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MANILA, Philippines – The University of Santo Tomas (UST) said that Chief Justice Renato Corona finished his doctoral degree in seven years, which is within the residency requirements imposed by the university.
This conflicts with two interviews that Corona granted to the media about his UST doctorate in civil law.
In 2002, Corona told Newsbreak that he was already doing his doctoral studies at UST, at the time attending classes. “I am doing my dissertation already. By next semester, I will present it…After my doctorate in civil law, I plan to take a PhD in history…by March 2003.”
He added in the same 2002 interview: “My classmates in UST are very young. They would ask: why are you still studying? You’re already in the Cabinet. [I would reply] it’s because of my drive for academic excellence.”
Corona graduated only last April 2011. This means it took him at least nine years to finish his doctorate at UST.
But he told reporters in an interview after graduation that he finished his degree in five years.
Yet, in a statement published in The Varsitarian, the official student publication of UST, on Monday, Jan 2, 2012, the UST Graduate School “affirmed” Corona’s academic record, saying that he met the residency requirement of “seven years” and that his general average merited summa cum laude honors.
UST rules state overstaying students should not be given honors.
In a statement it sent to The Varsitarian, Dean Lilian Sison said the degree was granted in “good faith.” She dropped hints that the issue was being raised only because Corona was impeached by allies of President Benigno Aquino IIII.
Out to get him
Sison said that the Graduate School Faculty Council met on Dec 27, 2011, five days after Rappler broke the story on Corona’s lack of dissertation.
“During our Faculty Council meeting last Dec. 27, the Council affirmed Chief Justice Corona’s academic record. In fact upon review of his record, the actual semesters he was enrolled in the program including the dissertation, he has a total of 7 years which is within the maximum residency requirement,” Sison said.
“As for the honors, the Council including the Law consultant gave him 1.0 for the Public Lecture and 1.0 for the legal treatise on Environmental Law that he delivered in public, and with his grade of 1.14 for academic subjects, the general average is 1.05 which is within the summa cum laude range,” she added.
According to Sison, the rule for “Latin” honors, is: one-third for academic subjects, one-third for oral defense, and one-third for the written manuscript. “The Council believes that no rules were broken,” she said.
Despite this meeting and the conclusions it reached, UST did not bother to send a reply to Rappler or to Newsbreak, which since June 2011 has been asking for its comments.
Sison said that however hard they try to explain UST’s side, “they are really out to get him by all means.”
The story raised two issues on public accountability and transparency — both for UST and the Chief Justice. Did the university bend rules to accommodate him? Did he take shortcuts to get a degree that is otherwise hard-earned by all doctorate degree holders? Should a public institution be spared media scrutiny?
The Commission on Higher Education (Ched), through its Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program (Eteeap), allows deserving universities a degree of autonomy in deciding when to grant doctorate degrees.
According to data obtained from Ched, however, the programs under Eteeap in UST cover only undergraduate studies in engineering, nursing, music and graduate programs in music and business.
But Sison said not requiring a dissertation is already a trend in universities. “In fact we already started in some programs like Science and Education where students are asked to publish their dissertation as articles (ranging from 2-4) rather than the traditional bound manuscripts which only gather dust in the library. This is a changing paradigm in dissertation writing and the appropriate way to improve the university’s publication index which is the weakness of most universities in the Philippines.”
She added: “Now when it comes to rigor of the articles written, who determines this? The Council believes that the determination of rigor falls within the academic prerogative and freedom of the institution conferring the degree.”
Sison expressed regret that the issue caused “unpalatable publicity” to UST. “The Council believes that no amount of defense will satisfy the detractors of CJ Corona, especially in a situation that is politically charged. They are really out to get him by all means,” Sison said. “We conferred on him the degree in good faith, but who would think at that time that the chief justice would be impeached?” – Rappler.com