Friday, May 9, 2008

Insights on the Impact of the UP Charter

Allow me to share an article by Prof. Michael Tan of the UP College of Arts and Letters (Diliman) who has a regular column in The Philippine Daily Inquirer. It discusses the impact of the newly-approved UP Charter, primarily on the said university's faculty members. It clearly mirrors my own experiences when I was a junior faculty member of the UP Division of Humanities at UP in the Visayas Tacloban College. However, I have to disagree with Prof. Tan on the issue of bullying by senior faculty members being a minor problem. In UP Tacloban, it is a major problem.


UP's Brain Drain

“Congratulations on your salary increase.”

I got several text messages of that type last week when the new charter of the University of the Philippines (UP) was signed into law. I was surprised because the messages came from friends outside UP, including two Americans, suggesting that they were following the issue. When I brought this up with fellow UP faculty members, they in turn shared quite a few reactions to the new charter, and several—the younger ones in particular—said I should write about some of the issues in my column.

First, congratulations are in order for president Emerlinda Roman, who will be remembered in history for shepherding the bill through a not-always-friendly Congress, some of whose members opposed the charter mainly because of personal grudges. There was also opposition from some UP constituents, who feared the new charter might mean the commercialization of the university.

I have some fears, too, but it’s not so much about commercialization than not being able to tap the full potentials of the new charter especially with our human resources. The new law gives the university even greater autonomy than it used to have, including the area of salaries. Before the new charter, all our salaries—teaching staff as well as non-academic personnel—were tied to the government’s standardized salary scale, which meant that an instructor would get a gross salary of about P15,000 per month while a full professor (a position that takes about 30 years to achieve, if you’re lucky) gets a little more than P30,000.

The new charter allows the university to raise these salaries based on its financial resources, which comes from the government’s allocated budget as well as grants and other income. This is why my non-UP friends were texting in, thinking that new salaries automatically went into effect.

But salary adjustments are going to take time, as the university thoroughly reviews the options. I can see why our officials have to be careful because they can’t afford to just give higher salaries this year, and then adjust downwards in succeeding years if funds dwindle.

People within and outside UP tend to associate the new charter with these dreams of higher salaries, mainly because they think it will solve the problem of UP’s brain drain. For years now, we have been losing faculty to other good schools like the two around the corner on Katipunan Road, one on Taft Avenue in Manila and that one in Pasig City, where salaries are at least double those at UP.

But, there’s more to UP’s brain drain than salaries. In truth, many of our professors have found ways to supplement their salaries. I haven’t heard of anyone selling "tocino" meat yet, but insurance policies, yes, and paintings and antiques and real estate. Being a UP professor can also mean consultancies and invitations to teach part-time in other universities. You need permission to do some of these sidelines, but UP tends to be fairly lenient here, as long as these don’t interfere with UP duties.

Higher salaries, I hope, will mean fewer of those sidelines, but there’s more to keeping our faculty going. The bottom line is that UP needed a new charter to deal with what it had become, a strange and difficult hybrid. On one hand, we are larger than many mega-corporations with huge potentials and resources. On the other hand, we are hobbled as a government institution with bureaucracies that breed turfing and patron-client relationships and a tenure system that sometimes leads to complacency and lethargy. To some, maybe even large, extent, it’s these organizational management issues that contribute to our brain drain problem.

The ones who suffer most are our young faculty members, who eventually leave out of frustration. In the words of one faculty member who nearly left when she was younger: “It wasn’t the salaries, but the lack of nurturance.”

New faculty members are full of ideals, but also want guidance. Many have no inkling of what it takes to teach. Many of us had to pick up teaching skills on our own. Only in recent years, to the credit of the current administration, has the university intensified its orientation and teaching seminars for new and junior faculty and explored new teaching tools, including the Internet.

There’s more, though, than workshops on teaching methods. Younger faculty members need space to exchange ideas, and to innovate, but when they do this, the older ones sometimes react negatively, seeing these as demands or threats, rather than as opportunities to learn. Nothing pleases me more than passing on my course outlines, lecture notes, books and films to younger faculty members and then seeing them update and revise and create totally new modules.

Younger faculty members leave, too, when they see their careers in UP as a dead end, blocked by older ones when it comes to promotions and other perks, such as opportunities for further studies, or attending workshops and symposia. The best ones who have left were those who had languished in lower ranks. A few came home from overseas studies with a postgraduate degree but had to wait for years before a promotion.

The current administration has done a lot to correct these injustices. In the last three years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised when my department hires someone new and recommends him for a particular rank, and then gets a notice from university officials asking us to give a higher position because the new hire graduated cum laude or has a master’s degree.

All these—promotion, mentoring, collegial camaraderie—are part of nurturance.

Fighting cynicism
I think you can see here that the problem of younger faculty members leaving sometimes has to do with the senior ones. The bullies are the easy part; you simply ignore them. I worry more about the others who have tired out, or worse become jaded and cynical. The old system gave some security but little incentive, so professors ended up playing safe and teaching the same courses for years on end with little or no innovation, and certainly, even less willingness to let the younger faculty members learn to teach those courses as well.

Frustrations grow, too, when older faculty members become administrators and try to improve standards or enforce university rules, and end up being reprimanded for doing so. If they leave, with their years of experiences, the loss to UP can be great.

There were, even under the old charter, many reasons to stay in UP, especially greater academic freedom. But there will be greater incentive to stay if we see greater professionalism, where rules are enforced consistently and fairly and a meritocracy that rewards commitment and innovation, rather than “loyalty” (read: sycophancy) and conformity.

Some time back an administrator from one of the other good schools asked me if I had anyone to spare to teach in his university, even on a part-time basis. Before I could answer, he went, “Hey, please don’t send X or Y or Z.”

The other schools know whom they want, and don’t want. Do we know whom we want at UP?


If you want to read this article yourself, simply click on this link.

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