A University of Chicago award | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

A University of Chicago award

The University of Chicago Alumni Award for Public Service that I accepted last Saturday was not just for me personally, but, more importantly, for Social Weather Stations as a whole.

The award cites “promoting meaningful economic progress, social justice, and civic engagement in the Philippines,” “decades of research on public opinion and his analysis of social survey data,” and “helping a nation to define its identity and to restore democracy by demonstrating the public will through numbers,” “much of it under difficult political circumstances.” Yet such things were possible only because SWS, a team of many people, had done the surveys and produced the numbers.

From UC (the official abbreviation “UChicago” is unwieldy) to SWS is a long story. My first exposure to UC was at age nine, when I got a T-shirt with a mysterious “19??” on the chest, sent by my mother when she was a UC student for only one quarter, circa 1953.


I had no expectation of studying abroad until I became an economics instructor in the early 1960s at the University of the Philippines, and discovered that at that time it had scholarships, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, to develop faculty to handle missing fields of study. The field assigned to me was agricultural economics, despite my protests of having no relevant experience aside from watering plants at our UP campus home.


To prepare, I transferred from UP to the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños for a year, where UC-trained economist Vernon W.

Ruttan mentored me, introduced me to Chicago-school economics, sent my research work to UC professor Theodore W. Schultz, and got me admitted to the UC doctoral program.

My best teachers there were Nobel winners Schultz (agriculture; human capital), Milton Friedman (money; capitalism and freedom), George Stigler (information economics; economic thought), and econometricians Henri Theil and Arnold Zellner. I got my degree in 1970, after a thesis on the diffusion of new rice varieties in Central Luzon, and finally understood the T-shirt.

Returning to UP, I taught agricultural economics and econometrics as planned. My research moved from rice productivity to matters of poverty, income distribution and land reform. I began looking at well-being in the round, not only economic but also political, social, psychological, environmental, etc. I saw that data on sensitive matters do not grow in the wild, but must be deliberately generated. Social surveys are a practical way to obtain new data, and can be done by private initiative and not only by state institutions: hence Social Weather Stations, established in 1985.

In 1990, SWS became the Philippine member of the International Social Survey Program

(ISSP) and thus a regular colleague of the UC’s National Opinion Research Center, which is


ISSP’s US member. This connection has now produced 20 national surveys, on a different topic each year, for comparing Filipinos with Americans (and 45 other nationalities as of 2011). Thus have researchers of SWS and UC come to know each other well.

With awardees given only 60 seconds to speak, I first thanked God for such generosity – to the apparent surprise of many in the audience, including my family who know me as non-churchy. Well, I am a believer, and also believe, like Gandhi, that all religions are equal. SWS, which is non-sectarian, has done many surveys about religion.

(A plaque at the majestic Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, site of the ceremony, states that UC founder John D. Rockefeller made provision for erecting it as the central feature of the campus, to proclaim “that the university in its ideal is dominated by the spirit of religion. All its departments are inspired by religious feeling and all its work is directed to the highest ends.”)

In my remaining 55 seconds, I began by acknowledging, without names, my parents (Fred and Ruby) and my other schools (Ateneo de Manila and UP) for forming me as a person.

I thanked the Filipino friends at UC who joined me and others in founding SWS 15 years after I left the campus, mentioning cofounders Thetis Mangahas and Mercedes Abad, who were present at the ceremony.

I praised the dedication of the SWS staff, represented by board members Linda Luz Guerrero and Jasmin Acuña, who also came to Chicago.

I thanked my fellow UC student Juanita Salvador-Burris for nominating me, Tom W. Smith (of NORC) for endorsing me, and the UC alumni board of governors for agreeing with them.

I credited our late beloved President Corazon Aquino with restoring our democracy and thus providing a minimum political environment for opinion polling to survive.

I thanked our Supreme Court, especially Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban who also formally endorsed me, for ruling that exit polls and election surveys are covered by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.

Finally, I thanked the Filipino people as a whole, who by their enthusiastic participation in the SWS surveys have manifested their belief that in this way their voices are truly heard. Questionnaires, sampling, and field interviews are but research instruments applied to persons whose responses matter. Filipinos are as amenable as others to such instruments.

This was a capsule of how SWS came to get a University of Chicago award. I like to think it amused our Friend to arrange for my 1953 T-shirt, knowing that I’d remember it some time.

* * *

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or [email protected].

TAGS: education, Social Weather Stations, SWS

© Copyright 1997-2024 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.