In Greek mythology, Pandora, the first woman on earth, was tasked by the gods to hold on to a jar that she was ordered not to open at all costs. Due to her curiosity, Pandora opened the jar and all the evil trapped inside escaped and spread to the world. Such is the tale that came to be known as Pandora’s Box.
The University of the Philippines just played Pandora in its move to approve the proposed academic calendar shift from June-March to August-May. In the Board of Regents meeting held Thursday to decide about the proposal, only the student regent and the staff regent voted against the measure, and just like that, the shift is set to take effect this coming academic year.
The proposal has been rationalized as a step towards internationalization – the academic calendar must be synchronized with foreign universities to encourage student-faculty mobility and provide more education opportunities to those who wish to study abroad. A pretty package on the superficial level, had UP simply been a university whose concerns solely rest on competing globally.
But UP is the national university – it is the breeding ground of future leaders of the nation, tasked with the huge responsibility of educating the brightest of the Filipino youth. Whatever UP does, the whole education sector and the entire country will be affected. For this reason, UP must never lose sight that it is the university of the people.
UP, then, should concern itself not with excellence for excellence’s sake, but with the legitimate interests of the Filipino people. And the concerns are many: ranging from dwindling government support to tertiary education, to the growing number of students who could not afford to continue schooling due to the high cost of tuition. UP, in particular, should be thinking about how to get UP Tacloban and UP Palo back on their feet after super typhoon Yolanda’s devastation in Eastern Visayas.
To decide on and implement such a drastic measure hastily, without proper student consultation and setting aside the voice of the faculty, it is questionable as to where the UP administration’s loyalty and priorities lie.
UP Vice-President for Public Affairs Prospero De Vera said that the change was proposed in preparation for the ASEAN Integration, the formation of Southeast Asia as one economic community, in 2015. But rather than simply swallowing the pill of globalization, UP should be at the forefront in scrutinizing the integration’s effects to the country, as it is wont to do as the national university.
This is no longer just an issue of avoiding the typhoon season – that excuse is already rendered moot and academic if we would only pause to think about recent history. Yolanda happened in November, Ondoy happened in September, and the Habagat wreaked havoc in August 2012 and 2013. This is an issue of UP shedding its nationalist character in favor of internationalization without considering the repercussions. More than suffering in the summer heat, we could potentially lose our brightest students to foreign lands and our students could potentially lose university slots to foreigners.
UP has betrayed the Filipino people, just like Pandora betrayed the Greek gods. With UP Diliman as the remaining campus expressing staunch opposition to the proposal, we can only wish that the Spirit of Hope lay at the bottom of the opened box, just like in the myth.