakes. All students worry about the teachers who might mark them down on grades, and so do I. Keeping silence about them had been the only better choice.

    This lecturer, up to this time of the year, already had reported confrontations with close to half a dozen Ph. D students in this department of Buddhist Studies. Those students concerned are the Theravada student monks, male and female Buddhist graduate students from the S.E. Asian countries. It can not be a mere coincidence that all these unpleasant cases are only faults on the part of those students. There had not been any other reported confrontational cases between the students and other lecturers from this department. In the end, those students encountered many more other related inconveniences by continuing with their studies there, They eventually chose to drop out from the doctoral program as would have predicted. Amongst them are monks who were sponsored the study fund from donations by the kind public and Buddhist followers; and Asian students from not so well-to-do families but who have made huge sacrifices from their savings in order to earn a doctoral degree in Buddhist Studies for good causes.

    Wary of the precedents of clashes between him and those students, this lecturer demanded my respect to him from the very beginning of the course. But why had I not? Most Asian students are taught since their elementary schools and at homes, to pay foremost respect to parents, teachers, and other elders all the times. Of course, unsuspectingly like others, I have given him all my due respect within and outside classes, and on every occasion. But one thing, if I had known of his long history of confronting and abusing students in classes, I would not have signed up for any of his classes or even for this program. In my situation, it was in the later part of the course when this lecturer started to cast sarcastic and vile remarks at me in every classes for more than a month without end, and he eventually hurled unprovoked insults and intentional smearing on my self-esteem and character. All these incidents were all conducted by him with his clear awareness in class and in front of the other students. It is an outright act of spite, grudge, and teacher bullying in class. It is interesting to note here that he had not sought for once to perform the same injustice to me outside the class. Of course, just as anybody would have thought of, he has obviously taken the advantage of exerting his authority and abusing his position in class, knowing well that I would just keep quiet about all his abuse for fear of my grades. And he knows the otherwise ensuing inconveniences and consequences upon me would surely be too worrying and frightening to bring to my thought if I choose to square up with him. For what reasons he had chosen to repetitively humiliate an unsuspecting student like me? I had no idea. But it was not difficult to find out based on the information which I have found out from the other students and staff.

    The main reason is coming from his illiberality in accommodating opposing views from students, peers and others as against his, even if those are sometimes constructive criticisms and logical disagreements. He does not often take in well with personal disagreements in his areas of interest. By chance, I had personally encountered incidents in two of their staff meetings where he engaged in intense and noisy arguments with another local lecturer. As for other matters, whenever I suggested other definitions of Pali terms in class as different to his interpretation, those ideas weren’t often taken in well by him. And when I have suggested the same all too often, I received in turn his sarcasm and displeasure. I agree that it is a good scholastic attempt by him to redefine Pali vocabulary through modern philological approach. But it is not correct nor is alright for him to completely brush off all those conventional interpretation works by the thousands of acclaimed Theravada senior monks from the past two and half thousand years. Do you really think all those native speaking monks and nuns of Pali in ancient Ceylon had been wrong all the whiles in their interpretations? Why had he persistently demanded all his Ph. D students to memorize and recite dozens of Pali declension tables in every classes when he himself is not able to memorize and recite them before us? It is no difference to a situation when a math teacher who demands his students to solve the math questions when he himself does not know how to do it. Isn’t this ridiculous and is done intentionally to make life difficult for his students? Another reason for his insulting remarks and offensive conduct repetitively toward me is believingly due to the scores of my views and assertions which I have expressed in my academic works which he had read. I have no reasons to dismiss that those sarcastic remarks he repetitively cast at me were because of those ideas and certain contents pertaining to the Buddhist texts which I have written but which he somehow strongly dislikes and disapproves of. I have no reason to doubt this because his sarcastic verbal remarks are all directly related to those views and methodological ideas I have expressed in my academic works. Asian students of historical Buddhist background and dedicated practice often study and interpret the canonical scriptures very differently from western scholars who may not see the relevance of practicing those doctrinal concepts in their daily life. I can not understand why it was so difficult for him to understand and recognize this simple fact. There has also been a lack of understanding due to his unwilling appreciation towards student monks who often had to skip and reschedule classes. My friends of student monks have other unavoidable monastic commitments and activities which may come on ad-hoc basis, as unplanned, and which require their immediate services to return to temples and attend to communities. Student monks undertake much tougher responsibilities than lay students because they have to maintain a balance between their academic studies and communal commitments. To date, it has not reach that compromise level and understanding by this lecturer on such cases of student monks.

