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Threat to academic freedom—from inside UP

The University of the Philippines community is gearing up to fight a threat to its academic freedom with the unilateral abrogation by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana of the Memorandum of Agreement between the Department of National Defense and UP which delineates the terms and conditions under which the military can enter UP campuses (the police are under the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the DILG is sticking to its agreement with UP). Rightly so.

“Abuses of the national security state” is the fourth threat (there are 16) to academic freedom listed by Cary Nelson in his book “No University is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom”—and he gives examples of these affronts to academic freedom justified on the basis of national security.

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But while this threat from outside the university is being tackled, there are threats from within the university which have reared their ugly heads. These fall, using Nelson’s list, under “circumvention of shared governance” and “authoritarian administration,” where shared governance refers to “the negotiated agreements and processes that structure the relationship between the legal authority of trustees and the professional expertise of faculty, with primary authority ceded to the faculty in such areas as hiring and curriculum.” These internal threats must be tackled as well.

This circumvention issue was brought to light with a recent letter written by the present and a couple of past Sectoral Regents (Reader, the highest governing body of UP is the Board of Regents [BOR], and the Sectoral Regents are the Faculty Regent, the Student Regent, and the Staff Regent who are elected by their peers) to the chairman of the BOR and the president of UP.

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The issue began on Oct. 10, 2019, when (quoting this letter), “the BOR voted 6-5 for nonfaculty candidate, Mr. Joel Tan-Torres (JTT) as the Dean of the Virata School of Business (VSB). The recommendations of the Diliman Chancellor which were based on the results of a thorough search committee report as well as the well-articulated preferences and aspirations of the college in its choice of academic leader” were essentially ignored.

The letter goes on to remind the BOR that “the University cannot be run along the lines of an industrial corporate command structure with the BOR calling all the shots from the top,” stating that its charter mandates it to “provide democratic governance in the University based on collegiality, representation, accountability, transparency and active participation of its constituents” (RA 9500, Sec. 3(h)).

The Sectoral Regents assert that such is undoubtedly the reason why the BOR can only elect a dean “upon the nomination of the President of the University and recommendation of the Chancellor of the constituent university, following a process of consultation with the constituents of the college based on standards and guidelines set by the Board (Sec. 19). The question of whether the BOR can elect a Dean who has not been nominated by the President or recommended by the Chancellor can therefore legitimately be raised. But as we have seen, within the framework of the UP Charter, such a question can only be resolved in favor of academic freedom.” There we go.

But you may ask, Reader, how is JTT doing as dean? Let’s hear it from the Sectoral Regents: “Since his election fourteen months ago to the position of Dean of the VSB, JTT has not been able to obtain a faculty position… As a nonfaculty, he is unable to officially attend or participate in department, college, and University Council meetings.”

Why was he unable to obtain a faculty position? Because the VSB, exercising its academic prerogative on “who may teach” (part of academic freedom), rejected his application and apparently is willing to explain thoroughly and transparently the academic grounds behind its decision.

Status: Stalemate. The BOR overstepped its authority and appointed a dean by bypassing all the procedures enumerated in the UP charter. And the VSB faculty has fought back tooth and nail. A threat to academic freedom, and a response to this threat.

Moral: Don’t mess around with UP.

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TAGS: academic freedom, DND, opinion, security, UP
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