WHAT IS ACADEMIC FREEDOM? (Part II)

IJTIHAD

by MEHOL K. SADAIN

As early as 1935, the Constitution already anticipated the coercive power of the State on the exercise of academic freedom, and protected the privilege by guaranteeing that “universities established by the State shall enjoy academic freedom” (Art. XIV, Sec. 5, 1935 Constitution). The provision zeroed in on “universities established by the State”, American experience being that the most prone to State influence are public educational institutions for obvious reasons.

We then ask, are our existing public educational institutions of higher learning, like the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), among others, susceptible to State coercion? The answer is yes, in the same manner that other rights may also be subjected to the coercive powers of the State. For this reason, the 1987 Constitution continues to protect the exercise of academic freedom in Art. XIV, Sec. 5(2) which declares that “academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning”; as it also protects all other democratic rights and freedoms under its Bill of Rights. The protection of academic freedom is, therefore, expanded to include private institutions of higher learning.

This brings us to the 1989 Agreement between U.P. and the Department of National Defense (DND) which the latter unilaterally abrogated, prompting U.P. academicians and students alike to protest the abrogation as an infringement on the exercise of academic freedom in the U.P. campuses. The argument goes that without the agreement, the military and the police can enter the campus, spy on the teachers and the students, or apprehend any of them, and stymie the freedom of teachers to teach and the right of the students to learn, thus restricting and endangering academic freedom in the university.

A closer look, however, will show that this argument has nothing to do with academic freedom. Neither is it a valid defense of academic freedom, assuming such is indeed endangered. The entry by the military or the police inside the campus to enforce the law does not directly and automatically hinder the right of teachers to teach what they want to teach. Even during martial law when the military presence was more palpable, the threat of apprehension was greater, and there was no agreement to speak of, the teachers taught what they wanted to teach in the manner they thought best. The students, on the other hand, continued to learn all kinds of “isms” in their social science subjects. Due to the banning of rallies and demonstrations, the issues then were the twin rights to expression and assembly, but not academic freedom.

Then also, the fear of military espionage in the campus conducted by military men entering the campus and attending classes or symposia when the agreement is no longer effective, seems to be a misplaced fear, considering that one who attends a class is supposed to be enrolled in that class, and therefore, entitled to be in the class; while one who attends a campus symposium or forum is usually allowed to, because such is open to the public. In short, with or without the agreement, a military man can be enrolled in a class as long as he is admitted by the University, or can attend a campus forum as long as it is public in nature.

Clearly therefore, academic freedom will exist, with or without the agreement. It is not violated by the absence of such an agreement; neither is it promoted by the presence of the same agreement. As a constitutionally-enshrined right, its violation finds relief in the Constitution that does not require an agreement.       

As early as 1962, then U.P. President Vicente Sinco wrote that the provision in Art. XIV, Sec. 5 of the 1935 Constitution, “grants the right of academic freedom to the university as an institution, as distinguished from the academic freedom of a university professor” and “as the University of the Philippines is a university established by the State, it is obvious that it is entitled to this right.”  Then Sinco added that “the academic freedom of an individual scholar or research worker … flows directly from the constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of speech and the press, but for a special purpose”, then he quoted the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, by saying it is “the freedom of a teacher or researcher in higher institutions of learning to investigate and discuss the problems of his science and to express his conclusions, whether through publication or in the instruction of students, without interference from political or ecclesiastical authority, or from administrative officials of the institution in which he is employed, unless his methods are found by qualified bodies of his own profession to be clearly incompetent or contrary to professional ethics.

The exercise of academic freedom, therefore, is not unbridled and absolute. It is circumscribed by certain “professional ethics” or norms that do not violate the constitutional safeguard. We shall discuss this in our next column. MKS

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