Professor Diep Sophal used a microphone to lecture over the din of mobile phone conversations during his political science class Wednesday evening at the Chamroeun University of Poly-Technology in Phnom Penh.
The holder of a master’s degree in world history, Diep Sophal told the more than 300 students sitting in on his lecture not to worry about failing his class, since everyone would pass, but that some would have better grades than others.
One of his more prominent students, Military Court president and Khmer Rouge tribunal appointee Ney Thol, was not seen at the lecture on Wednesday.
Ney Thol, a CPP central committee member, appears to hold a master’s degree in political science, according to documentation disseminated by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
However, Ney Thol said Thursday that he has in fact just begun studying for his master’s degree at CUP, as part of a new two-year, mandatory course for government officials.
“I am in the first year of a master’s degree, I just started studying about three to four months ago,” he said.
The course, focused on political science and administration, is required for government officials over the age of 35 with at least 13 years of work experience but no primary degree, CUP Vice Rector Sun Sot said Tuesday.
This semester, Ney Thol and about 500 other officials will study political economy, leadership and public speaking, political science, public politics and public management on weeknights.
Outside the lecture hall at CUP on Wednesday, Mercedes Benzes and other luxury vehicles dropped off officials for class. Two bodyguards, one dressed in a camouflage uniform, stood by the door.
The title of Diep Sophal’s lecture on Wednesday evening was “Lesson Two: Political Parties.” The party chosen for the discussion was the ruling CPP.
“Do you agree with me that the Cambodian People’s Party emerged from communism in the end to become a people’s party?” the professor asked the class.
“[Communism] has disappeared little by little since 1979 to become a people’s party,” he continued.
He added that the CPP is strong politically because of its grassroots support, though he said there are also problems within the party and that some CPP members are causing the party to lose votes.
Diep Sophal explained that disagreements between political parties were natural in a multi-party democracy.
“Funcinpec, CPP and Sam Rainsy Party serve people all the same,” he said. “So why do they argue with each other? When it is a multi-party [democracy], they must argue with each other.” he said.
“Building democracy is very difficult,” he added, noting that a middle class, information technology and healthy people are needed for a functioning democracy.
“In my vision for Cambodia, it is still difficult, but it is already good what we have achieved today.”
Professor Vong Sam Ang, who teaches Ney Thol’s class on political economy, said his lectures are lively and that civil servants are eager to learn. “They ask questions related to real situations,” said Vong Sam Ang, who is also a deputy secretary-general of the Council of Ministers’ Economic, Social and Cultural Observation Unit.
Vong Sam Ang said he does not keep an attendance sheet because there are more that 400 students in his class, some of whom are provincial governors, military and police generals and advisors to Hun Sen.
Vong Sam Ang said he aims for his students to understand economic theories, particularly those that have failed and those that have been a success.
“They are the direct practitioners,” he said of his students.