Catholic Higher Education in the Philippines: A Commitment to Quality Education in the Spirit

[ADDU University Lecture, July 29, 2022.]

Our University Celebration of St. Ignatius of Loyola today is occasion for reflection on Catholic Education in the Philippines and how it is a commitment to quality education in the Holy Spirit.

Catholic education (CE) in the Philippines has a long and distinguished history. Augustinian missionaries opened the very first Catholic school in Cebu in 1565.  The Jesuits opened the College of San Ignacio in Manila in 1596 to educate priests.  The Dominicans established the University of Sto. Tomas in 1611, and in 1632 the Colegio de San Juan de Letran.  In 1632 the Colegio de Sta Isabel was founded as the first women’s college which has been run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul since 1632.  In 1859 the Jesuits returned from their suppression and opened the Escuela Municipal of Manila, the first Ateneo.  In 1862 the Vincentians established Conciliar seminaries in in Manila, Naga, Cebu, Iloilo and Vigan. In 1904 the sisters of St. Paul de Chartres opened the first Paulinian school in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. In 1911, the Brothers of the Christian Schools opened their first La Salle school in Manila[i]

In Mindanao the Jesuit missionary, Fr. Saturnino Urios, founded the all-boys parochial school in Butuan in 1901; this has since developed into the renowned Fr. Saturnino Urios University now run by diocesan priests.  The Religious of the Virgin Mary founded the University of the Immaculate Conception in Davao City in 1905.  The Jesuits founded Ateneo de Zamboanga in 1910, Xavier University in 1933, and our own Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) 75 years ago in 1948.

In 1941, the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) was founded. 

Behind these quality Catholic schools were religious orders or congregations with long-standing and revered traditions in education, including the Augustinians, the Dominicans, the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, the La Salle Brothers, the Religious of the Virgin Mary and the Jesuits.

But Catholic Education in the Philippines is not the monopoly of religious orders and congregational schools.  As the membership of many teaching congregations diminished, their schools were turned over to bishops, who in turn turned them over to diocesan priests whose seminary formation had prepared them to lead parishes, not Catholic schools.  It was from these diocesan priests in the CEAP, many of them now heads of or superintendents of diocesan Catholic schools, that the impetus for Philippine Catholic School Standards (PCSS) came.  What is Catholic education in the Philippines?  What is the good Catholic school?  How is it achieved?  How does one know that it is being achieved.  With the support of the Phoenix Publishing House Foundation, CEAP began answering these questions systematically in 2016 with the Philippine Catholic School Standards for Basic Education (PCSS-BE).  Because of their well-researched, systematic and compelling presentation they are now a powerful tool for the ongoing operation and renewal not only of diocesan but also of congregational Catholic schools in the Philippines and even of Catholic schools owned and run by lay persons.

Defining characteristics, standards, benchmarks, rubrics and domains.

The idea was simple, but thorough.  If there are Catholic schools in the Philippines, PCSS-BE asked what are the characteristics which define them as Catholic?  What are their defining characteristics?   But if there are defining characteristics of Catholic schools, how do these generate statements of excellence to which the Catholic schools aspire to be true to themselves.  PCSS-BE call these standards.  Here the articulation of the ideal standard is not meant to remain in the ideal realm, but to trigger a self-realizing dynamic.  If there are standards, what must be done in order to attain the standard?  These actual accomplishments the PCSS-BE call benchmarks.  Given the benchmarks, how is the accomplishment assessed relative to its attainment of the benchmark?  Does it only initially meet the benchmark, or partially meet it, or fully meet it, or even exceed the benchmark?  These evaluative indicators the PCSS-BE calls rubrics, including suggestions as to what in the school might evidence this achievement.  Finally, if there are standards, benchmarks, and rubrics, how are these called forth not only by the defining characteristics of the Catholic school, but by the essential operational aspects of each school, namely, its mission and identity, leadership and governance, learner development, learner environment, and operational vitality.  These the PCSS-BE calls domains

