OTBQA Violates Academic Freedom of Private HEIs

With PAASCU, I have proposed that the approval of the CMO entitled “Outcomes-Based and Typology-Based Quality Assurance” (OTBQA), be postponed. One of the reasons I have is a deeper personal appreciation of the “Declaration of Policy” enshrined in the law which creates the Commission on Higher Education, RA 7722, namely, its Sec. 2:

“Declaration of Policy. — The State shall protect, foster and promote the right of all citizens to affordable quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to ensure that education shall be accessible to all…”
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I thought that it might be beneficial to reflect on these foundational principles of CHED.

Through CHED, the State promotes the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels. This is a matter that needs much comment – in another essay. Suffice it here to note that the State does not provide quality education to all at all levels. It promotes a right. In response to this right, the State promotes education through public and private educational institutions that complement one another. (Cf. Philippine Constitution, Art. 14. Sec. 4.1) There are State-supported educational institutions complemented by privately-founded educational institutions. The complementation is foreseen to endure.

For our discussion of OTBQA the following two sentences are important:

“The State shall likewise ensure and protect academic freedom and shall promote its exercise and observance for the continuing intellectual growth, the advancement of learning and research, the development of responsible and effective leadership, the education of high-level and middle-level professionals and the enrichment of our historical and cultural heritage.

“State-supported institutions of higher learning shall gear their programs to national, regional or local development plans. Finally, all institutions of higher learning shall exemplify through their physical and natural surroundings the dignity and beauty of as well as their pride in, the intellectual and scholarly life” (ibid).

ACADEMIC FREEDOM TO BE ENSURED AND PROTECTED

The reader of RA 7722 will appreciate that in its policy statement, after accessibility, CHED must be concerned about academic freedom. It is there “to ensure and protect academic freedom.” Why? Academic freedom was the reason why scholars and teachers came together to form the universities in the first place. These were not institutions dedicated to forced indoctrination, nor institutions aimed at monochrome products marching mark-time militaristically. They were institutions given to free inquiry – inquiry free from the imposing concerns of the State as well as free from the “universally true” doctrines and dogmas of the Church. Questioning in the context of academe, with all the irreverence that free questioning entails, is not a vice; it is a virtue. It is through such questioning that what was once “known” “truly” to be a flat earth is now round; what was once truly accepted as right, slavery, is now universally condemned as wrong; and what was once considered as an unimpeachable economic necessity, mining, is now being re-evaluated and re-invented persistently both in finality as well as technical methodology because of its adverse impact on the environment. It is in academic freedom that the institutions are to fulfill their self-imposed mandates to contribute in this way or that to “higher learning.”

The “exercise and observance” of academic freedom is, on the one hand “for the continuing intellectual growth, the advancement of learning and research.” These are purposely very broad, infinite, and undetermined goals. Knowledge, learning and research cannot be encompassed and determined a priori. They are however the object of academic activity in freedom.

More pragmatic in the CHED policy declaration, but still very indefinite are the following goals in the policy statement: “the development of responsible and effective leadership, the education of high-level and middle-level professionals and the enrichment of our historical and cultural heritage.” Again, these are very broad goals. Higher education is to make a contribution to responsible and effective leadership; the latter is to benefit from the instruction, learning and research of education; while we are a democracy, there is no advantage to ignorance in leadership; there is hope that our leaders will be appropriately educated and able to act with the benefits of higher education. RA 7722 envisions, therefore, an educated leadership that profits from insight into the human condition of literature, from understanding power and its social impacts in political science, from exposure to the rigorous activities of science and technological development, from reflection on moral imperatives in ethics or moral theology in terms of the common good.

Higher education then is to contribute to middle- and higher-level professional development: doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, legal aids, draftsmen, and the like. It is also to contribute to the “enrichment of our historical and cultural heritage.” The way we live as human beings together and with others, the narrative of our individual and shared histories, is to be enhanced by higher education.

These are relatively-undetermined goals of academic freedom that RA 7722 envisions to be shared by both State and private universities – at least until some body with appropriate power further determines, confines, reigns in academic freedom. While a university in itself may be dedicated to the pursuit of truth about the human being, human society and the created universe, an outside body that would further determine that it pragmatically advance the technology of making cars or prepare especially students for participation in business process outsourcing (BPOs), or educate managers of ecotourism would be intrusive on the university’s academic freedom. If academic freedom is “exercised and observed,” such further specification must come from within the university itself and result from the university’s exercise of self-governance in academic freedom.

STATE HEIs DIFFERENTLY DETERMINED FROM PRIVATE HEIs in ACADEMIC FREEDOM

This, I believe, is the reason why there is an explicit statement in the CHED Policy that: “State-supported institutions of higher learning shall gear their programs to national, regional or local development plans” (ibid). CHED represents the State, and so participates proprietarily in the self-determination of State universities. Therefore it can and does determine here that State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), all supported by the State, gear their programs to national, regional or local development plans. These are generally economic in nature, the result of the economic insight and planning of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

Private universities, on the other hand, which emerge as the result of teachers, students and support persons coming together to pursue truth in academic freedom are clearly not subject to the same determination. In the CHED policy there is a respect for the school that decides, for instance, to focus on integral human development, or on transformative education, or on unchartered technical and scientific advancement, or on the Christian or the Muslim faiths, on the promotion of justice, on cultural sensitivity, or on inter-religious dialogue. None of these determinations, which are often part of the mission statements of our private schools, can be reduced to the programs geared “to national, regional or local development plans.”

A coerced external reduction of the academic activity of private HEIs “to national, regional or local development plans” would then be in violation of the HEIs academic freedom.

When CHED proposes to apply its OTBQA to State- and Private-Universities alike (4th paragraph, introductory statement), I believe it is violative of the principle of academic freedom which RA 7722 compels it to ensure and protect. It is, I believe, not for CHED to universally determine: “Philippine higher education is mandated to building a quality nation…” (Sec. 1), no matter how inspiring this determination may be. Where did this determination come from? Certainly not from RA 7722. Private HEIs, I believe, can in academic freedom mandate themselves to build a quality global community that eschews the nation, to reform the Christian communion, or to take a critical stance to the goals of the nation, or to promote peace within the Bangsamoro Framework. That such is possible is part of the strength of higher education in the Philippines – where the academic goals of the State’s HEIs are complemented by the academic goals of private HEIs (Cf. PH Constitution, Art. XIV, 4.1), and where insuring this healthy complementation is part of the challenge of higher education in the Philippines today

LEAVE QA of PRIVATE HEIs to PRIVATE QA MECHANISMS

A coercive quality assurance (QA) mechanism which builds on this sweeping violation of academic freedom in Sec. 2 of OTBQA only further exacerbates the violation.

QA of private HEIs is best left to private QA bodies. Here QA is voluntary, an exercise of academic freedom, not submission to the ponderous power of government where QA is abused in unreasonable regulation – or necessary regulation is abandoned for QA.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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