CEAP Contra SBN 489

Senate Public Hearing on SBN 489, 15 April 2011

To the Hon. Jinggoy Estrada, author of SB No 489, “An Act Strengthening the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Amending for the Purpose R.A. No. 7722, Entitled ‘An Act Creating the Commission on Higher Education, Appropriating Funds Therefore, and for other Purposes.’” on the occasion of the Public Hearing on the same:

Thank you for this opportunity to express thoughts and comments on SB 489 which addresses “the need to clarify the powers and strengthen the Commission” in the light of the increased number of SUCs and LUCs etc.

My comments come not only in my capacity as current President of the Ateneo de Naga University and incoming President of the Ateneo de Davao University but in representation of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and as a Trustee of the Coordinating Council for Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA).

While the purpose of SB 489 is laudable, we believe that as presented it would not achieve its purposes, i.e., strengthen CHED in its promotion of higher education in the Philippines. Indeed, it is our fear that this legislation would have the opposite effect.

Laudable in SB 489 is the prospect of increased governance by CHED over State Colleges and Universities (SUCs) and Local Colleges and Universities (LCUs) as a consequence of the provision in RA 7722, “No academic or curricular restriction shall be made upon private education institutions which are not required for chartered state colleges and universities.” (Sec. 13). In the implementation of this provision, the practical problem was always the independent legislated charters of the SUCs which gave them an operational mandate and autonomy legally beyond the governance of CHED. SB 489 seeks to correct that in appending to the provision: “Provided however that Program Offerings of SUCs shall follow and be approved in accordance with the minimum standards and requirements approved by the Commission.” Here what is effectively required by CHED of private institutions such as the Ateneo de Naga University in terms of minimum program requirements shall also be required of such SUCs as Bicol University and the University of the Philippines.

On the other hand, looked at objectively, one would have to understand with what competence such a legislated body as CHED would regulate and provide minimum standards to such institutes of higher learning as the University of the Philippines or as the De la Salle University of the Philippines, Mapua Institute of Technology or Far Eastern University.

CHED presumably would have to operate on principles appropriate to Tertiary Level education, that is, levels of instruction, research and community service that are appropriate to Universities and Colleges, different from schools on the Basic Education level.

In providing for the legislated body that would promote and regulate tertiary level education, the governing idea of tertiary level education is crucial. One would not want the medical profession to be promoted by those who are not sufficiently schooled in medical science and practice, nor would one want medical doctors to be regulated by caregivers. It would be most unwise to have medical doctors, indeed, regulated by incompetent persons even though as relatives of patients they are “stakeholeders” in what doctors do.

Tertiary level education, I submit, has to do with the higher development of the human person in knowledge, thought, love, care, and conscience. It is the lack of this that accounts for our current moral malaise in the Philippines. It has to do, as RA 7722 and SB 489 state, with the development of responsible and effective leadership, the education of high-level and medium-level professionals, and the enrichment of our historical and cultural heritage. The focus on the development of professionals in the tertiary level education may not do justice to the call for the development of “responsible and effective leaders” and the enrichment of our historical and cultural heritage. Tertiary level education is also about developing critical thought and reflection on the governing norms and values of our society, as it is about discovering new knowledge, especially as this may have a positive effect on the development of human societies (not just our national communities).

Because of this original, inherent mission of tertiary education, and the high levels of training and preparation that are required to participate appropriately in tertiary education, tertiary level education is properly self regulating. If your best and most talented academic minds are dedicated to the mission of higher education in Universities, both public and private, what regulating body might be legislated that promotes and regulates tertiary education?

Counterproductive to the interests of tertiary education, and therefore to the interests of Philippine society in this global world, would be to subject tertiary level education to the governance of “stakeholders” who, for all their presumed integrity and good will, may not understand the nature of that which they are asked to govern.

In RA 7722, there is an understanding and sympathy for tertiary education in its respect for academic freedom and in its effective governance by academic peers. Qualified higher education professionals are governed by qualified higher education professionals collegially. They are governed by peers collegially. Thus the provisions of Sec. 4. of RA 7722 which insist on commissioners with doctorates and with experience in running tertiary level schools. They are to be “holders of earned [not honorary] doctorates, who have been actively engaged in higher education for at least ten (10) years…” etc. Considering the gravity and extent of their mandate, the commissioners served full-time.

In SB 489, a key defining provision, is the suppression of full-time, academically qualified and experienced-in-tertiary-level-education commissioners and the provision for a “Board of Commissioners” that shall be “a multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary governing board of commissioners responsible for policy-making and governance of the entire subsystem of higher education. It shall be composed of seven members who will serve in parttime capacity and who shall represent the academe, the professional associations, private and public business and industry and such other sectors which have direct stakes in higher education…”

In the very careful, rational, time-honored culture of academe, where a candidate for an AB or BS should be taught by persons qualified with an MA or MS, and candidates for the latter should be taught by persons qualified with a PhD, and where levels of learning and achievement in academe are recognized by such as rank and tenure, it would be a great disservice to tertiary level academe to provide for a system of governance through a Board of Commissioners whose major qualification to govern “the entire subsystem of higher education” would be their having “direct stakes in higher education.” While we can recognize that professional organizations and business, public and private, have a stake in higher education, there are other groups or concerns that must also claim a stake in higher education: e.g. the necessity to develop individual and collective conscience, the need for justice and equity in society, the need to develop and enhance our culture, the need to live, work and love consequent on religious experience. While the stakes of business and the professions in higher education must be recognized, delivering tertiary education to their governance may enslave tertiary education to their private goals, not necessarily in the common interest of human society.

It is lost on us how CHED can be strengthened with a Board of Commissioners who by law serve “parttime” and who normally meet only once in two months.

This then shifts the responsibility of effective governance of tertiary education in the Philippines from the Chair of a collegial commission of academic peers, experienced in academe, to a “parttime” Chair who directs a full-time Director-General, who would then be the effective CEO of CHED. As provided, the Director General “shall be the CHIEF OPERATING AND EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE COMMISSION…” who “SHOULD HAVE A WELL-BALANCED EXPERIENCE AND EXPOSURE IN ORGANIZATIONAL AND FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT IN BOTH PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SETTING(S)….”

The desire of SB 489 to strengthen CHED is affirmed, but it is our conviction that it seriously weakens CHED. It compromises its qualification to preside over tertiary education in the Philippines. It removes the academic and experiential qualifications of the commissioners, and so effectively removes the effective governance by peers laudably provided by RA 7722. It provides for a bureaucratic type of governance under a powerful Director General or CEO himself governed by a weak parttime Board of stakeholders in academe whose Chair is also parttime.

In its present form, SB 489 shall be opposed by the CEAP, and, I believe, after due deliberation, by the COCOPEA.

Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.
Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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