From PCSS-BE to PCSS-HE

As schools in the Philippines under the supervision of the CEAP began to use the PCSS-BE as a tool for the internal quality assurance of their catholicity, the CEAP embarked on a project that had not yet been attempted among Catholic educational institutions worldwide, namely the articulation of the Philippine Catholic School Standards for Higher Education (PCSS-HE).  This was challenging because the Higher Education Institution (HEI), i.e., the University or the College, is generally understood to be a community (universitas) of scholars who come together in academic freedom to search for truth.  The Philippine Constitution guarantees HEIs academic freedom (Art. XIV, Sec 5.2); the Church’s Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Colleges and Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae,  (JP II, 1990) guarantees academic freedom as well “within the boundaries of the truth and the common good” (ECE, 29). What differentiates and distinguishes HEIs from BE schools is academic freedom.  How would the PCSS-HE handle the academic freedom of the HEI, first, relative to the government body mandated by law to enforce minimum standards of various academic disciplines in HEIs but has had a record of “overreach” or administrative over-centralization, undermining the academic freedom of the HEIs?  Or, second, how would PCSS-HE handle the academic freedom of Catholic researchers searching for truth in such as in the contentious right to abortion based on the right of a women to privacy, the LGBTQ+ community, clergy abuse, capital punishment, democracy vs socialism or communism, individual freedom vs. coercion for the social good, the “just war” vs Russian aggression, new scientific theories concerning the birth of the universe vs the biblical creation accounts, and the persisting marginalization and oppression of human beings by human beings in a “Christian” culture marked by self-interest, consumerism and corruption?  How can the academically-free search for truth be guaranteed in the context of Government regulation and of Church authority?  In a post-truth context of increasing secularization, how is the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ relevant to empirical and disciplined research in a CHEI.?

Focus on PCSS-HE

As the title of my lecture indicates, without discounting the PCSS-BE, I would like to focus on the recently-published PCSS-HE (2022), as a way of understanding CE in the Philippines but also as an invitation to its use for internal quality assurance (IQA) in Catholic Higher Education Institutions (CHEIs), but particularly in the Ateneo de Davao, which is not only a Jesuit and Filipino University but also a Catholic University.

What is CHE in the Philippines?  As explained above, based on the PCSS-HE we will try to answer these questions by referring to the CHEI’s 8 defining characteristics, 23 standards, 106 benchmarks, each with corresponding rubrics as applied to 6 domains.[ii]  In the little time we have today, however, we will certainly not be able to go through all of this material, which could use a good semester of elucidation!  But I do hope to be able, by choosing some examples of standards working within six domains, to present an idea – a sampling – of how through the PCSS-HE a sizeable number of Catholic Educators in the Philippines[iii] live the challenge and reality of CHE in the Philippines today – ultimately in the Spirit.  At the end of this presentation, I will offer some reflections on the PCSS-HE.

The Defining Characteristics of Catholic Education

The eight defining characteristics of Catholic higher education for the excellent CHEI are as presented not essentially different from those of basic Catholic education.  In considering them, however, we should be wary of reducing them to slogans, or to a mere check-list facilely ticked off in a superficial review. 

“An excellent CHEI is:

  1. Centered on the person and message of Jesus Christ
  2. Participating in the evangelizing mission of the Church
  3. Animated by the Spirit of communion
  4. Established as an Ecclesial Institution.
  5. Distinguished by a Cultural of Excellence
  6. Committed to Integral Human Formation
  7. Engaged in the service of the Church and Society with Preferential Option for the Poor
  8. Promoting Dialogue on Faith and Life and Culture” (pgs. 9-11)

In the self-realizing dynamic of the PCSS-HE,  they are listed and attributed to the excellent CHEI as an invitation, if not an imperative, to realization in actual CHEIs.[iv]  The day-to-day Catholic atmosphere of the school sometimes wears down, gets tired, and no longer animates the members of the CHEI to their catholicity.  “Identity” becomes just a workplace, and “mission” becomes just another job.  Here the defining characteristics can act as a constant call to the school community to be defined anew by such as the person and message of Jesus Christ, the call to participate in evangelization, or to be open to the Christian communion that only the Spirit effects.

The 24 articulated PCSS-HE standards are distributed among six domains – six essential areas of the CHEI’s operation.  These are:

  1. The Catholic Identity and Mission (IM, pg 12 ff)
  2. Leadership and Governance (LG, pg 38 ff)
  3. Learner Development (LD, pp 53 ff)
  4. Research and Community Engagement (RCE, pg 76 ff, or R and CE)
  5. Learning Environment (LE, pg 101 ff)
  6. Operational Vitality (OV, pg 124 ff.)

The fourth domain, Research and Community Engagement, is proper to the PCSS-HE, so not included in the PCSS-BE.

All the Standards, Benchmarks and Rubrics are listed under their respective domains in the table of contents of the PCSS-HE (ix-xix).  It is a convenient way of getting a quick overview of the PCSS-HE.

So let us look first at:

Domain 1.  Catholic Identity and Mission

PCSS-HE lists 5 standards for this domain with 24 benchmarks. 

