A threat to withhold funding for the University of the Philippines (UP) has been made apparently in response to a call for an “academic strike.” It appears irrelevant that the call was originally made not by UP by its affluent neighbor across Katipunan, Ateneo. It has become commonplace to automatically connect any student-initiated protest to UP, owing to the State University’s long history of student militancy and resistance to perceived wrongdoings in government.
It is hoped that the threat was made out of a moment of pique, a passing irritation over the latest in a surge of expressions of outrage over government’s alleged failure to act immediately during the recent calamities. If the threat would be transformed into actual action, it would run afoul of an existing law, Republic Act 9500, the University of the Philippines Charter of 2008.
The law declares UP as the “national university” and commits the State as a matter of policy to strengthening the university and its multi-faceted mandates. More importantly, the law accords UP “the right and responsibility to exercise academic freedom.” Yet, it is precisely this right and responsibility accorded by law that is now under siege.
At its most basic, any move to withhold funds or even reduce UP’s funds would have a negative impact on its estimated 60,000 students who come from all over the country as “scholars of the people,” benefitting from the university’s tradition of academic excellence. It would dislocate faculty and staff, who rely on the university for their livelihood. Such an unprecedented move would disrupt university operations, most especially scientific studies and researches being conducted by UP and its institutions in behalf of, or in partnership with, government agencies as part of its mandate.
For UP, contrary to the allegations being peddled by its detractors, is not pre-occupied with recruiting communists. The university produces scholars who are expected to contribute to the nation, to the betterment of communities, to the expansion of knowledge, and to the stability of institutions. It has done so and will continue to do so precisely because of the academic freedom it exercises, the same freedom that is now under renewed assault by forces who find repugnant the mere idea of free thought and scholarly debate.
As the “university of the people,” UP has embraced the sons and daughters of the people, those who value the liberating power of education but would otherwise be hard-pressed to send their children, no matter how gifted academically, to private learning institutions. In times of social upheaval, when the temper of the times demanded it, the university has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the people on a wide range of issues.
When a UP student leaves the confines of the campus, he or she blazes a distinct trail, and contributes to his or her chosen calling – be it politics, government, the sciences, arts, development work, or social struggle – with honor and excellence.
On many occasions, government leaders have taken issue with UP’s militancy, but until recently, they have declined to use the power of government to break the university into compliance. The only time I can recall when the university came under direct assault was when Congress initiated an investigation into so-called un-Filipino activities by UP students and professors in the early 1960s, when I was a member of the UP Student Council. It was a witch hunt, our own version of the McCarthy witch hunts in the United States a decade earlier. It failed to break the UP spirit.
Even during the years of martial law, the regime was mindful not to take any action that could further fuel student militancy, or criticized for infringing on academic freedom.
Unfettered debates on a wide range of ideas has always sustained universities, UP most especially. The university offers no room for intolerance or narrow-mindedness. Its lifeblood is freedom. Debate is its oxygen. A university where the students and faculty engage in group think is not advancing scholarship. Such an institution demeans the very purpose of higher learning. A university is not a cheering squad for whoever is in power. Unfortunately, that is the UP that some sectors want it to be, and are determined to have.
I am quite certain that in the face of adversity, UP will once again stand its ground, as it has done so under more challenging times.