Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Case of Professor Sarah Raymundo

By Chanda Shahani

The famous statue as seen in the picture above, is known as the Oblation and stands at the entrance to the University of the Philippines at Diliman. It symbolizes Academic Freedom. It also stands as a stark reminder that within the University of the Philippines itself; Academic Freedom is a growing and dynamic concept that is in perpetual danger of being abused or even extinguished by some of those who are its very proponents.

Take the case of U.P. Diliman Sociology Professor Sarah Raymundo. A bunch of online petitions are now coming out in Facebook, and other online fora, including even the Manila Times online ( regarding the arbitrary non-granting of tenure by the top management of the University of the Philippines at Diliman for Sociology Professor Sarah Raymundo. One can even see posters plastered on U.P. Diliman faculty offices by U.P. faculty sympathetic to the plight of Professor Raymundo. A massive international email campaign is even being waged by friends and supporters of Raymundo to embarrass the U.P. Diliman administration which is headed by College of Business Administration (CBA) professor and now Chancellor Gerry Cao.

With both sides of the debate respectively waving aloft the banner of Academic Freedom, it is pretty difficult for an independent observer to fully appreciate the facts and to find out what's the truth and what's the spin.

At the heart of the issue is whether or not Raymundo, who has satisfied all the academic qualifications for tenure, was charged with being unethical by a minority of faculty within her own department in failing to disclose complete information about the enrollement status of disappeared graduating U.P. Sociology Student Karen Empeno during a press conference held on the matter. However, under the University's own rules, a student's complete connection with the University can only be considered severed, when the Secretary of the College takes formal actions to drop that student from the rolls. This means that Raymundo would have been correct, after all, in stating that Empeno was still connected with the University, despite the claims of the minority faculty that she was misleading the University by claiming Empeno was still connected with the University when in fact she wasn't

Even the faculty from Raymundo's own department are themselves divided on the issue. However, if Raymundo's tenure is denied (at least this time around) on the basis of Academic Freedom of the Institution, then at the very least she and her fellow professors, students and other allies supporting her deserve to know HOW Academic Freedom itself was exercised; and whether in the exercise of such Academic Freedom, sufficient rigor was exercised by U.P.'s decision makers who are supposed to be the vanguard of academic excellence.

If the whole idea of Academic Freedom is to create an atmosphere where robust dissent is encouraged by and between scholars in a spirit of inquiry utilizing rigirous academic standards to arrive at a conclusion that bears a semblance to the truth without fear of intimidation or reprisal; then from the very start, Professor Raymundo deserves a professional decision arrived at in a scholarly manner in why she was not granted tenure thus far. But Chancellor Cao, by all indications, has sided with a minority dissenting opinion with powerful connections to the University decision making structure and refused to grant Raymundo tenure.

Professor Raymundo, who has served the University as a scholar and teacher for more than ten years, deserves something better than to have her tenure denied on the grounds of Academic Freedom -- if Academic Freedom itself hijacked by a small cabal of professors protecting each other in an interlocking series of decisions -- without utilizing rigid academic criteria in making an evaluation.

The misuse of Academic Freedom by the University Administration and a small minority of professors allied with this administration in order to settle grudges, exercise political discrimination, remove troublemakers, or otherwise revise or totally erase inconvenient truths is to twist and distort Academic Freedom itself. Academic Freedom after all is defined as “the freedom of inquiry by students and faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy. They argue that academic communities are repeatedly targeted for repression due to their ability to shape and control the flow of information. When scholars attempt to teach or communicate ideas or facts that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities, they may find themselves targeted for public vilification, job loss, imprisonment, or even death.” (

By all indications, Professor Raymundo is being singled out for her political views. She is, after all, well-known forher progressive affiliations, as she is currently the Secretary-General of CONTEND-UP and is an national officer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers of the Philippines (ACT).

CONTEND-UP has challenged Chancellor Cao, Prof. David and the sociology department to uphold the principles of academic freedom, transparency, and fairness in the tenure case of Prof. Sarah Raymundo, according to: the website supporting Raymundo's granting of tenure (

But most importantly, now that this case has reached U.P. Emerlinda R. Roman's desk for decision, upon appeal by Professor Raymundo herself, is to see whether Roman, U.P.'s first female President, has the balls to go up against her own Chancellor in U.P. Diliman, and exercise Academic Freedom wisely. The fear is that she may not, as Roman and Cao are both from the same College of Business Administration in U.P. Diliman. The U.P. President is defined under Republic Act 9500, or the U.P. Charter, as the chief academic officer of the university, but she may end up deferring to the Academic Freedom of what essedntially constitutes a minority opinion backed up by powerful connections within the University. However, the buck itself doesn't completely stop at Roman's desk, as R.A. 9500 grants the power to the U.P. Board of Regents itself to appoint faculty members and to appoint a position classification for its faculty; and therein may lie Raymundos final fate – for the U.P. BOR may opt to grant her tenure or disapprove it, or even throw it back to the Department for a new vote; which would leave Professor Raymundo in academic limbo within the University.

(Next: 2008 COA report raises questions on several University of the Philippines foundations)

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