The “Elite” Dominated University Vs. a People’s University
By Edberto M. Villegas
In the House has been filed a bill entitled “An Act Reorienting the Charter of the University of the Philippines in order to Ensure Academic Excellence, Democratic Participation and Patriotism in the Premier State University”, which seeks to change the present UP Charter (Act 1870), enacted in 1908 during the American colonial regime in the Philippines. The essential features of this bill are the re-structuring of the governance of UP towards a democratic university and the prevention of its commercialization of becoming a profit-seeking academic institution. Towards this end, the current UP Board of Regents, composed mostly of Malacanang appointed members and politicians, would be replaced by a democratically-elected system-wide University of the Philippines System Assembly (UPSA) drawn from the sectors of the faculty/research extension and professional staff (REPS), students, administrative personnel, and alumni from the seven campuses of the university. The UPSA would be responsible for the administrative governance of UP while the present University Councils of the different campuses shall maintained jurisdiction over academic matters. A significant difference of the University Councils in the proposed new charter from those in the old charter is that there shall be student representatives in the former to ensure that academic policies, i.e., the making of new curriculum, etc., shall involve the largest constituency of the university itself, the student body, since they would primarily be the carriers and purveyors to general society of the knowledge and values imparted to them by UP when they leave its portals.
The UP-wide Democratization Movement II (UP Widem II), composed of students, faculty/REPS and administrative personnel of the different campuses of UP, undertook a series of discussions to draft the bill which is now filed in Congress. UP Widem II is a revival of UP Widem I, a democratic movement which emerged in UP in the late 1980’s to democratize governance in the University and work for the formulation of a new UP charter.. It was seen imperative to make the charter more relevant to the needs of contemporary Philippine society. The UP Widem II bill is the contrary of HB 455 and SB2587, which have been shelved in the 12th Congress but now refiled in the House, since the latter two would strengthen the BOR, granting it more financial powers which can lead to the commercialization and eventual privatization of UP, thus allowing the national government to further reduce the annual budget for the university. The UP administration has come out in support for the retention of the archaic colonial structure of the BOR as is provided in HB 455 and SB2587 and is specially happy about its added special financial powers
In an presentation “Academic Excellence and University Governance” by UP Vice President for Academic Affairs Maria Serena I. Diokno, delivered at a Roundtable Discussion on the Culture of the University, it is averred that with the institution of the UPSA, as proposed in the UP Widem II bill, to replace the present BOR, the academic community that is UP will be turned into a “polity”. In a polity, it is asserted that other concerns, other than the “primacy of the University’s function as a learning institution”, may prevail like, for instance, the demand of the majority of the employees of UP for higher salary increases and other staff benefits. Either VP Diokno intends to use the word “polity” in its original Aristotlean sense, which means the constitutional rule of the middle class based on merit(Aristotle, Politics, Chapter XI ), which is contrasted with constitutional democracy(rule of the poor), or she is simply referring to the rule of the majority. In her context, it seems that polity means democratic rule, or the rule of the majority as how de Toqueville used the term. In de Toqueville, democracy may become the rule of unreason or the tyranny of the majority. Along this vein, Ms. Diokno mistrusts a democratically-elected UPSA, as proposed by our bill, since she has greater faith in the present system, which she still recommends with some changes in the composition of the BOR.
Ms. Diokno’s preference for the hierarchical structure of UP, a carry-over from American colonialism in the Philippines, reflects her elitist philosophy for what a university should be. She denigrates the capacity of the UP constituency, faculty/REPS, and, administrative personnel to work for what is best for the university in terms of academic standards, and fears that they will just fight for their own little vested interests like higher salaries and employment. Does she believe then that the present composition of the BOR, with most of its members not even coming from the academe, is in a better position to uphold the principles of academic excellence and competence? Even if a BOR is re-structured and more faculty representatives and administrators are included in it, this would be presumptuously assuming that to be a faculty and an administrator is to be in a greater position to know what is good for the education of our students in particular and the Filipinos in general. In other advanced universities in Europe like Cambridge, Sorbonne, Munich and Cuba, elected student representatives and administrative personnel sit in their highest-policy making bodies(called Councils in Cambridge, Sorbonne and Cuba and Assembly in Munich). If such constituents in these universities could participate in the highest decision-making of their institutions, why colonially demean the ability of other sectors of UP, students, REPS, and administrative personnel to work for what is best for its academic standards?
Is it not also that if the BOR could not arrive at a consensus, which is of course the ideal way for a democratic deliberation, that they resort to the vote of the majority? But what kind of a majority is this? A majority of a minority, mostly chosen by Malacanang. This kind of a BOR has long been lording it over our university since colonial times, deciding the fate of our faculty, students, and administrative personnel. At one time in 1989, it even superceded the decision of the UP Manila University Council’s disapproval of the graduation of six students due to lack of requirements from the UP College of Medicine, invoking its so-called plenary power, which is a euphemism for its absolute power. Truly, the BOR has turned into a tyranny of the minority. There is no existing body in the University now which can check such abuses of the BOR unlike in the UP Widem II proposed charter where there is the right to recall by their constituencies members of the UPSA. It is only the prejudgment of Ms Diokno that the UPSA may turn into a selfish group which she can offer as an argument against it.
