[CFU Office, Community Center of the First Companions, 10 August 2020, 3:30 pm.]
It is a real pleasure for me to be with you this afternoon. And I thank President Judith Dalagan for the kind invitation. Since this pandemic started I have been “working from home,” meaning from my room on the ninth floor of this Community Center. I confess I belong to the class of people declared vulnerable by those who are keeping us safe, being way over sixty years of age, and taking a series of medicines each day that maintains me in my co-morbidities. So, I have been meeting human beings mostly through Zoom, my fellow Jesuits being human only in a sort of analogous sense! So when I was given the option to join this Induction by Zoom or in person, I was happy to opt for, “in person,” and am delighted to see you here this afternoon in this room, and not merely via Zoom. I am happy to congratulate and extend my blessings to the new officers of the CFU who are being inducted today: Johna Marie Tabanguil as Secretary and Marlina Dayrit as Treasurer, even as I thank their predecessors, Ago Tomas and Evelyn Beatisula respectively, for their past service to the Union.
My coming here today in person, however, is not only to greet the new officers and thank the old. It is also to thank the CFU under the leadership of Judith and all the members of the CFU Board for the ongoing collaboration in pursuit of our University Vision and Mission: to provide competent instruction, robust research, and credible service to the community, especially in Davao and in Mindanao. That we are doing despite the coronavirus pandemic which we realize is anything but “fake news”, having infected now close to 20 million people around the globe and having killed close to 725,000. The pandemic has not spared our country, despite its being an archipelago, having already infected some 123,000 people, close to 2,200 of whom have been killed. It has, as you know wrought havoc in our economy, calling forth the first recession we have experienced in decades. This unfortunate situation is still current. With you, I pray it does not worsen for us in Davao.
My special thanks to the CFU particularly for the collaboration as ADDU has responded to the pandemic. In March, there was nothing certain about how this pandemic would affect us, our university, our ability to continue pursuing our mission, our ability to maintain our operation and maintain the employment of our people. It was clear that if we did not operate, we would lose vital income streams, the consequence being retrenchment, or even a shut down of the operation. So we made the decision early to shift online. That was not only a decision I made. It was a decision we made together. Under the circumstances of the pandemic, with Inday Sara in March urging us to go online, we decided together to go online. We dialogued with our students. We dialogued with our parents. We opposed the opposition to online education coming from the north. We pushed through with our summer classes and worked despite the Enhanced Community Quarantine. Having come together as a university, I was able to report to the Board last Saturday that while we were some 5.5 % short of our projected target, a target we had set prior to the pandemic, we were actually some 300 students above our enrollment last year.
In this context, I would like to again thank the CFU and the other unions of the university for accepting not to receive the usual salary increase as foreseen by our collective bargaining agreement. We really needed in shifting online to be especially sensitive to our parents who had lost their livelihood and their incomes; we entered into a partnership with them that allowed them to enroll their children for this semester at heavily discounted rates, asking those who could pay to pay, but assuring those who could not pay due to the pandemic that we would help them. That was possible also because of the sacrifice you made as without a TFI we could not sustain a salary increase. Thank you for this.
Thank you, beyond this, for taking on the sacrifices of shifting to online education. In a sense, we had no other choice. But in a real sense, it was and is all about your free choice. I know that things are not easy. I know that it has been a challenge to adapt to the new technology, to understand the learning management systems, to have had to abstain from the pedagogy of f2f teaching to embrace the new pedagogies of online education, that have their own set of challenges in teaching, including balancing synchronous and asynchronous instruction and understanding the nuances of formative and summative assessments in the online educational context while internet connectivity is so weak or unstable. In this situation, I thank you and request your continued support even as we yet face an uncertain future. We do not know when the pandemic will end. We do not know when f2f instruction, especially access to our laboratories, may finally return. But we do know that with our enrollment we have a chance to improve ourselves in our online instructional craft, to participate in the development of courseware, that would cost initial work, but promises to lighten work, and still to reach out to individual students – themselves struggling with the current situation – to ensure achievement of minimum learning outcomes. We had no choice but to go online, but I do realize that online instruction is all about the choice of our teachers to pursue their instruction mission with persistency, creativity, and compassion. Thank you for making that choice.
In my former university, ADNU, their experience is different from ours. Today they are undergoing a painful process of retrenchment. It is heartwarming however to learn that their community has come together; those still with salaries are voluntarily accepting reductions in salaries in order to share of their income with those who have lost their employment due to the crisis.
We thank God that this is not our challenge. Our challenge is to prepare ourselves for situations where online teaching can become meaningful even for people who cannot regularly do synchronous learning, or to prepare courseware that are effective even for people with low connectivity. Our challenge is to embrace our special mission to education in Mindanao and ambition now really to reach the BARMM with education that supports peace or to reach our IPs with education that supports respect and preservation of their cultures. Our challenge is to continue with our research under the conditions obtaining, and to continue reaching out to our stakeholders, first, to those agency workers and probationary workers who have had to be displaced from our service, and then to the front-liners, the poor, the possible victims of the Anti Terrorism Act and of the disturbing restraints in press freedom. In a word, our challenge is to continue implementing our mission increasingly as an “open university”, praying that God continues to guide us and preserve us in his service. It is, after all, not just the mission of our institution, but his, as we continue to participate in His work of reconciling us with himself, with each other, and with the environment.
I thank you for whatever and all you can do through your union to help care for the members of our university community, especially for your fellow teachers. There are faculty members who are burdened not only by new pressures of teaching online but by responsibilities with family and by deep anxieties due to the uncertain situation. There are faculty members who come together in prayer; some have joined circles of care for those who just wish to come together and share. Thank you for peer coaching in tackling new technologies, for peer counseling in managing new anxieties, for looking out for one another, and caring for one another. Thank you for your union in advocating the best for your members, which is not only an economic issue but today an issue of togetherness in distance, an issue of resilience in hope. Thank you then for your union in vision and mission, and your union of minds and heart. In you, the university is blessed.