Academic freedom
MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 8, 2015 - 12:00am

A common misconception about academic freedom is that the Constitution grants the teacher the right to say anything s/he wants in the classroom. To see why that is a misconception, let us examine exactly what academic freedom is.

“Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning,” says Section 5(2) of Article XIV (“Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports”) of the Constitution.

Let us first set aside two related issues.

Higher learning is usually understood to refer to tertiary or university-level education. In the Philippines, we call institutions of higher learning Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Is academic freedom enjoyed by institutions that are not HEIs? I am talking about high schools, technical training centers, language centers, and the like.

Academic freedom in HEIs is guaranteed by the Constitution. Academic freedom in non-HEIs is not guaranteed by the Constitution, but that does not mean that they do not have it.

Here is a simple analogy from Logic 101. If we say that Maria can wear white in tonight’s party, that does not mean that Juan cannot or may not wear white.

By saying that HEIs have academic freedom, we are not saying that non-HEIs do not have academic freedom. Whether non-HEIs have or do not have academic freedom is a different question from the one that I will tackle in today’s column.

Another related issue is that of HEIs offering non-higher learning courses. If the HEI has a high school, if it does technical training, if it does language instruction, and things other than higher learning, does the Constitution still grant it academic freedom in everything it does? This issue will become important when HEIs start offering Senior High Schools.

(I realize that I might be accused of impersonating a lawyer. Since I am a media person, however, I can say pretty much what I want, because that is also guaranteed by the Constitution in Section 4 of Article III, or the “Bill of Rights”: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press.”)

Let us, for the moment, set aside the two related issues, namely, whether non-HEIs have academic freedom and whether an HEI has academic freedom whatever level of education it engages in.

There is a preliminary issue, however, that we cannot lay aside. Which has academic freedom – the institution or the individual teacher? The common answer is that both have academic freedom. But what happens when the freedom of one is opposed to the freedom of the other?

In his 2011 article entitled “The Extent of Academic Freedom in Philippine Education” in the International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, Ricmar P. Aquino proposes that “Academic freedom may be viewed from two standpoints, such as the point of view of the educational institution and the point of view of the members of academe. The first point of view speaks of the freedom of the institution to determine the qualification of its teachers, the course of study, and admission policies. From the standpoint of the members of academe, academic freedom is the freedom of the teacher or research workers in institutions of higher learning to investigate and discuss the problems of his science and to express his conclusions either through publications or in instruction of the students, without interference from political or ecclesiastical authority, or from administrative officials of the institution.”

That is not quite how the Supreme Court sees academic freedom.

Although the concept of academic freedom has been “rarely litigated,” as Jose Marlon P. Pabiton puts it in his 2006 article in the Ateneo Law Journal, the Supreme Court has made it clear that, as far as the Philippines is concerned, it is the institution rather than the individual that enjoys full academic freedom.

In its 2010 decision on Mercado et al vs. AMA Computer College (G.R. No. 183572), for example, the Supreme Court said: “Last but not the least factor in the academic world, is that a school enjoys academic freedom – a guarantee that enjoys protection from the Constitution no less. Section 5(2) Article XIV of the Constitution guarantees all institutions of higher learning academic freedom. The institutional academic freedom includes the right of the school or college to decide and adopt its aims and objectives, and to determine how these objections can best be attained, free from outside coercion or interference, save possibly when the overriding public welfare calls for some restraint. The essential freedoms subsumed in the term ‘academic freedom’ encompass the freedom of the school or college to determine for itself: (1) who may teach; (2) who may be taught; (3) how lessons shall be taught; and (4) who may be admitted to study.”

The Supreme Court has been consistent in its view that the school’s academic freedom includes “how lessons shall be taught,” which is something often associated with the individual teacher’s academic freedom. (To be continued)

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