Brief summary of standards:  An excellent CHEI is “animated and driven by a PVMGCV [philosophy, vision, mission, goals, and core values]” that manifest its “identity as HEI and as Catholic HEI” (1), is “dedicated to the search for truth” (2), “is an evangelizing community” (3), is “faithful to the Church’s preferential option for the poor” (4), is a community of scholars from diverse disciplines “who witness to the unity of truth” (5).

Let us take a closer look at the first two::

Standard 1. “An excellent CHEI, as a community, is animated and driven by a philosophy, vision, mission, goals, and core values (PVMGCV) that embrace, preserve, renew, and promote its identity as HEI and as Catholic HEI.”

The formulation of Standard 1 under the Domain IM in the self-realizing dynamic of the PCSS-HE calls forth not only the articulation of a PVMGCV but also its implementation.  Cf Benchmark 1.3: “Members of the CHEI community share, adhere to, and realize the PVMGCV[v] and communicate these effectively to the public.

It is similar with Standard 2:

Standard 2: “An excellent CHEI is dedicated to the search for truth, committed to the building of a civilization of love, and strengthened by members of the community who nurture and advance faith formation, integral development of persons, intercultural dialogue, academic formation and community engagement.” (pg 19)

Standard 2 under Domain 1 already involves all the other domains:  LG in determining how the “search for truth” is demanded, initiated, sustained, evaluated, and advanced, LD in those who provide for ordered “faith formation” and “integral development of persons” among learners and external stakeholders, R in those truly engaged in the “search for truth” and CE in the “building of a civilization of love” and in other “community engagement” activities, LE  in “the search for truth” in academic freedom, and OV in the search for truth and instruction and formation that is sustained.  The “civilization of love” mentioned is a technical term referring to social conditions which “allow various cultural expressions to co-exist and to promote dialogue so as to foster a peaceful society” (cf. pg 128). Using another lens, this standard under the Domain of IM, involves the domains of administration, formation and instruction, research and extension.

What must be done to achieve this standard?  There are eight benchmarks also involving different domains.  These indicate how the standard is attained under different domains.

2.1  The CHEI engages in a continuous search for truth about nature, human person, common good, and God, and in finding truth communicates, celebrates and lives it. [R, LD, LE]. 

The rubrics say this benchmark is achieved when “The CHEI establishes policies and systems that call on the community to discover new understandings in the light of the Catholic faith about nature, the human person, the common good and God through research and interdisciplinary dialogues.  The new understandings are communicated, celebrated and lived.”

2.2  The CHEI establishes and develops harmonious relations with people of other cultures and faith traditions through sustained dialogue and meaningful partnership.  [LG, LD, CE]

2.3  The members of the CHEI community build a culture of peace, justice, charity, integrity, mercy, and compassion.  [LD, LE, CE].

2.4.  The CHEI integrates faith formation into the curriculum, governance, learning environment, and partnership with stakeholders.  [LG, LD, LE, CE]  

2.5.  The CHEI creates and sustains a distinctively Catholic environment that provides varied opportunities where Jesus is encountered and experienced, esp. in the Eucharist, by persons and communities.  [LG, LE]

2.6  The CHEI formulates and implements program and activities that address and advance the physical, economic, intellectual, psychological, emotional, relational, social, political, cultural, moral and spiritual development of the stakeholder  [LD, LE, CE]. 

2.7. The CHEI aligns the curriculum and instruction, research and community engagement agenda with its philosophy, vision, mission, goals, and core values.  [IM, LD, RCE]

Let us now look at Domain 2, Leadership and Governance, under which there are three  standards and 13 benchmarks.

Domain 2. Leadership and Governance

Brief summary of standards:  The standards speak of “transformational leaders who are witnesses to Catholic discipleship…and [are] recognized by competent Church authority” (6); they follow “relevant government and higher education standards and policies and [that are] consistent with Gospel values and teachings of the Church” (7).

Standard 8:  An excellent CHEI is governed and administered by visionary leaders who are innovative and creative in their work, resilient, and committed to the pursuit of the institution’s philosophy, vision, mission goals, and core values and the formation of an authentic Christian community and the achievement of wholeness and holiness among is personnel and other stakeholders. 

The leaders are visionary, but their vision pursues with “a sense of ownership” the PVMGCV of the institution which involves instruction, research and community service.  They are committed to its realization which again involves the different other domains: 

The benchmarks of this standard with the domains they affect are:

  • The leaders of the CHEI manifest a sense of ownership of the institution’s philosophy, vision, mission, goals, core values (PVMGCV) [IM, R, CE] , programs and activities [LD], and exercise accountability at their respective levels of responsibility [LE]

Rubric. Level 3. The benchmark is achieved if leaders take the initiative in the articulation of the institution’s PMVGCV, ensure the implementation of the programs and activities across the institution, and accomplish their duties and responsibilities with dedication and commitment.  They report on how they meet established goals, find ways to facilitate the attainment of these goals, evaluate their performance, and take responsibility for decisions and actions made. 

