Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae concluded his one-year term as Interim President of Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand today, July 31, 2020. His final duty was to formally sign a document transferring the title and duties of Interim President to Aj Apicha Insuwan who has been on the Payap staff as an administrator for 25 years. [Pictures accompanying this blog-essay are of that signing ceremony.]
Dr. Amnuay is a native of Chiang Mai and a graduate of The Prince Royal’s College (PRC). Then he graduated from Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois with a double major in philosophy and psychology in 1959. He returned to Chiang Mai and worked as a teacher at PRC and married his lifelong sweetheart Siree who has had a career as teacher and administrator at PRC herself. He returned to the USA and completed a master’s degree and then a PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle.
In 1967 he settled into a career in education administration at the newly established Chiang Mai University, becoming Dean of the Faculty of Education. However, that position, which was expected to be much longer, was interrupted by appointment to international service as Director of the Regional Institute of Higher Education and Development in Singapore where his children picked up flawless Singapore-English.
In 1977 he accepted the invitation to be the first President of Payap College which had been established by the Church of Christ in Thailand Foundation as the first private institution of higher education outside of Bangkok, in 1974. The college was in its growth phase, expanding from an opening class of around 200 students to about 2000 by the time Payap was promoted by the Ministry of Higher Education to become the first private university in the country in 1984.
Between 1974 and 1984 the college purchased land at the eastern edge of Chiang Mai in the middle of swamp and farmland along the Mae Kao River. The United States’ program of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad made the first of ten grants which enabled Payap to improve the land through digging deep lakes and using the dirt to raise the land above annual flood level, and providing roadways and a bridge across the river, as well as four buildings. The college officially moved most of its classroom programs to the Mae Kao Campus as further building was going on to construct a library and other facilities. A chapel, now the icon of the university, was constructed with a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, secured by Dr. Amnuay through connections with the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia. By December 31, 1995 when Dr. Amnuay retired (for the first time) from Payap, the student body was about 5000 students, maybe more. Its best-known programs at that time were in Humanities, Social Sciences, Business Administration, Economics, Nursing, Music, and Theology.
Retirement did not suit Dr. Amnuay particularly well, and he agreed to help a group get Asia Tech Vocational School established, and then he served as the organizing president for Far Eastern College (across the street from Airport Plaza Mall). With that college up and running he agreed to serve as president of Stamford College in Cha-Am / Hua Hin.
Then about 20 years ago Dr. Amnuay “settled” down to a quite retirement as Director of the Friends of Asia Foundation, which provides administrative services for missionaries and mission units of the Southern Baptist associated mission agencies. It was one of several foundations and boards he has served as a member or usually as chair or director, although not often more than 3 or 4 at a time. For a term he was chair of the board of the Chiang Mai International School, and then was elected again recently to a second term. He was even chair of the Board of Trustees of Payap University about 8 years ago.
In July 2019 he was persuaded to take on the role of Interim President of Payap University. It has been a decade of decline for the university, with enrollments falling from a high of nearly 10,000 students to less than 3000. This is almost entirely due to demographics in Thailand with family size growing steadily smaller, but the number of higher education institutions increasing. When he took over the office of Interim President the university’s accumulated operating deficit was nearly 25% of its assets and that was a crisis needing aggressive action. Although a plan was underway to sell unused land and to bring in students from China, the COVID-19 pandemic diverted several key actions. Nevertheless, at the most recent university-wide staff and faculty meeting earlier this month, it was announced that the year would end on July 31, 2020 with no need for further financial borrowing, due to intervention by the CCT Foundation. The Foundation gives Dr. Amnuay credit for negotiating a plan to have the CCT take over the seminary and 3 other units, on top of a previous agreement for nearly 500 million baht in land and building transfers to the CCT (details are being clarified) all of which have substantially reduced the university’s operating costs. Thai incoming students during the current academic year just now beginning are above expectations, and even international students due to come in 2 weeks are equal to last year despite immense pandemic restrictions and required shifts in practices. In short, it has been a successful year.
There was a bittersweet feel about today, of course. It was the last of his meetings on campus. The last time to wear the University President’s robe. The last time to sit in the chair behind the President’s desk. The last of many activities begun decades ago.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.