Thursday, October 05, 2006

Updates on the new UP Charter

The University of the Philippines (UP) has released for downloading copies of House Bill 5008 (that has passed third reading) and Senate Bill 1833 that seek to amend the 98 year old UP Charter Act 1870 passed by the colonial legislature of the time, the Philippine Assembly.

Nationalists rightly point out that the UP Charter has reference to the American Governor General. But this is not that relevant now for our identity as an independent nation with a Filipino National university. I always point out that the Australian Constiutution still refers to Queen Victoria of England. No Aussie in his/her right mind would think that he/she is still a subject of the Queen of England. Thus Queen Victoria in Australia and The American Governor General in the UP are of historic interest only.

What is more essential is that the UP has outgrown the old charter that specifies that the university be located in Manila. UP today is found in other places in the Philippines. So there is a need for a new charter.

The problems that bedevil the university stems from years of misdirected priorities and diminishing state subsidy. Not only is state funding hardly growing, the value of this subsidy has shrunk. Students still sit in crowded classrooms and sometimes sit on no chairs at all during lectures. To be fair, much these problems have been overcome but there is still more to be done. With increasing demand for a UP student placement, we can expect the problem to get worse.

Professors' salaries have hardly been adjusted to meet increasing costs of living. The same is true for the non-academics who run the daily business of the university. The bills address the problem of salaries but in different ways. The house version does not exempt the university from the government Salary Standardisation Law but gives leeway to the university to institute an allowance scheme that could give an additional 100% to a professor's salary. The question is does every prof get this allowance or not?

The house version also provides make-up classes and exams for students who are absent for religious reasons. I believe that this violates the separation between church and state. The UP as a state institution should be neutral to religion favouring none but not restricting on its private practice. As a prof myself, this clause is pernicious since it would be my responsibility to determine what constitutes religious practice or not before I give make-up exams. I believe no professor should be compelled to do this.

The house bill also complicates university administration by creating university and system assemblies that may determine policy. The university is a probably the only one of two medieval ideas ( Church is the other one) where autonomy from political meddling by the State (or anyone for that matter) has been vigorously defended against, even if to displease the Church or the State. Academic freedom is maintained in any university since the governance of which is vested in the professors.

The Senate version mandates civil service eligibility for profs something that the 1908 act exempts (President Roman has said this has been dropped) and creates an oversight committee over the Board of Regents (again a source of possible meddling by politicians).

In a bicameral legislative system both bills will be reconciled in the bicameral committee. This is where the horse-trading happens and the public may be kept in the dark. The students, profs, alumni and staff of the university have to exert extra vigilance and interest.

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