It’s a downright shame that on the year of the University of the Philippines’ Centennial, one that has been celebrated with much publicity and fanfare and cash, we hear many stories of how the university has turned on its own. Students have to deal with a higher tuition fee and the difficult process of qualifying for the STFAP (one full scholar? unacceptable!). Janitors like Mang Meliton are given P.92 centavos as retirement pay after 41 years of service. Where is the justice in that?
And then there’s the story of Prof. Sarah Raymundo – one that has done the rounds of blogs, has warranted statements from scholars and activists here and abroad, and has been the bane of the Department of Sociology’s existence since everything blew over. And rightfully so. Because what happened to Sarah can happen to anyone who plays by the rules, does more than what’s required, but who is still deemed unworthy of permanent status in the University. What has happened to her can and will happen again, in a University of the Philippines that allows its departments to unilaterally decide on the future of its faculty members, ignoring what it is they have contributed to the University. What has happened to Sarah will happen again, in a Department of Sociology that has yet to come clean about her case.
In the meantime, one can’t help but ask: what is it that’s more important than Sarah’s academic work (international conferences, published essays in books and refereed journals, extension work, a graduate degree) in a University that teaches us about the value of getting published and the need for continuous study? What is it that weighs heavier than teacher evaluations that prove how students learn from her, and would take her classes again and again?
The answer seems simple enough: it’s Sarah’s politics. That’s as much as she’s been told by her superiors in the department, and this is all that this can be about given how Sarah has met all requirements for tenure. This is about her involvement in issues within and beyond the academe, it’s because she has decided not to sit on a fence and watch the world collide. It’s because Sarah’s an activist, and not the kind that only panders to what is politically correct when it is popular (for that is really just an opportunist). Instead she involves herself in issues that are important because relevant, and for this she is being made to pay dearly. What is wrong with getting involved in the issue of the missing U.P. students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno? What is unacceptable about her volunteer work for the human rights organization Karapatan? Why must she be made to apologize for the kind of teaching she does – which the Department of Sociology has deemed wrong – because some of her students have become activists themselves?
Any person who has been a student would know that some teachers can change our lives. Any student who changes her ideological leanings may pinpoint one teacher who has made her re-think her beliefs, re-assess her practices, without realizing that in fact she is only reacting to her own history, her own class contradictions. If and when a student becomes an activist, no teacher can take credit for it. To do so would be egotistical, and that’s to imagine that all students enter the classroom tabula rasa.
And yet it seems that the Department of Sociology’s active imagination has created a picture of Sarah as someone who consciously and conscientiously works towards turning students into her clones. Something that is impossible to prove, and is really more a matter of the pot calling the kettle black: there are undoubtedly teachers who want to create little mini-mes who will repeat what they say as if they are gods, who will put them on a pedestal and pinpoint them as mentors, who will forever be unable to look them in the eye and presume equality. Only teachers who see this as the correct order of things, will imagine that Sarah is the same. Only the powerful administrators can use this to take away the house and home Sarah has known the University and the Department of Sociology to be, political and ideological disagreements notwithstanding.
Sarah is a leftist, and the last time I looked there was no need to apologize for being so. Not when the work one does, the essays one writes and gets published, the conferences one is invited to attend, the M.A. one gets, is a product as well of that activism. There is nothing extraneous to one’s ideology, yes? So why is Sarah being made to suffer for what she believes in? Given so many tenured faculty members who are at the other end of the ideological spectrum, what can this be but a witch hunt? An academic killing of the progressive faculty of the University?
This is so much bigger than Sarah of course, as in this country real killings and disappearances of activists continue to happen everyday. But what has happened to Sarah, in the context of the publicity that has surrounded U.P.’s Centennial Celebrations, is proof of what the University has become.
So I take it back. It is perfect that this happened to Sarah on the year of U.P.’s Centennial. It reveals to us all, alumni and students, faculty and employees, that the University’s activist past is all lost glory, and is only celebrated when it is convenient and romantic. In truth, it is now anti-progressive and anti-activist, and it will endanger the life of its own, take away house and home, for reasons that are nothing but petty, everything and unacceptable. In many ways, this Centennial showed U.P. to be ultimately and unabashedly shameless.