Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Diminishing Public Character of the University of the Philippines: Some Thoughts of an Alumna of Class 1970 on U.P. as the National University

(The Oblation at U.P. Philippine General Hospital
Photo by: Dr. Iggy Agbayani)

By Judy M. Taquiwalo
Faculty Regent
University of the Philippines

(Editor's note: The following article was originally rendered by Regent Taguiwalo in a Presentation to the UP Alumni Association 2010 UP Alumni Council Meeting June 25, 2010, Bahay Alumni, UP, Diliman, Quezon City and is uploaded here with her permission).

I belong to UP Class 1970 which is commemorating its 40th jubilee this year. I would like to share with you the wonderful news that I received my senior citizen card last February and am now looking forward to enjoying the full 12% VAT exemption starting July 6 when the expanded VAT law is implemented.

I would like to thank the UP Alumni Association for giving me this opportunity to look back to the time when we were young and strong and having senior moments was the farthest thing on our mind. .

What were some of the images and sounds of my undergrad days in UP Diliman The Catholic Chapel and UPSCA, the first organization I joined during my freshman year in Diliman; miniskirts and colored net stockings for the women, the shirt jack and pencil pants for men, British pop songs and pop groups with the Beatles leading the pack, Neil Armstrong announcing from the moon “ one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”, the national euphoria over Gloria Diaz selection as the first Filipina to be crowned Miss Universe, the earthquake which turned to ruins the Ruby Tower in Manila.

But there was uniqueness not only in the culture but also in the politics and mood of those times. There was massive disenchantment with the capitalist model of development which had put the market as the key to development and a premium on material goods and individualism. This disenchantment would partly account for the upsurge of social movements whose content and global magnitude was staggering: the anti Vietnam War movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement and the student rights movement in universities worldwide.

In the University of the Philippines, a strong nationalist movement emerged. The Philippine Collegian with Miriam Defensor (now Santiago) the first woman editor of the paper, carried the expose of then Sen. Lorenzo Tanada on the Americanization of the university under President Carlos P. Romulo citing among others the differences in salary and housing between American visiting professors and Filipino UP faculty. The Collegian was also instrumental in exposing the collaboration between UP Los Banos and Dow Chemicals in experimenting with napalm which was used by the United States in the Vietnam war.

A strong democratization movement in the university also emerged in 1969 during the start of the term of Salvador P. Lopez as UP President. A general strike on February 4, 1969 , launched by the broadest alliance of all student organizations on campus led by the UP Student Council and the Council of Leaders and supported by a number of prominent members of the faculty, was successful in asserting major democratic demands. These included the recognition of all student organizations on campus and making faculty advisers as optional not a requirement, student management and control of funds of the Student Council and the Philippine Collegian; transparency in the financial transactions of the university and opening of the university’s books of accounts to the public, tenure for faculty and non-academic personnel, additional medical insurance for the UP constituents, the removal of several key UP officials including then University Secretary Iluminada Panlilio, offices for student organizations; among others. . According to the Philippine Collegian in its February 6, 1969 issue, President Lopez critiqued the colonial character of the Board of Regents and suggested that the Board should be primarily composed of faculty and students, instead of businessmen. ‘

These movements inside the University and the succeeding First Quarter Storm 1970 , the UP Diliman Commune in 1971 and martial law in 1972 would transform many in my generation of UP students , to reject a life of individualism and consumerism, for a life, in the midst of the masses of our people, of resistance to tyranny and foreign domination Many of my UP contemporaries would suffer torture and imprisonment while still others would die in various fighting fronts in our country during the long harsh night of the Marcos dictatorship.

Members of my UP generation were not the first, nor the last from the University who aspired to live up to the ideals of the University as social critic and the ideal of service to the nation as symbolized by the Oblation.

This brief history and context and my emphasis on UP as social critic and in the service of the nation frame my views on UP as the National University.

Through the years the University of the Philippines has been widely recognized as the country’s “premier state university” which highlighted the public character of the university and its high academic standards

With the passage of a new UP Charter in 2008 , the university has abandoned its description as the country’s premier state university and is now officially known as the national university. Removing the description “premier state university” and replacing it with national university, according to University officials, aims to highlight UP’s national presence, the breadth and scope of its academic offerings and to assert that UP is the best not only among state universities but among all higher education institutions of the country. On the other hand, the term national university and the loss of the designation of UP as a state university in the name actually calls attention to the diminishing public character of UP, a process which has accelerated in the past decade.

Some of the manifestations of the diminishing public character of the University are the transfer to the students of a larger part of the cost of their education through increased tuition and the imposition of various fees such as higher and/or new laboratory fees , joint ventures with big business, the selling of naming rights, the privatization of former university services such as the University Food Service and the UP Printery, contracting a private entity to set up laboratory, pharmacy and radiology inside the PGH compound in exchange for providing space to UP doctors for their private practice, the private management of university dorms are only some examples of the accelerating and diversified ways of privatization of the University of the Philippines.

(No to commecialization parking sign
at Yakal Residence Hall, U.P. Diliman
Photo by: Chanda Shahani)

You may ask, what’s wrong with these if they generate badly-need resources for UP? Let me share with you some of my thoughts on the negative impact of the ongoing process which is eroding the public character of UP as a state university.