  • The leaders of the CHEI build a Christian community marked by worship, joy, charity, integrity, and solidarity [LE] through a holistic formation program [LD]. 
  • The leaders of the CHEI implement policies and code of ethics for its personnel that uphold personal integrity and are rooted in spiritual values [LE] common to all belief systems. 
  • The leaders of the CHEI seek new ideas [R], formulate new policies, and implement systems that enable the institution and its community to move forward in the attainment of its philosophy, vision, mission, goals and core values [IM, LD, R and CE, OV]
  • The leaders of the CHEI ensure the continuity of learning in times of crises, disasters, disruption and emergencies. [IM, LD, LE, OV]

Domain 3.  Learner Development.

In Domain 3, Learner Development, there are 4 standards and 19 benchmarks.

Brief summary of standards:  An excellent HEI ensures the “integral formation of the human person” (9), “provides…a community of professionally qualified, competent, scholarly, socially engaged and committed faculty” (10), employs “relevant assessments” (11), “establishes linkages with industries, government, non-government, Church and other organizations for learner development” (12).

Standard 9.  ”An excellent HEI ensures the integral formation of the human person through a robust curriculum and quality instruction that will enable them to succeed professionally and engage in the service of the Church and society.”

We are focused here on what is done by the CHEI in the service of the learner.  Integral formation involves instruction, delivering knowledge to the mind, and formation, forming the heart through values, convictions and commitments.  It benefits the Church and society. The benchmarks, involving different other domains, are:

9.1  The curriculum is relevant, transformative [CE] and competency based [CE].

9.2   The curriculum develops the learners’ intellectual, creative and aesthetic faculties for the formation of reflective judgement, the endowment of a high level of professionalism and rich humanness and skills that are part of the service of the common good [CE].

9.3  The curriculum is meaningful and responsive to the needs of the learner for effective professional and social engagement [CE].

9.4.  The curriculum is directed towards the formation of learners to become catalysts for societal transformation [CE] and Church renewal [CE]. 

9.5  The curriculum is informed and enriched by the contents and methods of various disciplines towards integrative knowledge and learning [MI].

9.6  The curriculum  is aligned with national standards and international quality frameworks [OV].

9.7  The curriculum integrates the Gospel values of justice, peace, compassion for the poor, servant leadership and care for creation [LE, CE]

9.8  The CHEI utilizes various instructional resources and technology in guiding and engaging learners to think critically, reflect on and solve problems creatively, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and demonstrate skillfully the competencies required by the profession [CE].

9.9.  The CHEI provides programs, offers services, and builds an atmosphere that empowers learners to be resilient in times of crisis, disasters, disruptions and emergencies (LE, OV)

Domain 4:  Research and Community Engagement.

Brief summary of standards:  An excellent CHEI “engages in research to examine critically and systematically the problems and realities of the human condition … in the light of God’s revelation and Church teachings” (13), “cultivates a sense of global citizenship and understanding of the diversity of cultures and faith traditions in the light of its Catholic identity and mission…” (14), “pursues and commits itself to community engagement …in accordance with its identity and mission” (15), “engages in the advocacy for justice and peace, ecological integrity, engaged citizenship, poverty eradication, gender equality, and youth empowerment (JEEPGY)” (16), sponsors “research-based programs that provide opportunities for the community to actively participate in [activities] that uphold the sanctity of life, truth, justice and human rights and the rule of law: (17).   With these five standards there are 19 benchmarks.

We may note that Standards 13 and 14 deal more with Research while Standards 15-17 deal more with outreach or Community Extension.  We sample a standard from each and, because of our time limitations, only briefly describe their benchmarks:

Standard 13.  An excellent CHEI engages in research to examine critically and systematically the problems and realities of the human condition towards the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge, solutions, and perspectives that uplift human life and reflect on their meaning and significance in the light of God’s revelation and Church teachings. 

         The corresponding benchmarks provide, among others, that the CHEI articulates an inter- and multi-disciplinary “research agenda  guided by ethical norms and provides for innovative practices and answers to contemporary problems affecting the quality of human life”… (13.1); “uncovers the transcendent and Christian dimensions in the findings of its various researches and relates their impact and oral implications on the integral development of the human person … and the advancement of the Kingdom of God” (13.2); “using research methods that adhere to academic excellence and ethical standards” “offers faculty and learners the opportunity to generate new knowledge and perspectives in the continuing pursuit and elucidation of the truth about God, [the] human person, society and nature” (13.3).

