Friday, July 15, 2011

An academic rank tempestuous tale at UP!

I am in the process of finishing lectures to the Science, Technology and Society (STS) class and we were discussing the medieval origins of science. In this tale, two popes are significant. Pope Sylvester II or the mathematical pope reigned from 999-1003 and is credited by setting the mathematical foundations of modern science in the West. The other one Pope John XXII (reigned from 1316-1334) is not very known to us today but he issued an edict that all scientific studies must have experimental proof since alchemists were into making fake gold at that time.

Also we discussed that the university is really a medieval institution and what we call pompous rites of passage like the college recognition and university graduations are medieval survivals in a 21st century University of the Philippines. The students don't realize that there is even a more significant medieval survival at UP. And this is none other than the closed door election of the Board of Regents of the UP president!

I have spoofed many times that this scene is like the conclave in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican. The BOR is in closed meeting and the BOR secretary of the university like the dean of the cardinals pronounces the "habemus papam" on the portico of Quezon Hall to the faithful (those who support the status quo of university governance) and the fallen (those who advocate democratic governance and do away with the "college of cardinals"). What Quezon Hall lacks is a chimney that churns out black or white (or should it be green or maroon?) smoke! If the cardinals burn their ballots to produce either colour, perhaps the Regents can burn past UPCAT exam papers to produce the same effect!  Of course the University has inherited from the medievals the concept of academic freedom.  Academic freedom is infallible dogma in academe! You can't kick out the faithful and the fallen from the portico without attacking academic freedom. After all the faithful and the fallen worship at the Holy Catholic Academic and Apostolic Church of Diliman in the hope of redemption or probably more about academic promotion and salary raises.

Now here comes the latest "heresy" as we may have it at the Church of Diliman. Econ prof Winnie Monsod writes about it here. The question posited is whether "the University President as chief academic officer as per the UP charter be given the highest academic rank of professor 12 automatically?"  The National College of Public Administration and Governance "invited" UP President Alfredo Pascual to teach at the college with a rank of Professor 12.  Now this wasn't a problem in the past since the term of Carlos P Romulo. All the presidents since then were professors with the sole exception of Edgardo Angara whose law college recommended the highest academic rank. In the university, the departments and the colleges have powers of recommendation. It is the BOR that actually has the powers of appointment. But convention (and this rule of collegiality has medieval roots) dictates that the BOR more or less honours the department and college recommendation unless there is good reason to suspect the recommendation process was flawed.   Monsod tells the tale and in her post better than I could but one thing is clear, subsidiarity was short cut. The usual process is to send the recommendation to the Chancellor who then forwards this to the appropriate university committee for further review and then to the BOR. The Chancellor of UP Diliman did it by the book and sent the request to the appropriate university personnel committee who reviewed Pascual's CV and academic credentials and came to the usual offer of giving him a rank of Assistant Professor 3 (which is the usual initial offer to a new hire). This was returned to NCPAG for action.

And if that ended the tale, the Dean of NCPAG sent the request with the original recommendation directly to the BOR and the Chancellor was informed that he was going to be bypassed. Of course in Ancient Rome a Roman citizen had rights to directly plead to the Emperor but as St Paul did, But it was when an injustice has been done to him. This a right based on natural justice principles. But has an injustice been done in this case?

And so we expect a ruckus at the next University Council (UC) (which unfortunately I will miss since I will be in Phuket, Thailand for a scientific meeting). The UC  jealously guards its prerogatives and rights as the highest academic body but the appointment of professors is not one of them. This belongs solely to the BOR.

And to end this post, we go back to the system of collegiality the Vatican invented which was transplanted to the modern university. Collegial decisions have to be respected unless it is intrinsically flawed by not following procedures. Pope Benedict XVI was asked in a recent interview if he could as Pope overturn some of the "bad" decisions of the Second Vatican Council and he that said he can't. The Pope he says is bound by the collegial decision of the council as long as this did not go against Catholic doctrine. If it did then as Benedict XVI says, he would be forced to intervene.

What is signified by this academic rank tempest as Monsod writes is the shift from collegial governance structures in a university to a managerialist one. This was blogged about by Dean Roland Tolentino when the UP Charter was signed into law in 2008. In managerialism skills and academic qualifications are not that important as generic skills in managing organizations. In a globalized world where academe is expected to engage with business a modus vivendi has to be reached. The university president can be a corporate manager while the chancellors should be experienced academic administrators. The President need not be a professor, but the chancellors have to be. This is somewhat analogous to the British commonwealth universities where the Chancellor (President) is a nominal figurehead (who may even be a celebrity!) who shows up at degree conferments and has a role in promoting the university especially in fund raising . The vice-Chancellor (Chancellor in the UP system) runs the university on a daily basis and is a professor. But unlike in the way the UP is governed, both officials are accountable to the university council.  Perhaps Mr Pascual should just leave the academics alone and their ranks and he should focus instead on solving the university's chronic funding shortfall. After all he told the alums in the last homecoming that he was not cut out for teaching chemistry (he was a Chem major) and so he went to the banking sector and he takes pride in understanding fund raising strategies. Well Pascual is cooking the pudding  and what is needed is the proof in the eating! (And for the academics these only mean two things: promotions and salary raises).

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