1. Transferring more and more the burdens of resource generation to the students is going to change the profile of the student population of the university. It was already difficult during my time, when tuition was a low P185 per semester for a family like mine whose father was a school principal earning P300 per month to cope with the cost of education, it is so much more difficult at present for children of the middle class and the lower income class to enter UP with an average tuition of P1,000 per unit. The 2006 reformulated socialized tuition scheme projected only about 10% of new UP students would be covered by the free tuition with allowance. Some of my colleagues foresee the day when UP would be like Ateneo with majority of the students coming from higher income families and a minority of poor with scholarships.

2. The corporatization of the university structure and governance.

a. Already Section 24, “Management of Funds” of the UP Charter, designates representatives of big business as investment advisers to the university through the creation of a so-called “independent trust committee” composed of the UP President and representative each from the Bankers Association of the Philippines, the Investment Houses Association of the Philippines, the Trust Officers Association of the Philippines and the Financial Executive Institute of the Philippines. This independent trust committee, a new structure in the university, “shall provide the Board with direction on appropriate investment objectives and permissible investments with the view to preserving the value of the funds while allowing the University to earn a reasonable return thereon. The Charter has now institutionalized the University going into business as an important mission.
b. The criteria for the selection of the college Deans, the primary academic leaders of the various degree-granting units, now also place high emphasis on the “resource generating” capability of the nominees.
c. An increase in the number of Vice Presidents and Assistant Vice Presidents as well as Executive Assistants in the UP System administration has also been noted. A case in point is the transformation of the title of the UP General Counsel into the Vice President for Legal Affairs indicating perhaps the expanded role of the legal office not only in academic and disciplinal questions but in the matters of contracts and agreements with business entities.

3. The increase in the number of contractual workers of the university as non-academic but vital services necessary for running the university are being privatized. Contractual workers have no job security, limited benefits and in most cases are “discouraged” from forming or joining unions.
4. The trend towards developing greater dependence on the private sector, particularly big business and foreign corporations, in generating funds, rather than in more vigorous engagement with the state. The danger of this trend is the question of accountability: the private sector is basically accountable to its investors; the state is accountable to the public and individuals could be removed via elections.

For a number of us in the university, the most dangerous impact of the diminishing public character of the university is the erosion of the ideological mooring of service to the country and to the people among the students and among the faculty with the prominence being given to market rates as the standard for tuition and for salaries. Already, some quarters in the university have adopted “Iskolar para sa bayan” rather than Iskolar ng Bayan, a term which emerged during the height of martial law and which captures the fact that UP students are subsidized by the public and have an obligation to serve the people. This is not true for the term “iskolar para sa bayan” which can encompass Ateneo’s description of “person for others”

The salary of the UP faculty is constantly compared to the salary of Ateneo and La Salle professors, to emphasize the comparatively lower pay of the latter and/or to explain the resignation of a number of UP faculty. The emphasis on economic standards alone will never be sufficient to retain professors in the university as private corporations, big private universities charging astronomic tuition and transnational corporations will always have the capacity to pay more than UP.

Improvement of salary and benefits for UP faculty and personnel are of course necessary but not at the expense of the students and the erosion of the public character of the university that distinguishes it from Ateneo or La Salle. I have talked to retired UP professors who spent the best parts of their lives in the University and heard them recount why they were happy in the university and why they stayed. It was never about the money but of the joy of teaching bright students in an atmosphere of academic freedom and collegiality in a secular university with the highest stature in the country, Housing on campus, study privilege for children and the privilege to enjoy the acacia and the fire trees along the academic oval and were additional and important incentives.

It is difficult but not impossible to demand from the state higher subsidy to the University. The passage of the third Salary Standardization Law last 2009, which would bring about annual increases in salaries of government personnel in government agencies, was a product of intense and consistent lobbying by public sector workers including the university’s workers unions.

Tomorrow, June 26, is the 4th year of the abduction and disappearance of two UP students, Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, two of the more than 100 victims of enforced disappearances during the Arroyo administration.

Let me therefore end by sharing an excerpt from the statement “Soul Searching, A Statement for the July 20, 2006 Activity for the Missing Students”

It is now easier to take stock of the conditions that shape a university’s soul. Unlike other institutions that are primarily driven by the inertia of capital and power, a university ideally enjoys relative isolation from these imperatives to allow it to fulfill its important
role as a social critic and repository of social memory. This historic role has been played by UP time and time again. Generations of UP students and faculty have lived these ideals of speaking the truth against power whether it be against foreign domination, corruption or tyranny. Many of the activists, nationalists, and intellectuals that help chart the destiny of this nation towards more democratic ideals came from the university. In an apt symbolism represented by the Oblation, countless have martyred themselves offering their lives for the ideal that the university stands – the courage to speak the truth when no one dares to, and to sacrifice one’s life for such convictions. It is the capacity of the university to witness for the truth that gains for it a soul. Karen EmpeƱo and Sherlyn Cadapan are embodiments of this core of university traditions.”

In sum, the challenge to UP as the national university is to retain its soul by arresting the ongoing processes which are diminishing the public character of the university, by arresting the drift of UP Naming Mahal turning into UP Na Naging Mahal and to continue to call on its constituents that “UP ang galing mo, ialay sa bayan.

Post script: I have been requested prior to my presentation this morning to suggest concrete ways by which the UP Alumni Association can assist the university. I have two proposals which would contribute to help arrest the diminishing public character of the university:

1. For UPAA to assist the University in lobbying for a higher 2011 budget. The Administration is proposing an P18 billion budget. At the minimum, the 2011 budget should be higher than the 2010 UP budget.
2. For UPAA to assist the University in filing and lobbying for a bill that would earmark to UP a percentage of current revenues generated from corporate taxes on top of the regular budget allocation.

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