         The “contemporary problems” referred to are not to be glossed over in “uncovering the Christian and transcendent aspects of the problems.”  This has everything to do with CEAPs this-worldly outreach agenda expressed in the acronym, JEEPGY:  justice and peace, including the problems of historical injustice inflicted by the State on the Bangsamoro; engaged citizenship, including citizen responses to such as authoritarianism, populism, state violence; ecological integrity, including issues relevant to climate change due to the abuse of the environment due to human consumerism and due to unbounded human habitats destroying the  habitat and extinction of other species; poverty eradication, including the problem of the worst poverty in the Philippines still in Mindanao and especially in the communities of the Bangsamoro; gender equality, including not only the equality between males and females in such as the right to life, housing rights, the right to education, the right to vote, but also the human and social rights of members of the LGBTQ+ in contemporary society, and youth empowerment, including enabling the youth to shape society according to the rational and religious values they hold.   AS JEEPGY calls forth profound research, so does it call forth courageous advocacy as provided for in the following standard. 

Standard 16.  An excellent CHEI, inspired by its vision and mission and informed by evidence gained from research, prophetically and proactively engages in the advocacy for justice and peace, ecological integrity, engaged citizenship, poverty eradication, gender equality, and youth empowerment (JEEPGY).

         The corresponding benchmarks provide, among others, that the CHEI provide activities “that promote international perspectives and partnerships marked by inclusiveness, interdependence, global equality, social justice and peace” (14.1); provide for “learners experiences that develop sensitivity to and appreciation for the diversity of identities, cultures and faiths, the capacity for intra-faith, interfaith, and cross cultural dialogue and reflection, and the discernment of spiritual values that permeate all faith traditions” (14.2)

Domain 5.  Learning Environment

The Domain “Learner Development” is complemented by this fifth Domain.  It has five Standards and 21 Benchmarks.

Brief summary of standards:  The Standards provide that the excellent CHEI “sustains a culture conducive to lifelong learning and a living and growing encounter with Jesus Christ” (18); “is a life-giving community” benefitting the learners (19); is “an inclusive community … promoting… respect, understanding and appreciation for varied worldviews and human expressions” (20), “accompanies the learners and develops in them a virtuous character to live and work ethically according to the demands of their profession and faith” (21); and “as a community of scholars upholds and cultivates academic freedom and autonomy within the confines of truth and [the] common good” (22).

Let us sample two of these standards.

Standard 18: “An excellent CHEI creates and sustains a culture conducive to lifelong learning and a living and growing encounter with Jesus Christ that leads to a life of personal commitment and witnessing to Him and the service of the Church”

The corresponding Benchmarks provide, among others, that the CHEI community “foster the internalization of the Catholic faith that affirms its identity, vision mission and core values” (18.1); “puts up signs and symbols related to the Catholic faith and its identity … to enhance the learners’ appreciation of them” (18.2); provides for “experiences of God’s presence in self, others and creation” (18.3); “builds and maintains facilities” appropriate “to the learners’ professional and spiritual growth” (18.4); ensures “a resilient environment that will sustain teaching and learning” (18.5) 

While the standard provides for a culture conducive to lifelong learning (in the awareness that today one cannot frontload learning sufficient for life in a vuca world), the benchmarks support the living and growing encounter with Jesus Christ.

Standard 22:  “An excellent CHEI, as a community of scholars, upholds and cultivates academic freedom and autonomy, within the confines of truth and the common good.”

The Benchmarks provide that the CHEI support the “faculty’s autonomy and freedom in research and teaching according to the methods of each individual discipline in their search of all aspects of truth and in the pursuit of the common good” (22.1) and guarantee “the learners’ autonomy and freedom in research and study according to the standards and requirements of their degree programs” (22.2)  They do not mention institutional academic freedom.

Domain 6.  Operational Vitality

In this last and final domain there are 2 standards and 8 benchmarks.

Brief summary of standards:  The Standards provide that the excellent CHEI ensures “the institution’s sustainability and continuous improvement” (23) and develops and maintains “partnerships for its sustainability, advancement of its vision and mission, and societal transformation of the common good.” (24).

Standards 23.  An excellent CHEI effectively and efficiently directs its resources in the spirit of stewardship to ensure the institution’s sustainability and continuous improvement in its pursuit of quality instruction, responsive community engagement, and rigorous research.