    All these incidents of class bully by this lecturer are inexcusable and completely unacceptable by any academic standard and regulation. Moreover, these Ph. D students are the matured adults who came to Mahidol University with only one simple purpose: to attend Buddhist studies with respected teachers. These are the kind, diligent, and peace-loving Asian students and monks who came to this department of Buddhist Studies with high hopes and expectations. They do not deserve such unfair treatment and abuse in class by this same lecturer. It was very sad to know that all these students, one by one, at the different stages, eventually had to withdraw from the international doctoral program because of having continuing issues with this lecturer. If he had not been a quick-tempered, vengeful, stubborn and recalcitrant character, we for sure would not have seen so many reported cases by these hopeless students about the mistreatment and bully by him. What if it is a case of 6 and half feet tall, bigger size and outspoken American student before him, would this lecturer’s attitude be reversely different and nice?

    There is another point I would like to raise concerning the selection of Ph. D dissertations. The program head and this lecturer (who is also the secretary of this Int’l program) should not be prejudiced, showing strong displeasure and disprove students who do not heed their advice regarding the selection of dissertation topics. The International Ph. D Program head and this lecturer have been discriminatory by insisting the Ph. D candidates to better choose their research projects based on English translation from Pali or Sanskrit language of scriptural texts. They would later disapprove if the students instead submit thematic topics on Buddhism or areas of Buddhist concepts for their dissertations. If the department head and this lecturer continue to reject Ph. D candidates who prefer to research on thematic subjects according to the students’ own interests, the department head and this lecturer might as well incorporate this stipulation into their regulatory policy. By doing this, it would then become appropriate for any future Ph. D candidates who are interested to study in this department and who have read this post, to confirm before their official registration that whether they will be turned down on their second year if they have decided to research only on a thematic subject. Now this is very important. Otherwise some students would be left in a predicament in which they do not want to incur hefty financial losses by withdrawing from the program half way through the course, nor do they want to work their doctoral research on language translation which may appear dry and dull to them, but which they are forced to carry on for several more years against their will and expectation.

    The following are some suggestions worthwhile for this lecturer to ponder and improve, so that the already long list of reported cases on students complaining against him on ground of ethical misconduct and abuse would be put to a stop once and for all, for the credibility and long-term benefit of this department. And mind you, this is a department of Buddhist Studies. Lecturers are trained in various areas of Buddhist Studies, they are expected to be more mindful and having better control of their uncalled-for conducts.

    1). To treat every adult student as adults, and respect every each of them the way he wants to be respected and in a consistent manner. He needs to fully understand that respect only works on mutual ground.

    2). To clarify and understand teacher’s responsibility as regard compliance with morals and ethics in class, not only that on the part of the students.

    3). Do not bring his hot-temper to class or direct his frustration at any student at all times. Differences and misunderstanding can not be resolved by venting his anger and hurling insults at students in class before the other students. Teacher ought to behave like an adult. From institutions of higher learning to multi-corporations, conflict resolutions are always taken offline in separate counseling and discussion sessions to reach a win-win mutual agreements and healthier relationship.

    4). Be willing to accept that there may be other Ph. D students who are smarter, more capable, more experienced, and are better Buddhist scholars than him. They may not only be young students. They may be ex-lawyers, VP, professional retirees, well-learned abbots and monks of monasteries who come here for their love of advanced Buddhist Studies. And so it must be acceptable to him with a positive attitude that he needs not have to know everything in his field of study when dealing with Ph. D students. But if he were to continue with his habitual traits of personal ego, envy, hate, and anger in classrooms, it would only stand in the way of a healthy teacher-students relationship and progress. And that does not benefit anybody, nor for this department of Buddhist Studies and Mahidol university.

    Yours sincerely,
    a helpless Ph. D student
    in the dept of Buddhist Studies at Mahidol University

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