HIGHER EDUCATION, as now administered by the Higher Education Commission, has committed so many sins against the Constitution of the Republic. I urge the administration of President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to revamp and, if necessary, dismantle the entire monstrous system that bureaucrats pester lawmakers have put in place that has proven disastrous for higher education in the Philippines. . However, I must preface my remarks with recognition of the esteem and respect for people such as Commissioner Ronald Adamat and Commissioner Aldrin Darilag.
The country’s basic law limits the state to “reasonable supervision and regulation”. The “control” is not there, because a “controlled academic institution” is an oxymoron. Universities and colleges are privileged areas of freedom into which the state can only venture with caution, even concern. The CHEd actually controls higher education. It publishes “policies, standards and guidelines” – and higher education institutions that fail to comply face penalties. If that’s not control, then what is? CHEd has devised a system of nested classifications – Centers of Excellence, Centers for Development – incentivizing compliance with its often unreasonable and illogical requirements and detrimental to institutions that fail to do so. It grants deregulated and autonomous statutes as if academic autonomy was something it could choose to grant or deny!
Before the pandemic hit the country, whether a college or university could provide distance education was once again within the control of the CHEd. Under the insane demands of this intellectually bankrupt commission, a college or university had to obtain a given accreditation status – outside of its accreditation as a college or university, despite the fact that the Constitution directs the state to encourage independent study programs. Obviously, “independent” was, for CHEd, an alarming word. As the pandemic raged across the country, higher education was happening virtually and students, wherever they were in the world, could attend lectures, participate in group discussions and complete assignments. Indeed, law studies went happily and the breathtaking results of the last Bar exam prove that distance education must be an option accessible to everyone, at all times, without the CHEd being opposed to it. In this regard, CHEd has much to learn from the Legal Education Board (LEB) which has always recognized the freedom and autonomy of law schools and law schools.
“The State takes regional and sectoral needs into account.” State universities and colleges might have been best placed to respond to this directive of the Constitution. After all, that is what they are established for: to ensure that curricula and academic programs meet the needs of the locality in which they are located. And for a long time state universities and colleges were, as the law directs, governed by their respective boards or trustees – until it appeared to CHEd that it would be good for the presidents of these institutions sing the commission’s praises and prostrate themselves in abject submission to its president and his cabotage. So gradually, through a series of memoranda, like a voracious reticulated python, he tightened his grip on the state universities and colleges and, unfortunately, the presidents of these institutions voluntarily gave up their autonomy – some screams and gasps protests were issued, to no avail, of course.
It is academic freedom that has been sacrificed on the altar of CHEd’s rapacity. Due to his theory of “verticalization” – the baccalaureate and graduate degrees were to be “aligned” – professors and instructors were effectively prevented from pursuing areas of study that interested them and forced to conform to bureaucratic requirements. Everything the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in the consolidated PhiLSAT (Philippine Law School Admission Test) cases, CHEd did. Its Prescription Memorandum for Medical Education, while apparently leaving medical schools free to determine admissions standards, prescribes that only those with an NMAT percentile of 60 may be admitted to medical school. The institution’s freedom to determine who to teach is only one victim.
Some underlings on the commission dreamed of “outcome-based education” – and this became the mantra of the entire higher education system in the Philippines. Prof. Joel Tabora, SJ, on behalf of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines and I, in a forum at De La Salle University, strongly protested against this imposition. And when I delivered the first Francis Gevers Lecture at St. Louis University at the invitation of its president, Fr. Gilbert Sales, I argued passionately against OBE. But as is so typical of this withered body, CHEd was deaf. He couldn’t and wouldn’t hear any other voice than the cackling of his “technocrats.” Since Judge Frankfurter laid out the elements of academic freedom, every country in the world where academia thrives has recognized that “how to teach” and “what to teach” are crucial to academic freedom – and it is precisely these rights that inane results – The educational paradigm based on the CHEd has suffocated.
In fact, my position is that CHEd officials have committed acts of bribery and corruption for which they must be prosecuted. They require professors to publish their research in what they call “high-impact journals.” But it is private commercial entities that are unduly favored by this requirement. Indeed, the requirement of publication in name journals by the CHEd has cost professors and their universities and colleges large sums, since these privileged journals charge a lot to have their article printed. Under the provisions of Republic Act 3019, granting an undue privilege to any person or entity is an act of bribery and corruption!
Reforms cannot be of a purely executive nature, as it may be necessary, by law, to strengthen the autonomy and academic freedom of higher education institutions, to put in place a legislative injunction on interference and attempts to state control. Of course, President-elect Marcos must also choose the right people to carry out the executive functions. But things must change!