The Benchmarks provide that the CHEI have “a strategic plan that facilitates … management of its human, financial and physical resources in the spirit of stewardship” (23.1); “provides living wages and other social benefits” (23.2), “designs and implements training programs to advance its PVMGCV and to ensure the continuous professional development and holistic formation of its human resources” (23.3); “observes sound principles … in the management of its finances” (23.4);  “sets up appropriate physical plant facilities” to support the institution’s ends (23.5); operates “a quality assurance management system and utilizes data generated therefrom to foster its identity and mission” (23.6); utilizes an appropriate “Management Information System” (23.7) and “effectively communicates to its publics” (23.8)

Personal Reflections

I have sought to present to you an idea of what Catholic Education is in the Philippines through a very imperfect presentation – a sampling – of the recently-formulated PCSS-HE.  Educators representing 1520 Catholic schools of which 320 are CHEIs including 40 seminaries would say Catholic Education in the Philippines is in the self-realizing dynamic of the PCSS-BE and PCSS-HE.  CHEIs are Catholic through eight defining characteristics, 23 standards of excellence, 106 benchmarks with accompanying rubrics for six major operational domains of the CHEI.  Catholic education defies facile conceptual definition being very much this work in progress not only of the schools’ respective communities and of the organized community of these communities in the CEAP, but also, as I would like to stress, of the Holy Spirit.

An Invaluable Guide.  A Daunting Challenge.

To those who would like to run a Catholic Higher Education Institute in the Philippines, or work at the ongoing improvement of one, the PCSS is an invaluable guide.  As well as a daunting challenge.  In basic education heavily determined and regulated by the Department of Education (DepEd) and in higher education where the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) determines and enforces the institutional and program minimum standards, the Defining Characteristics and Standards of Catholic Education are signposts of excellence – standards that in and of themselves exceed the required or minimum standards of state governance.  In the Philippines, it is the state that is responsible for the integrated national educational system in which public and private educational institutions [supposedly] function by mandate of the Constitution in complementarity. 

A Tool for Internal Quality Asurance

The PCSS-HE are presented to the Catholic educator as a tool for internal quality assurance (IQA).  In the academic freedom of the CHEI, however, with the collaboration of other CHEIs, they could also be used as a tool for external quality assurance in order to improve one’s realization of the PCSS-HE.

In the PCSS-BE, following recent DepED terminology, those who learn are referred to as learners.  In the PCSS-HE, this reference is carried over.  However, in HE, “student(s)” may be more appropriate. 

HEI vs CHEI

It is to be noted that except for the reference to the “HEI” and the “Catholic HEI” in Standard 1, the PCSS-HE does not distinguish systematically between the noun “HEI” or “University” and the adjective “Catholic” as applied to the HEI.  The PCSS view is understandable.  The CHEI does not operate in abstraction from its catholicity.  Thus, even such as the characteristics “Distinguished by a Culture of Excellence” or “Committed to Integral Human Formation,” which are numbered among the defining characteristics of Catholic education, can characterize a purely secular HEI, e.g., an HEI whose identity and mission is to make quality higher education accessible to the Lumad. 

Nevertheless, the clear articulation of what is meant by the noun “university” or “HEI”, such as a community (“universitas”) of scholars who come together in academic freedom to search for and transmit truth in the service of human beings, can in effect highlight what is distinctly the adjective, Catholic, in the CHEI, e.g. “centered on the person and message of Jesus Christ,” “participating in the evangelizing mission of the Church,” “animated by the spirit of communion” and “established as an ecclesial institution.”  In the Philippines, as Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian once remarked, among the strongest arguments for private education is that it can deliver Christian education.  Public education cannot.  Delivery of quality Catholic education is a contribution to the common weal. 

Academic Freedom Essential to the HEI and CHEi

At the same time, academic freedom which is an essential and constitutive characteristic of the HEI, is in the CHEI only an excellence standard – the 22nd of the PCSS-HE’s 24 provided under the domain, Learner Environment.  In the level-1 rubric, where the CHEI but initially meets the benchmark, “the CHEI … [has] plans to uphold academic freedom.”  Possibly here the commitment to the Christian message may be keeping academic freedom on the level of a mere plan, an intention.  In such a case, where actual academic freedom is not a minimum requirement of the CHEI, can it still be considered an HEI?

In this light, for the CHEI, “a community of scholars exercising academic freedom in the search for truth” – or the HEI as such – may even need to be numbered among the defining characteristics of CHEIs.  The Philippine Constitution provides, notably with the mandatory “shall”, that “Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning” [Art. XIV, Sec. 5 (2)].  Because of the CHEI’s identity and mission, it would be clear that the constitutionally-guaranteed institutional academic freedom is exercised towards attaining the standards of CHEIs which realize the HEI’s PVMGCV. 

