A friend once told me that when a senior official of the University of the Philippines was asked which mantle he would rather wear – that of an academic or a “public intellectual” – the official bragged that he would rather be the latter. For, to paraphrase what he said, how many academic books will the public read as compared to how many readers and listeners would receive a pundit’s wise (sic) words?
I thought it strange that an official of an academic institution would crow about being a non-academic (two foremost scholars are still read widely: Renato Constantino and Teodoro Agoncillo). For if he indeed desires to be a public intellectual, then perhaps he should abandon his post, go on television regularly, write for one of those rags, and leave the teaching of our top students to academics.
Unless, of course, he believes UP has ceased to function and perform its principal role – education and the research of social and scientific phenomena. The nation-state’s prime institution of higher learning should – going by his logic – be turned into a giant television set for Boy Abunda’s pretend smart hour or an extension of either those think tanks that serve government and opposition.
However, the more disturbing question is why such philistinism permeates the very leadership of UP. One can, of course, attribute this to an individual’s ambition or the personal pursuit of fame (your face always on TV is often good for the ego, particularly if deep down you feel a Gollum-like insecurity about your talents).
However, I do think there is also something institutional that is unfolding. By this I mean a gradual shift in UP policy that, under the pretext of “serving the people,” is aimed at lowering the standards for academic and intellectual thinking.
I had a confirmation of sort when I received this email from a colleague and friend regarding the final deliberation and voting by the University Council – UP’s highest policy-making body – to reduce the requirements for a general education program from a high 45 to a mere 21 units.
Proponents of this reduction justify this cutting down of GE courses because the implementation of the new K to 12 programs has virtually forced UP to reconsider the fundamental requirements for a background education. They have also argued that reducing GE requirements was necessary so that the natural science and engineering departments can add more courses to enhance the education of their majors. The third and most lame justification is that the new 21-unit GE program contains courses that could adequately address and fulfill the requirements that the old program had.
Alas, there is no direct correlation between the K-12 plan and the general education program. My friend cited the recent statement of the coalition UP SAGIP GE (UP Save GE) which noted that Asia’s top five universities with K-12 programs maintained relatively high GE requirements: The National University of Singapore has 36 units; the University of Hong Kong (54); Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (36); the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore *36); and the Hong King University of Science and Technology (46). Note that three of these five schools score high in science and technology, and yet, they have kept their GE requirements relatively robust.
The reason for this high GE percentage in a student’s education plan is simple: these schools aim to produce graduates who are experts in their fields and who recognize the merits of a holistic and critical education. It is not enough to graduate an engineer or a physicist; it is equally of value that these students graduate into the outside world with a fairly comprehensive critical knowledge of that world.
UP, however, appears to be going the other way.
Its leadership has conflated academic excellence and social relevance into one package that is attractive to parents wracking their brains as to where to get tuition money, but one which sacrifices the development of a student’s critical and intellectual faculties. It is this second goal that makes the UP student stand out among her peers; that makes him take the slogan “Pagasa ng Bayan” seriously because the nation and Filipinos demand that she take the lead in the country’s progress.
This won’t be the case anymore if this new GE program is to be implemented. The statement of UP SAGIP GE (UP Save the GE) captures this concern by those who are still serious academics at the State University.
The group states: “The truth is that UP students need a productive and intensive GE Program. The intensified standardization of curricula and syllabi on an international level creates an even greater need for deepening the national context of subjects on history, society, culture, arts and languages. In an era of homogenized qualifications for certain professions, there is an urgent need for the National University to provide a relevant GE Program common for all UP students.”
This alumnus has reached a similar conclusion and hopes that UP stop this march into vocational oblivion. – Rappler.com
Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW
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