Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Centennial year of the University of the Philippines

Today the University of the Philippines starts its year long celebrations of its centennial. The university was founded by the Philippine Legislature when it passed a bill granting the university its charter on 26 May 1908. On June 18 of that year the Governor General signed the bill into law.

The university traces its foundation really from the First Philippine Republic which created the Universidad Literaria de Filipinas. When the republic fell to the American invaders, military government was first established and when limited representative government was established with civil rule, the Philippine assembly made it a priority to establish a state university. The father of the university is no less than Leon Ma. Guerrero, the chair of the education commitee of the assembly who sponsored the bill. Guerrero was professor of pharmacy in the Universidad Literaria, a cabinet minister of the republic and a leading scientist.

The first colleges of the university are 1) Agriculture, 2)Veterinary Science, 3)Engineering, 4) Liberal Arts, 5) Fine Arts. The university absorbed the Philippine Medical School which came into existence by an act of the legislature in 1907. The medical school is actually the first functioning college of the university. These founding colleges state the philosophy of nation building by the American colonizers and to a certain extent reflect the pioneer and egalitarian ideals of the United States.

The first professors of the university were Americans who recently got their doctorates from Europe and America. Many upon the end of their tenure, returned to the US and became well known scholars. The first dean of agriculture, Dr Edwin Bingham Copeland is an example.

Obviously the Americans and the Filipino founding fathers of the university believed that the university will produce "universal" citizens who due to their education will be able to contribute to the nation in all aspects. While the Americans sponsored the university at the beginning, they did not really expect the university as a copy of an American land grant school but eventually develop as distinct Filipino identity while linked to the traditions of the medieval university.

It is apparent that the university has influenced the course of Philippine history. It has produced many of the country's leaders. The first Filipino founders of the university were graduates of the older universities run by the Catholic Church and they envisioned that the secular state university would produce the nation's leaders and chart its destiny.

But what faces the university now is competitiveness. Universities here and abroad will have to repackage the idea of scholarship. Scholarship (read as new ideas) is the raw material for competitiveness and the nation will have to invest in it more. Universities will also have to invest. But the idea of a university is not just with the resident students and professors. The university is really all, students, professors and alums.

In Oxford and Cambridge and all universities that derive their tradition from them have a convocation where all alums are members who traditionally have a say on how the university is run. The university as a medieval institution is a democratic one. But of course the governance of a university is practically vested in the regents and Chancellors. In convocation, alums are enticed to give more. In American parlance, the university exerts all efforts to tweak the alum heartstrings. And more often than not,they give.

After all the alums are the evidence that the university is competitive. It is a two way relationship. Alma Mater has to be supported.

So this is a call for the alums of the University of the Philippines to support their Alma Mater. Despite commencement ceremonies, the medievals knew it is really impossible to leave the university of one's youth.

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