Only a few weeks are left of the University of the Philippines (UP) centennial year celebrations. UP was founded by the US colonial government in 1908, and after a century of wars, crises and political upheavals, one would have expected the 2008 celebrations to lead to an evaluation of where UP has been and has done, and where it’s going in a country where poverty and crises have been as perennial as grass.
A fundamental question suggests itself a hundred years after its founding: established as a colonial instrument and as part of the US arsenal of conquest, has UP become a Filipino university, or even a people’s university? Unfortunately, say critics, the question hasn’t been widely raised. The commemoration has been anything but an occasion for self criticism and examination and has mostly been a relentless saturnalia of self-praise — as reflected in the awful, self-congratulatory, uncritical centennial motto, “UP, ang galing mo!” (UP, you’re great!)
Equally unfortunate is that as the centennial year winds down, what’s likely to remain in the public mind is not how “galing” UP is. Together with such other impressions as that its six constituent universities (Diliman, Manila, Los Banos, Baguio, Visayas, and Mindanao–the seventh is the virtual, non-physical Open University) are the domains of thugs who call themselves fratmen, many citizens are also wondering if UP hasn’t slipped from its former status among the world’s best universities, and if its campuses have not turned into crime zones.
The first impression is the result of the release this year of the THES-QS ranking of universities all over the world, in which UP ranking went up from 398th among 500 universities last year to 276th this year. Why should that be cause for any concern? Because Ateneo de Manila University ranking rose from 451st in 2007 to 254th this year. If you believe the THES-QS survey, that would mean that for the first time ever, a university other than UP would be the country’s leading university not only in basketball prowess but in academic terms as well.
THES-QS, by the way, is shorthand for The Times Higher Education Supplement-Quacquarelli Symonds. “The Times” is not the same as the London Times and is not affiliated with that newspaper, while Quacquarelli Symonds is a survey group. Both are based in the United Kingdom. THES-QS has received both criticism and praise, the former for the alleged flaws in its methodology, while the praise has mostly come from the universities it lists among the top ten in the world, among them the UK’s own Oxford University.
Let’s leave those issues of methodology, etc. to the experts, however. It should suffice to say that UP has not participated in the survey since 2000, among other reasons because of doubts over the surveys’ methodology. But more fundamentally, one suspects, it’s because participation entails spending over a million devalued pesos for the privilege of being ranked. As everyone knows, it’s an amount underfunded UP simply can’t afford.
Which brings up the question of what the basis of the THES-QS evaluation was, to which the latter’s reply is “last year’s data.” And where did last year’s data come from? From those of the year before that, and the year before that, etc. Which is saying that the data were not only drawn from the last time UP participated in any survey, which was 1999, the data were also assumed to be static. And yet UP’s ranking, instead of remaining where it’s been since 1999, has fluctuated since. Should the emphasis in “Quacquarelli Symonds” be on the first syllable?
The second impression — that UP campuses, particularly its flagship campus in Diliman, Quezon City, have become crime zones — is in fact more crucial to UP as a university immersed in a third world environment in which it has had to fight off various threats to its continuing existence as the country’s leading state university and as (arguably?) the country’s best.
A botched robbery last November 10 in which six men killed two Philippine Veterans Bank security guards and the bank cashier has become an argument for allowing the Philippine National Police to enter the UP campus and to patrol its 500-hectare grounds. Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte and the Philippine National Police say the UP Diliman campus should be treated just like any part of Quezon City which the PNP can patrol, which a 1991 memorandum of agreement does not allow.
The MOA — which has antecedents going back to the heady days of student activism in the 1960s– requires PNP and military personnel to get UP administration permission before they enter the campus for any purpose. The word in UP Diliman is that the PNP, Quezon City officials and the UP Board of Regents will meet to review the MOA towards possible revision or even repeal.
There are perfectly sound reasons for the MOA, none of which your garden variety police or military person can appreciate. It has to do with allowing such forms of free expression as the demonstrations militant faculty members, students and staff often resort to for, to quote the Constitution, “the redress of grievances,” as well as to simply make known their views on subjects that have ranged from appointments to deanships to the signing of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement and many others in between.
These manifestations of protest and democratic involvement are not only opportunities for students to learn the basics of civic engagement. They are also at the heart of an authentic university’s critical role in a society as flawed as ours, but which the police and the military cannot abide, their main function in this vale of tears being to preserve injustice and elite rule. The policy against police and military intervention was the result of the efforts of generations of students and faculty who risked life and limb even during the martial law period to preserve UP Diliman as the one place where a demonstration won’t be forcibly dispersed just because it’s demanding justice or expressing views contrary to the accepted and/ or official ones. No bank robbery can justify its scuttling.
Crime happens in UP Diliman not because the PNP can’t patrol its grounds, but because UP is underfunded and has a dwindling police force of 70 (it used to be over a hundred) that cannot effectively patrol the 500-hectare campus. Increases in the UP budget, for which UP constituents have been fighting for years, are the obvious answer not only to crime but to other problems in UP (such as its notoriously stinking toilets). But even its small police force could be more effectively utilized by being deployed where the risk of major crimes is greatest, such as the banks on campus. You won’t hear such suggestions being made, city mayors and policemen being expert in ignoring the obvious.
Less obvious is that there’s a correlation between the extent to which a university is able to function in freedom — meaning without the clumsy interference of police and military men and city mayors — and its capacity for greatness (or being ranked among the world’s best). That of course is seldom understood, much less encouraged by officialdom, most of whom can abide neither greatness nor freedom.