No Reference to Institutional Academic Freedom

However, it is to be noted here, not without a certain trepidation, that the benchmarks of Standard 22 “guarantee the faculty’s autonomy and freedom in research and teaching according to the methods of each individual discipline in their search of all aspects of truth and in the pursuit of the common good” (22.1) and “guarantee the learners’ autonomy and freedom in research and study according to the standards and requirements of their degree programs” (22.2).  There is no reference to institutional academic freedom, the ability of the  university to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.[vi]  Whether the benchmarks for faculty and learner academic freedom are sufficiently formulated so that the PVMGCV can be safeguarded through the governance of the CHEI in exercising its institutional academic freedom against excesses in the exercise of the academic freedom of faculty or of students is unclear.  In a Catholic HEI the institutional academic freedom guides the research and instruction of its faculty members and the research of its students and confirms the methods of their disciplines as consistent with the Catholic PVMGCV of the CHEI.  It engages positions inconsistent with or contrary to the PVMGCV of the CHEI in a relentless and ongoing search for truth.

Obligations in Academic Freedom for CHEIs in R and CE

In the PCSS-HE the standard of excellence is what “the excellent CHEI” achieves.  It is the articulation of the ideal in 24 standards that responds to 6 operational domains.  There is however nothing sacred about the number 6, so nothing that confines the domains to 6.  Indeed, the PCSS-HE’s finality of quality improvement through self-assessment may have been better served if “Research and Community Engagement” were two distinct domains.  This would have allowed for a deeper understanding of standards for both R and CE in the light of the essential academic freedom in the CHEI.  How is academic freedom positively embraced by the CHEI in the search for new knowledge, the development of innovative programs of instruction against a given educational landscape, the development of genuine responsiveness to stakeholders in need?  How from the heart of the Church does the CHEI in academic freedom necessarily embrace the imperative to theology that is responsive to the particular context of the CHEI and articulates how God continues in the truth of the Spirit to reveal himself blessing, redeeming, guiding and transforming the local or global situation in which the CHEI is called

Indeed, when all the standards are introduced by “the excellent CHEI” and the implementation of a standard involves many domains that appear to overlap in a type of dialectical circularity between “the excellent CHEI” and the actual, striving CHEI, which member(s) of the community is or are mainly responsible for the realization of the standard is blurred.  Another way of applying standards to the CHEI’s operations may be to use the domains: Administration, Formation, Instruction, Research and Extension (AFIRE) that implement a vision and mission, as is our wont at ADDU. 

I have referred to the self-realizing dynamic of the PCSS-HE.  This is true only if the Catholic educators within the community of the CHEI commit themselves in academic freedom to meet, if not surpass, the 24 standards.  Such would presumably be the highest form of exercising academic freedom communally in a particular CHEI.  Through this exercise of academic freedom, the CHEI is realized.

Two Major Limitations: The Public Educational Landscape

But there are two major limitations on the community’s ability to achieve the excellent CHEI in the Philippines.  There are realities essential to this achievement that are beyond the CHEI’s control, no matter the intense dedication and vowed commitments of the CHEI community to achieve the standards.

One is the public educational landscape that conditions the CHEI’s operation and the ability of the State to kill private CHEIs and Catholic schools and universities through its one-sided support of public schools.  This happens through legislation and public administrative policies which are insensitive to the operational limitations of the private schools.  Private schools run on tuition and fees dependent on market conditions, which enable or limit the ability of students or their parents to pay tuition and fees, whose collection determine such as teacher salaries and educational facilities.  Public schools run on legislated government budgets allocating taxpayers’ money for the support of the public schools.  The Constitution provides for the “complementary roles of public and private institutions in the educational system” [Art XIV, Sec. 4 (1)].  While this ought to mean that both operate complementing the other,[vii] it is now being exercised so that in time the strengths of one will annihilate the other.  No matter the commitments of the CHEI community to its sustainability and continued improvement in the service of the students and of the community (Standard 23), government can erode and kill the operations of the CHEI by not seriously attending to the complementarity of public and private schools and bullying the private schools out of the market and therefore out of existence.  Under the domain OV, a more robust articulation of the imperative for the CHEI to engage in organized advocacy in collaboration with the private sector to ensure the sustainability of CE vs. killer national and local legislation is warranted.  This may be considered in the light of the right of Catholic citizens to Catholic education as articulated by Gravissimum Educationis.[viii]