Ms. Diokno also alleges that in the proposed charter, there will be a lack of public accountability for the UPSA, so that it can do whatever it wants with the taxes of the people or public monies. Either Ms. Diokno has not read carefully the draft of the proposed charter or its final version or she has misread it. In Sec.6 , it is stated that the Chair of the House Committee on Higher Education, Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, the Commissioner of Higher Education and the President of the UP Alumni Association, shall be ex-officio voting members of UPSA. Thus, these persons can very well inform the UPSA of the state of the national budget and participate in the determination of the annual budget for UP. Besides, in Sec. 30 , it is likewise provided that like all government entities, the disbursements of the UP budget shall be subjected to the scrutiny of the COA. If this is not public accountability of the funds of UP, one wonders what could be?
With a democratically-elected UPSA and the right to recall its members, this highest policy making body of the university would be more directly accountable to its constituency unlike the present BOR. The UP is supposed to be tasked with social responsibility in its activities and no constituency is in a more favorable position to make it fulfill its public function than the students, faculty and other personnel within its domain. But the present structure of UP has its highest policy-making body perched on a pedestal more answerable to the President of the Philippines than to the general public. This itself is the reason why there is a drift of UP towards commercialization and privartization, antithetical to the very concept of state education, as it has to abide by the commitment of Malacanang to reduce the budget for social services, including for UP education, in order to defray foreign debt, which now amounts to close to $60 billion.
While it is true that the members of the UP community must have some shared values, and Diokno mentions academic excellence, intellectual integrity, and the creation and sharing of knowledge, democratic principles must not be excluded from these. Any modern university must uphold democratic ideals and its practice, like freedom of expression and people’s participation in decision making. Our university must be a living laboratory to imbibe in our students, faculty and its other constituents the values which have liberated humanity from ignorance and superstitions. What distinguishes the modern scholar from the old is that he/she does not only aim for academic excellence and honesty in his/her research but that he/she respects the opinions of and if he/she is in a position creates the conditions in which others can equally express these opinions. If it is true that some scholars are egotistic, as Diokno insists, yet truth is better served if one admits one’s error through the criticisms of others. The UP must be a bastion for democratic actions, so badly needed in our elite-dominated society, because knowledge produced by the university and co-opted to serve only the rich is a disservice to our people and humanity in general.
Diokno cites Ben Anderson’s theory of the imagined community in her definition of UP as an academic community because, according to her, the UP constituency imagined themselves to be one, sharing common values and aspirations. But Anderson also observes that in the history of the world, it is the dominant or ruling classes that first initiate what common aspirations and values could be disseminated among societies. During the ancient and feudal periods, monarchies and dynasties, according to Anderson, created “sodalities” among their subjects with the invention of values such as divinity, spiritual fatality, etc.. in order to reinforce their rule. These myths were than challenged by the rise of the idea of the nation, an imagined community bounded by a common culture and language. But the spread of the idea of the nation was first made possible by the bourgeoisie through what Anderson calls “print capitalism”. The first newspapers, for instance, in America, were commercial in nature, “appendages of the market”.(Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, Verso, 1983,p. 62) What made the new communities therefore imaginable was a “half-fortuitous, but explosive, interaction between a system of production and production relations(capitalism), a technology of communications(print)”(p.43). Thus, from print capitalism came the American imagined realities: “nation-states, republican institutions, common citizenships, popular sovereignty, national flags and anthems, and the liquidation of their conceptual opposite: dynastic empires, monarchical institutions, absolutisms, subjecthoods, inherited nobilities, serfdoms, ghettoes and so forth.”(p. 87) It could be said that like his brother Perry( Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism,1974; Lineages of the Absolute State, 1974) , Ben Anderson is aware of the objective conditions or social relations of production from which values and ideals arose in history.
Invoking Ben Anderson’s theory without being conscious of the material conditions of ideas may lead to dogmatism and absolutism as nationalism, once a liberative ideology against Napoleonic rule in non-French countries in Europe, bred the Nazism of Germany in the 20th century. Even democracy as a liberating concept must utilize social analysis to make it truly emancipative. Diokno’s use of Anderson theory only reinforces the “elitist” and hierachical structure of UP as those at the top of the structure are given the monopoly to determine what should be the shared values and aspirations of the academic community.
Finally, Diokno poses a conflict between humanitarianism and scholarship, worse between polity, in the sense of the rule of the majority, and scholarship. But advances in the great universities of the world were won by those who advocated humanitarianism and democracy. Through democratic struggle, university education formerly accessible only to the elites of societies, the nobility and the bourgeoisie, gradually opened their doors to the poor and women, the latter previously considered undeserving of higher education. After the democratization of admission to universities, great strides in the sciences and the arts were made in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the 20th century. The democratic movement in the advanced universities of the world is not only in their admission policies but towards more and more participation by all sectors of the universities, students, faculty/REPs, and administrative personnel in the administration of university affairs. The time will come when the “elitist” and hierarchical university will be placed in the museum of antiquities side by side with the bow and arrow and the bronze axe.
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 Aug 28th 2004