Feeling too entitled and overly politicized

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - January 25, 2021 - 12:00am

An agreement signed in 1989 between the University of the Philippines and the Philippine Department of National Defense effectively banned any military presence inside any of the university's several campuses without prior knowledge and consent of the university. Called the UP-DND Accord, the agreement was unilaterally terminated last week by current Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana after more than 30 years of effectivity.

Lorenzana terminated the pact, saying it only helped in making UP a safe and fertile ground for recruitment into the communist New People's Army. Naturally, the termination caused an uproar within the UP community. Students, faculty, alumni and other sympathizers, especially in media, decried what they invariably described as an attack on academic freedom.

Considered by many as the country's top university, it is truly disappointing that it could not summon enough intellectual juices to come up with a better argument than termination of the accord being an attack on academic freedom. What kind of an argument is that? If the logic therefore is that military presence curtails academic freedom, then it follows that the absence of military presence enhances that very same academic freedom.

Well then, since 1989 when UP signed the accord with then defense secretary Fidel Ramos up to this month when Lorenzana suddenly decided to terminate it, the UP has had a good 32 years of academic freedom unhampered by any military presence. And yet in all those decades of unbridled academic freedom, UP has not really made any earthshakingly significant improvements in its global academic excellence rankings.

Just last September, UP trumpeted the news that it has finally broken into the ranks of the world's top 500 universities. Fine. For all its noisy and jealous invocation of its cherished academic freedom, unhampered and unrestrained for at least 32 years just prior, by any military presence or any other challenge, it has only just now broken into the ranks of the noble 500? Is that all UP can show for 32 years of unbridled academic freedom?

Still I do hope it manages to stay there in that quieter and more dignified company if only for the sake of the Philippines. But with the accord no longer in place and the military overly zealous to do some backyard gardening, I could already see UP dropping out of that illustrious company. Not to worry though. Since it has inexorably tied its academic fate to the presence or absence of the military, UP has its ready alibi cut out for it.

The problem with UP, I think, is that it feels too entitled just because it is a state university. It thinks the world and everyone in it owes it special privileges. But what the heck is so special about UP that it feels it deserves such special treatment as a special accord with the military? How pathetic that when the privilege that no one else enjoys is taken away, it puts up a tantrum so unbecoming of a top 500 university.

True, most Philippine presidents are from UP, as are many who served in Congress and the Supreme Court. And that points to the other thing wrong with UP. It is too politicized. It appears the main measure to test the limits of its vaunted academic freedom lies solely in its ability to flourish in the field of politics. Other free pursuits of academic excellence end far less heralded, attested only by apolitical diplomas in cold frames hung on silent walls.

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