Reinstate the post of Professor of Burmese at SOAS, University of London


This petition, an initiative of colleagues at the Australian National University (ANU), seeks to persuade SOAS, University of London, to reverse the decision to terminate the Professor of Burmese position, ending over a century of scholarship in the languages and linguistics of Myanmar and Southeast Asia at SOAS.

Please read the full letter from ANU Burma studies colleagues, and consider signing this petition.

Thank you for your valued support.


Justin Watkins


Professor Adam Habib, Director
Professor Claire Ozanne, Deputy Director and Provost
Lord Dr Michael Hastings, Chair of the Board of Trustees
SOAS, University of London |

23 August 2022

Dear Professors Habib and Ozanne, and Lord Hastings, 

We, the undersigned, including the Myanmar Research Centre at the Australian National University and colleagues, are horrified to learn the news that SOAS has decided to cut the post of Professor of Burmese. This is a devastating, short-sighted decision, to the ultimate detriment of the scholarly endeavours and institutional vibrance of SOAS as well as to the fields of Burma/Myanmar Studies, Southeast Asian studies and Southeast Asian linguistics in general. We implore you to reverse this decision.

First of all, Professor Justin Watkins is a remarkable, generous and dedicated participant in the scholarly communities of Burma Studies and Southeast Asian linguistics. He has been a crucial educator for scores – if not hundreds – of students and researchers, facilitating their academic development through language training and supervision, both formally at the University as well as through numerous intensive Burmese language classes he has offered over the years. Cutting this position while Professor Watkins has so much yet to contribute is a disservice to the field in terms of his own invaluable work, as well as to the future students who will not be able to study with him. 

Perhaps it would help to remind us that the founding charter of SOAS is one to “accept a special commitment to language scholarship relating to Asia, Africa and the Middle East.” At a time in which Myanmar is mired in political difficulty, including authoritarian rule, internal conflict and increased human rights and migration issues, discontinuing this support of Burmese scholarship is preposterous. Engagement and cross-cultural understanding, of which language learning and scholarship are fundamental, could never be more crucial. 

Beyond the intrinsic importance of Burmese scholarship and Professor Watkins’ many contributions, this post, the Professor of Burmese at SOAS, University of London, is a continuation of over a century of institutional support of SOAS as an essential centre for scholarship on Myanmar and Southeast Asia. This cut represents an affront to that legacy, and even more sadly, a sabotage of its future. Again, we urge you to reconsider your decision.

Sincerely, the undersigned,

The Australian National University and the signatories of the petitions



Original letter:



Prof. Justin Watkins, Professor of Burmese at SOAS, University of London    Contact the author of the petition

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