Academic excellence, freedom | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

Academic excellence, freedom

/ 04:08 AM January 20, 2021

I hope there was a miscommunication somewhere that led Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to abrogate, unilaterally, an agreement that barred the military and the police from entering any of the University of the Philippines campuses without prior notification and permission of UP authorities.

The agreement goes back to martial law, when both the university and the Armed Forces saw the wisdom of having UP as a kind of sacred ground so scholarship could flourish. At that time, the police was under the Armed Forces so the agreement covered both the military and the police. After the Edsa revolt, the police was transferred to the Department of the Interior and Local Government and another agreement was made to keep them out of UP, even as the one with the Department of National Defense remained in force.

We’re talking about half a century of agreements that worked well because they made sense.


We’re talking here about academic excellence that comes out of academic freedom. This academic freedom is not about rabble-rousing as detractors like to claim, but about teaching people to exercise civil rights with responsibility. Yes, there may be shouting at times, but precisely because there is academic freedom, we can call each other out when the rules of civility are transgressed.


I speak as someone who was an administrator for some 20 years in UP, as department head, as a college dean, and as chancellor. I’ve had my share of having to face angry students and faculty, but precisely because of the principle of academic freedom I knew, and the students and faculty knew, we would work out the grievances.

Few people are aware that academic freedom goes way back to the European universities set up by the Catholic Church starting in the 12th century. The first one to adopt what we call academic freedom today was the University of Bologna, which sought assurance that all “traveling scholars” could move around freely, protected from interference by both politicians as well as religious leaders.

It was a sound idea that has worked for nine centuries, with almost a hundred universities worldwide signing an agreement some years back reiterating their commitment to academic freedom. The University of the Philippines was the only Philippine university among the signatories, if I remember right.

I have had military people and police as students and we speak frankly, sharing many concerns. Some of them come to understand why it is so important to have academic freedom, seeing for themselves how it works, in and out of classrooms.

I also lecture at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business for an MBA in Health, and I am always amused hearing fellow faculty talk about the need for disruptive thinking in business. When my students ask why UP is so “aktibista,” I tell them we’re just “disruptive thinkers,” which is why our graduates excel in whatever field they enter after graduation. A campus hostaged to fear is hobbled as well in striving for academic excellence.

Let’s turn away briefly from politics. Advocates of a military and police presence in UP argue that the uniformed personnel will control criminality. Yet, the last time this controversy came up in 2019, my team had the figures to show that UP Diliman’s crime rates were lower than all the barangays around us, where there was police presence.


And let’s face it, you and I know why that was the case. Bring in the police and we will have new problems, because the law enforcers will end up the lawbreakers. It’s the (il)logic of armed force against unarmed people. We teach our students to rein in their anger and to debate and argue, but if the military and the police come in, they will instead see an alternative mode of conflict resolution: shoot first, ask questions later.

This was why, when I was an administrator, security guards assigned to me did not bear arms. I explained that I did not want my children to grow up around armed guards. It is the same logic I use in wanting to see our iskolar ng bayan (people’s scholars) pursuing their studies without armed women and men around them.

The military and the police inside campuses makes for a volatile mixture, endangering not just university constituents but also the uniformed personnel themselves.

Allow us, allow the nation, to excel in, and through, freedom.

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TAGS: Michael L. Tan, Pinoy Kasi, University of the Phiippines, UP

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