Rights-based and Faith-based Discipline in Higher Education

[Address: National Seminar on Student Discipline Administration in Higher Education sponsored by the Center for Certification and Accreditation of Student Services [CCASSI], Grand Convention Center, Cebu, Oct. 28, 2016.]
14894579_1489109277772796_1439769770_oThe topic that was assigned to me was intriguing: “Solving disciplinary cases through rights-based or faith-based approaches.”

Many, many years ago, when I was still young and full of hair, I went to Ateneo de Manila’s High School. It was a school that respected human rights and promoted the Catholic faith, certainly. But those of us who misbehaved were punished with what was then called, wack-wack – physical paddling by the Prefect of Discipline; those of us who misbehaved more seriously were given post – an hour of standing as still as a post in the late-afternoon sun. Looking back, I am not sure how disciplinary cases were “solved” by these punishments. Kids were punished and shamed at school for being naughty, as they were at home.   In this manner they learned to follow the rules. They took it in stride.   As did the majority of their parents, whose fathers had been brought up on the same discipline. Most of us in our class grew up to be rather respectable citizens. When we gather now as golden alumni, the gleeful reminiscing invariably recalls the daring antics of juvenile heroes that merited either wack-wack or post. We have a good laugh.

Now these corporal punishments are no longer practiced. Perhaps, rightly so. What was harmless wack-wack and post in our case, has in other cases been serious violence, psychological torture or emotional trauma. In our case it was Jesuit discipline; in other cases it was child abuse.
14858647_1489109424439448_507122773_oTherefore, the suggested topic: “solving disciplinary cases through rights-based or faith-based approaches.” “Rights-based” or “faith based”, I suppose, as opposed to authoritarian or tyrannical or retributive or arbitrary. But here I am not sure whether “solving” is an appropriate term for disciplinary cases, as if we were trying to balance a mathematical equation or solve a perplexing riddle. I’d also like to bring the mentioned “cases” to a more general level. With your indulgence, then, I’d like to speak simply in terms of rights-based and faith-based discipline in higher education, towards gaining insight into how these two approaches may affect the discipline of higher education.

We are therefore not just talking about Mario being caught cheating in a final exam, about Maria being pregnant out of wedlock, about Jose, the bully, having attacked a teacher in spitefulness, and about Cynthia using illegal drugs, and how to handle these cases.

Higher education itself requires a higher discipline.

I. Rights-based Discipline in the Context of Higher Education

In rights-based discipline, we are talking about discipline in the context of rights-based education.[1] Education, and, to the extent that one can desire and achieve it, higher education, is a human right. Our 1987 Constitution mandates the State to protect and promote this right: “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.” In this context, the Constitution mandates the State to establish a “complete, adequate and integrated system of education relevant to the needs of the people and society” (Secs. 1-2, Art. XIV).

This involves three interlinked and independent dimensions:

First, the right of access to education – the right of every child/student to education on the basis of equality of opportunity and without discrimination on any grounds.

Second, the right to quality education – the right to a quality education that enables him or her to fulfill his or her potential, realize opportunities for employment and develop life skills. If education is a right, it cannot be a right to bad education. The state fails when huge financial outlays for public higher education are legislated, but the quality of the education poor.

Third, the right to respect within the learning environment – the right of every child/student to respect for her or his inherent dignity and to have her or his universal human rights respected within the educational system.

a) In the case of student discipline, the third dimension of the human right to education is involved: the right to respect within the learning environment. This involves the following obligations for administrators and faculty:

  • Respect each student equally without discrimination on any grounds.
  • Teach respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • Give primary consideration to the best interests of the student who is yet a minor.
  • Respect the evolving capacities of the learner.
  • Respect the learners/students expressing their views on all matters of concern to them and have those views given due weight in accordance with the child’s age and maturity.
  • Respect the privacy of learners/students.
  • Take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the student’s dignity and all other rights of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Protect all children from all forms of physical violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligence.

In the administration of discipline in our schools, respect for students is essentially manifested through the observance of due process. This resonates positively with Sec. 1, Art. II of the Constitution, which says, “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” This entails the following:

  • The students must be informed in writing of the nature and cause of any accusation against them.
  • They shall have the right to answer the charges against them and with the assistance of counsel, if desired.
  • They shall be informed of the evidence against them.
  • They shall have the right to adduce evidence on their behalf.
  • The evidence must be duly considered by the investigating committee or official designated by the authorities to hear and decide the case. [2]

The right of the school to discipline is absorbed in the academic freedom under “what we teach.” Other rights-based approaches may include the imposition of a proportionate penalty; the principle of restorative justice, not retribution; the principle of non-discrimination.

Mario caught cheating may be penalized with failure of the exam or even of the course, but not expulsion. Jose, the bully, can be helped through his suspension to stop his bullying and respect authority. Maria can be helped through counseling to overcome the difficulties of her situation. Cynthia can be helped to get the treatment she needs to be freed of her addiction.

b) Certainly, however, in rights-based higher education, if it is at all to be achieved, the complex discipline that is required for quality higher education is as urgent as, if not more urgent than, the discipline required to solve particular cases of student misbehavior. This is the second dimension of rights-based education.

