One of my graduate students texted me Monday evening if we would be meeting on Thursday.
I texted back in Filipino: “Yes, if we don’t have an earth-quake, typhoon or another National Family Week event.”
It had been a long Monday, with a barrage of texts from faculty and students asking about this National Family Week thing — never observed in previous years — and the decisions of several mayors, including Quezon City’s, to call off classes and work after 2 p.m. that day.
The growing reluctance to suspend work and classes — on my part, as well as from other university officials — comes out of the many, I should say too many, instances of such suspensions.
With earthquakes of intensity 5 and up, as we’ve had the last few weeks, closing down the university is a no-brainer. But even then, there were faculty members and deans who protested the suspension, especially for graduate classes that are usually scheduled late afternoons and evenings and only meet once a week.
The most disturbing trend about suspensions — note that there are now many “walang pasok” sites, from competing media networks — are those connected with rains. I’m not even talking about typhoons, which were covered under Department of Education guidelines issued in 2011. Storm signal No. 1 meant suspension of preschool level classes. Signal No. 2 meant suspension up to the high school level. Signal No. 3 meant suspension in all levels up to college.
All that now seems, well, academic, because the power to suspend has been transferred to local government units, which tend to call off classes too quickly out of fear that they will be blamed if something happens to students. These announcements are supposed to be made before 4:30 a.m. for morning classes and before 11:30 a.m. for afternoon classes.
The move away from typhoon signals speaks of our times. In the past, we worried about strong rains causing floods, and the typhoon’s winds damaging property. Today, with our clogged rivers and sewage, we worry that even mild rains from the monsoon can cause flash floods, which is why city officials jump the gun and suspend classes even with light but continuous rains.
But we just might be seeing a backlash now from parents and students who feel shortchanged by too many suspensions. Teachers grumble, too, about having to figure out additional assignments and holding make-up classes on weekends.
Mapua has taken the lead by providing a “digital day” for when classes are suspended, and faculty are urged to use the institution’s online teaching facilities for lectures and assignments. I’ve thought about that for UP Diliman, but our students are much more mixed, with many who still don’t have their own laptops and access to Wi-Fi, so they would be disadvantaged.
UP College of Law dean Fides Cordero-Tan has proposed that separate guidelines be made for graduate students, including their students. The lower threshold for suspending classes with young children, Dean Cordero-Tan argues, should not be used with graduate students, who are already adults. So, she proposes, unless there is work suspension, graduate classes should continue.
Which takes us to work suspension. People don’t realize that such suspensions mean delays in getting work done and, in the end, you still have to work overtime. Contractual staff also complain, because when work is suspended in the middle of the day, their salary for that day is also deducted for lost hours.
Still another issue to analyze: Suspensions happen much more often in government institutions. Is that fair to our taxpayers?
Our weather people take a more proactive role here to advise government officials. At UP Diliman, we depend on our own meteorologists, who can offer hour by hour forecasts that guide our suspensions not just for work and classes, but also for events like our general commencement exercises. If we were as panicky as government officials with classes, we would have canceled all our UP Diliman commencement exercises since 2014, when we moved the exercises to June, in accordance with our new academic calendar. With our own meteorologists’ advice, we’ve streamlined our ceremonies, this year’s lasting a comfortable two hours to fit into the forecast of a fairly dry early morning.
I have to say there was a tinge of amusement with last Monday’s “walang pasok” announcement, the order specifying suspension to start at 2 p.m., to allow students, faculty and staff to get home in time for dinner with their families. Was that a tacit admission that our traffic is as bad as typhoons and earthquakes?
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