The Holy Spirit

The other limiting factor is more profound.  In a CHEI community that is centered on the person of Jesus Christ, participates in the evangelizing mission of the Church, is animated by the Spirit of communion, is engaged in the service of Church and society with a preferential option for the poor, and promotes inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue concerning faith and life and culture, none of this is achieved through the sheer willfulness and rationality of administrators, faculty members, staff and students.  None of it is possible without the Holy Spirit and grace.  The CHEI is not a proprietor of the Holy Spirit; it does not govern the Holy Spirit, a sine qua non in the faith life of each and every Christian member of the CHEI and indeed in the lives of members of the university of other religions or beliefs seeking truth.  The shift from the articulated “defining characteristics” like “centered on the person of Jesus Christ” to an actual centeredness on Jesus that is life giving for a particular CHEI is not achieved by educators and students alone but granted by the Holy Spirit, not in the approved timeframe of a strategic plan, but in the Holy Spirit’s own time.  Not all the members of the CHEI find their center in Christ Jesus at the same time, with the same intensity, with the same consequentiality, so that the realization of a CHEI’s vision and mission may often need to wait for the Holy Spirit to move, to inspire and to transform.

The “limitation” is instructive.  Working with the PCSS-HE, perhaps, need not end in an exclamation, “Thank God we are not like the rest of the CHEIs since we have achieved at least Level 3 in all 24 standards!” but “Have mercy on us, Lord, in our shortcomings and failures!” (cf. Lk 18:9-14).   Especially in our shortcomings in faith.  “I believe in you, Lord.  But help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).  In administration and governance, “I am anxious and worried like Martha, Lord” but help me to see “the better part” that Mary preferred.  Help me find the distance from the endless chores and tasks and pressing deadlines to find the quiet to sit at your lap and converse with you, Lord (cf. Lk 10:38-42).  Where it is clear, Lord, that separated from you I can do nothing, “Lord, teach me to pray” (Lk 11:1-13).  Teach me on my knees to search for truth even knowing you as the font of truth!  In becoming more aware of God’s grace actually working in the dedicated talents and skills and struggles of people in the CHEI community, or in the real situations of human and environmental emergency the CHEI addresses, one may progress not just through greater degrees of excellence but through greater degrees of humility.  And gratitude.

In the end, the self-realizing dynamic of the PCSS-HE is not just the commitment and work in progress of “the excellent CHEI’s community” and of the community of these communities providing quality Catholic education to the Philippines.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit. 


[i] Cf. Pastoral letter of the CBCP on the Occasion of the 400th Anniversary of Catholic Education in the Philippines, 2012:  https://cbcponline.net/a-pastoral-letter-of-the-cbcp-on-the-occasion-of-the-400-years-of-catholic-education-in-the-philippines/

[ii] The PCSS-BE has 8 defining characteristics, 15 standards, 62 benchmarks and 5 domains.

[iii] “As regards CEAP Membership, our official number is 1520 schools and 120 superintendents. Our number of HEIs including seminaries is 321 but without them, we have around 270+ colleges and universities” (Allan Arellano, CEAP Executive Director).

[iv] Appreciating the defining characteristics, they are not only willed outcomes of of a CHEI’s community, but the product of the Spirit “who blows where he will.”  The PCSS needs prayer.  Conversion.  Mission from God.

[v] Indeed, if already in Standard 1 the PVMGCV of the CHEI is realized, one would wonder why there is need for other standards.  But the PCSS-HE is a circle of circles, a self-realizing dialectic between the ideal and the real, between the whole concept and the particular details.

[vi] In Philippine jurisprudence, Garcia vs. Loyola School of Theology (Nov 28, 1975) was decided in favor of LST with reference to the US Justice Frankfurter, concurring in Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 US 234, 236 (1957).  Justice Frankfurter, with his extensive background in legal education as a former Professor of the Harvard Law School, referred to what he called the business of a university and the four essential freedoms in the following language: “It is the business of a university to provide that atmosphere which is most conducive to speculation, experiment and creation. It is an atmosphere in which there prevail “the four essential freedoms” of a university — to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.”  This “business of the university” is institutional academic freedom.

[vii] This has been the object of intense and enlightening research.  Cf. Paqueo, et al., Making Public and Private Sectors Work Complementarily in Education: A Strategic Framework (Manila: Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities with funding from the Philippine Educational Assistance Committee and the Department of Education, 2022).  “This study seeks to contribute to the clarification and operationalization of the concept of public and private education complementarity.  Specifically, it aims to address the following questions.  How can the govern, public schools and private education sector be made to work complementarily?  What does complementarity mean in the first place?  And how can the Philippines build a Constitutionally mandated tentgrated national education system (iNES) that  is highly motivated and able to maximize its performance?” (pg.1).

[viii] Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Encyclical (Vatican: 1965).  No. 1 asserts the Universal Right to Education.  No 2 asserts the right of the Catholic to Catholic education. 

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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