The community (universitas) of scholars and teachers came together originally in pursuit of truth in academic freedom. Its discipline alone was truth. It was unfettered by the interests of royalty or of religion.

Today, quality in higher education has a fourfold requirement:

  1. It involves the discipline self-imposed by the community of faculty, students, administrators and staff to achieve minimum academic standards, and even
  1. to excel in academic excellence, in vibrant exercise of its academic freedom and responsibility. This discipline distinguishes it from basic education. It covers not only competence in professional training, but a critical understanding of human nature and an ongoing articulation of the demands of the common good. In interaction with society and the world it expresses itself in academic innovativeness.
  1. It involves the discipline of the school to fulfill its self-imposed vision and mission. It is a higher educational institution. It may be qualified by a special commitment to the leadership elite, to the poor, to the Church, or to merchants. Part of this is discipline to do research consistent with its tertiary-level status and its vision and mission. Another part of this is to serve the community.
  1. It involves the discipline of the school to satisfy its stakeholders.

Since the principle stakeholder of the university is human society, and not merely such as the requirements of industry, commerce, entrepreneurship, and the like, the discipline required to discern and pursue the common good as a moral obligation is, in my opinion, among higher education’s most urgent concerns. Too often tertiary education has seen itself as a lackey to an uncriticized economy or to private, selfish interests. The result has been strong individuals and corporations, both national and foreign, but a dysfunctional and socially unjust society.

II. Faith-based Discipline in the Context of Higher Education

Is rights-based discipline, therefore, essentially different from faith based-discipline? There are many faiths and receptions of particular faiths that operate universities. Silliman University is an esteemed Christian Protestant university. Ateneo de Davao University operates in partnership with the Islamic University of Bandung, Indonesia. I will speak here only of my own Catholic faith as it expresses itself in the Catholic university.

a) Faith-based Student Discipline

Would Mario’s being caught cheating in a final exam, Maria’s pregnancy out of wedlock in a Catholic college, Jose’s bullying and assault on a teacher, and Cynthia’s using illegal drugs, be handled under faith-based discipline in the same way as under right’s based discipline?

I cannot speak for all Catholic HEIs. I think yes and no. Yes, insofar as the human rights of the offenders would be respected. No, in terms of the faith-based formative attitude in Catholic schools that is at the core of its discipline. Students in Catholic schools are being formed into the new persons they are called to be through baptism. They are in the process of putting off the old self and putting on the new in the service of the Kingdom of God.[3] They are instructed in knowledge for the mind, and formed in freedom for the Kingdom. The teachers and formators in Catholic schools are in the service of this process. It is not a process that they control. It is a process that they serve under the power of the Spirit.[4]

In this context, teachers as disciples of Jesus participate in the pastoral ministry of the Church. Their ultimate aim in discipline is not to effect conformity to external rules and socially regulative meanings, but conformity to the Spirit – a Spirit of compassion, love, freedom and renewal.

The respect for the person is maintained. Due process is still observed. But faith-based-discipline is pastoral. Teachers lead students to Jesus, the Door, the Good Shepherd.

Mario, therefore, through being failed may be led to see the contradiction between his cheating and his dignity as a child of God, the source of Truth, or as a brother of Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. Maria may be led, on the one hand, to repentence for her sin, but on the other hand, to free acceptance of the responsibility that is hers in giving birth to, loving and raising her child as a child of God; she may be led further to an encounter with God in the compassion of her community. Jose may be led to conversion by seeing Jesus bullied in the persons he bullied and violated. Cynthia, may be helped to be patient with herself as she struggles, knowing God wants her to be free of her addiction.

b) Faith-based University discipline.

Is the quality of faith-based university discipline the same as the rights-based university discipline?

I think, yes and no.

Yes, The discipline of the Catholic university is, first, that of the university. Proceeding from the heart of the Church it is – as other rights-based universities – a community of scholars and teachers who come together in the pursuit of truth in celebration of the joy of truth.[5] In its consecration to the cause of truth, it is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man and God. But no, unlike other universities, “its privileged task is to unite existentially by intellectual effort…the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the font of truth, Jesus Christ, “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (Jn. 14:6) Its search is enlightened by belief, just as its belief is enlightened by faith.

What of minimum standards and academic excellence? The faith-based discipline for minimum academic standards and academic excellence is the same as rights-based education, except for religious education or theology whose regulative standards are set not by the state – which cannot preside over theology – but by the Church community. But the motivation for excellence in the academic disciplines in enhanced by its mission as a Catholic higher education institution.

