Reaffirming a true University of the People
Roland G. Simbulan
(Revised discussion paper prepared for the the 2009 System-wide U.P. Faculty Conference at Subic Holiday Villas, May 20-22, 2009)
Our 2009 Subic faculty conference is critical in charting the direction of the University of the Philippines (U.P.) for the next 100 years.
U.P. has just celebrated its 100th year last year and among the issues raised in its centennial soul-searching was the question of values that it has instilled among its former students and alumni who occupy most of the top positions in government, the private sector, NGOs and professions, including a few of the country’s top revolutionary leaders. U.P. has been disparaged for producing leaders in government and the corporate sector who do not know how to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and national interests and have only used their positions of power and authority to take care of themselves and their families.
Essentially, it is a question of values. How can the university best inculcate its institutional values of excellence, leadership and social responsibility in its programs and curriculum? Lately, UP has been besieged by the issues of commercialization brought about by galloping increases in its tuition and miscellaneous fees, making it more difficult for poor but qualified students from public schools to enter the state university. Their slots are taken by less qualified but more affluent students from private schools.
The university is also pressured by those with political and corporate connections to soften its curricular and admissions standards to accommodate the children of the elite and upper middle class. Should the university allow itself to be pressured by the exigencies of commercialization and patronage where it will compromise its rigor and standards of excellence? How can very basic values of nationhood be inculcated instead of career-oriented individualism?
One is by teaching by example. Every mentor is a leader in every way not only by what he or she advocates, but what he or she does in terms of our country’s political, economic and social life. In other words, the professor who imparts values to students should be an advocate, an activist for the poor and marginalized majority who are being victimized by the economic policies of the foreign and local elite who dominate our economic system.
Second, is to strengthen and institutionalize the university’s immersion programs and linkages with the marginalized sectors of our society. UP has been doing this to a limited extent since 1995, through a month-long practicum fieldwork course in Development Studies at U.P. Manila. Students look into the impact of government and corporate programs on the neglected poor in the countryside. They integrate with peasants, fisher folk and indigenous people , learn about the problems of these sectors and participate in community and livelihood activities, including production. They also learn how the rural folk are working to uplift their plight through their organizations and struggles.
Students are hosted by dynamic local organizations of farmers or fisher folk. This program provides students a bridge between formal and informal education, the university and the people, and intertwines the students and the university with the people while affirming their roles as co-partners in social transformation and development work.
Through this program, the university has produced socially committed alumni imbibed with nationalist education who are now working in international development agencies, government and corporate sectors, including NGOs and people’s organizations. Testimonies of U.P. Manila Development Studies alumni who attest to the effectivity of these learning experiences in what we have called “Paaralang Bayan” or the Practicum (fieldwork) Program speak for themselves.
A 2007 outstanding UP alumnus Ms.Christine Salazar, wrote: “integration with the masses, more than being humbling, was an empowering experience, which filled in the shortcomings of theories.” Ms. Salazar who is now a Project Evaluation Officer III in the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) also wrote: “ As students of development studies, most of us aim to be development practitioners. The practicum program has become a good training ground a capacity-building undertaking for future development practitioners. Development should not be value-free; policies must be rather addressed to specific sectors – to the marginalized sectors. The practicum program specifically brought us to the rural communities wherein we were exposed to the myriad of issues that led the farmers to a vicious cycle of poverty – the inequitable allocation of land resources and unfair agricultural trade was not compensated with an efficient local service delivery, making rural poverty worse than urban poverty. I have realized that the key to an in-depth analysis of macro-level issues is micro-studies of local communities. In our case, the underdevelopment of th agricultural sector in District III of Cavite was investigated and the locals, with their vernacular language, discussed how speculative investment, landgrabbing, unfair trade and lack of support service create disincentive in farming.”
Mr. Frederick Dabu, former editor in chief of the U.P. Manila Collegian and a 2002 alumnus who is now Legislative Staff at the House of Representatives, Philippine Congress states: “ The practicum offered by the DS Program is a unique and vital component that further equips students for careers in government service or the private sphere, and trains them to become citizens who are concerned with addressing the various socio-economic problems of Filipinos.”
Ms. Abigail Fulgueras, a 1996 Development Studies graduate who is a political affairs officer at the legislative branch of government narrated how the practicum course changed his outlook: “ Our jaws literally dropped when during the actual practicum orientation, we were told that we would be staying for one month in peasant communities, living their lives, understanding their struggle and grasping their alternatives and solutions for better lives. Though I grew up in Manila, both my parents came from peasant families and I am not unfamiliar with muddy paddies, riding carabaos and going to duck/chicken pens. But then the peasant family that I grew up with did not discuss with me the unfairness and later I realized the totally oppressive and exploitative landlord-kasama systems of rent and payment, they did not discuss with me the struggle for land ownership nor the lives that have been shed for the cause of land which has transcended generations of peasant families….
“…The immersion type of practicum was hardly what we expected but it was the most appropriate type of immersion program is one is to understand the true meaning – the essence – of what development should and ought to be. Development Studies is a course whose core should be grounded on the question of “development for whom”? The practicum program gives the DS student the answer to this question – development should be grounded on the needs and realities of the people, genuine grassroots development and empowerment, leads to national development. The practicum program opened our eyes to the fact that only by truly embracing this concept of development can we become true students of development studies and later on practitioners in this field.”
Finally, from Ms. Amihan Mabalay, a 2007 DS alumni who is now Peasant Desk Researcher and Projects Officer at the Office of Rep. Rafael Mariano of the AnakPawis (toiling masses) Partylist:
“As distinct and indispensable as the program itself, the Development Studies Practicum is a vital tool in molding the iskolars ng bayan to become agents of social change – to transform the current unjust and oppressive structure of society. Unlike conventional practicum programs which deploy students in officers, Development Studies students are sent to the rural and depressed areas for one month to witness and experience the people’s plight….”
“….Using the participatory method as a tool for effective social research, the students directly integrate with the toiling masses – join the farmers as they till, nurture and defend their land, join the indigenous people as they preserve their culture and secure their ancestral domain, and join the fisher folks as thy enrich and protect our marine resources and our waters. The DS Practicum Program opened our eyes to the stark reality of the plight of the marginalized and taught us the fundamental lesson of serving the people. We had lived the lives of the masses and joined their struggle for a decent life and genuine social justice.”
Third, UP should honor its alumni and former students who live up to those values that it upholds, especially those who commit themselves to something bigger than their own personal lives, rather than those who are successful in their professional careers or have occupied positions of political and economic power. It would be a travesty of UP’s values to honor those alumni who are known to have squandered the nation’s wealth or compromised its national patrimony and sovereignty for private gain or have done little more than to keep themselves in power. Our students cannot find role models among many UP alumni who may be rich and successful in their professions but have proven themselves dishonest and have vacillated in their principles for the sake of convenience and political expediency.
Finally, the university should make sure that there is a values or ethics component particular to every discipline that it offers. Students and their parents must understand that when they enter the university, they are submitting themselves not only to the rigors of academic excellence but also to the values of social responsibility.
As it charts its next 100 years, UP should not be a mere “community of scholars” but a more active contributor to the nation’s continuing quest for nationhood and social liberation. No doubt, a University of the People should chart its direction and blueprint towards the destiny and future of our nation, especially its destitute majority.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in May 25th 2009