What is the mission of the Catholic higher education institution? It shares in the mission of Catholic higher education. “The great mission of higher education is that the Christian mind may advance higher culture and that its students be prepared to shoulder society’s heavy burdens and witness to faith in the world” (ECE, 9). This is transformative education.[6] The Christian mind is that of the believer transformed continually by baptism into the new man; he is led by the power of the Holy Sprit through higher education towards the transformation of culture into the fullness of life that the Lord brings. From the perspective of of rights-based discipline, it is the rational pursuit of the good life for all. From the perspective of faith-based discipline, it is the pursuit of the Kingdom of God as it manifests itself in history through the Spirit. From the viewpoint of rights-based discipline, it is rationally necessary cooperation towards the common good. From the viewpoint of faith-based discipline, it is learned submission to the power of the Holy Spirit as he gathers humanity around the Savior, Jesus.

Who are the principle stakeholders of Catholic higher education? From the viewpoint of rights-based discipline it is families, civil society, the economy, but ultimately, human society. From the viewpoint of faith-based discipline, it is ultimately human society called to participate in the Kingdom of God through the power of the Spirit at work in the Church. The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom “of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:7). Righteousness through faith, however, is inseparable from the care of the poor and excluded, and actual service to the least of the Lord’s brothers and sisters.[7] It is inseparable from social justice, which calls for solidarity with the common good. Catholic higher education serves the common good of all in union with the Church.

The faith-based discipline of the Catholic university assures the quality of its operation from its living faith life.

But first, university discipline

You have been very patient with me. The disciplinary problems within universities are not confined to individual cases of student misbehavior seeking solution. There is the discipline specific to a university which is too often neglected, overlooked, unnoticed. That is the collective discipline bourn by the whole university which makes the universities function qua universities and beneficial for society, moving their attention from specific goods to a shared common good in society. This collective discipline certainly impacts on student discipline, enriching his/her mind and shaping his/her commitments.

The principle problem that universities must address through their university discipline (their discipline of multiple disciplines working together in the pursuit of truth) is the problem of society as a whole, its dysfunctionality, its malaise, its sadness crying out mutely for solution. Pope Francis has described this poignantly as a world pervaded by consumerism, endangered by “the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.”[8] Universities contribute to consumerism, whether it be wanton or controlled; they help shape the heart of contemporary man, whether he be compassionate or heartless; they help determine the pleasures that society enjoys and the displeasures it eschews; and they have much to do with conscience, blunting it or sharpening it – if they own the discipline that is properly theirs as universities.

Sadly, they don’t have to. They often don’t. They cop out. They remain on a level of glorified basic-education institutions, happy to be dictated on by government in terms of what they teach and how they teach it, squandering the academic freedom the Constitution guarantees them.[9] Or they are a higher-education hodgepodge of aging courses and increasing costs, frenetic activities and compulsive compliance with urgent requirements but with no soul, no thirst for truth, no passion for research, no time for reading, no ambition for innovation, no concern for the actual problems that plague society – just the same old soup, re-heated and re-served as twenty-five years ago, providing no nourishment, no pleasure, no gaudium de veritate for the soul. In these cases, are we then not complicit in the disciplinary problems of youth, their confusion, frustration, boredom, loss of meaning, directionlessness, their compulsion to escape reality?

The soul of the rights-based university discipline is the human being in human society. The soul of the Catholic faith-based university discipline is the human being in human society touched by the redeeming love of God through Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Both universities, if faithful to the discipline specific to higher education, seek truth passionately – even for human society today. Both universities impact profoundly on student discipline. Both universities are good for society. One, however, runs on the cunning of man, the other on the power of God. For the Catholic educator this is the awesome sword of his discipline, and the cutting edge of the Catholic university.


[1] Pls. confer: http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/A_Human_Rights_Based_Approach_to_Education_for_All.pdf

[2] Pls. confer case of De la Salle University Inc, et. al. vs. the Court of Appeals, et.al. G. R. No. 127980, Dec. 19, 2007.

[3] “A Christian education does not merely strive for the maturing of the human person as just now described, but has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced to the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23) especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph. 4:22-24); also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn no only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Peter 3:15) but also how to help the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society,” Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis: Declaration on Christian Education, Oct. 28, 1965. Today is the 51st anniversary of this foundational document on Christian education in the Catholic Church.

[4] “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Cor. 4:20). This is the power of the Holy Spirit. See also Eph. 3:14-19, esp. “…I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (16).

[5] Confer: Ex Corde Ecclesiae [ECE]: Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities of John Paul II, par. 1.

[6] The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) describes its Catholic education in terms of transformative education. For a recent talk I gave on this, pls. confer: https://taborasj.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/catholic-education-and-the-common-good-in-tagum/

[7] Confer James 2:14-17 “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action [for the poor] is dead.” Also: Mt. 25:31-46. Jesus identifies himself with the least of his brothers and sisters in society.

[8] Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation of Francis on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, 2013.

[9] “Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning” (par. 2, sec. 5, Art. XIV, 1987 Constitution.. Cf. also Sec 2, RA 7722 “The State shall protect, foster and promote the right of all citizens to affordable quality education and shall take appropriate steps to ensure that education shall be accessible to all. The State shall also ensure and protect academic freedom…” Also Sec. 13: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as limiting academic freedom of universities and colleges…” In the Philippines, academic freedom is higher education’s best kept secret.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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