Avoidance of Relevance.

Did you know UP is as American as apple pie?

UP, the University of the Philippines got its new Charter in April 29 and celebrated its Centennial in June 18, Manila time. Too young to matter much, too old to matter more.

A loyal UP graduate, I did not attend the celebration of the Centennial of my alma mater at UP Diliman in Quezon City. I forgot. You can’t blame me: I’m 68. A fool too old to mind. Now that UP is 100 years old, is it any wiser, or is it just another old fool?

Inadvertently, my absence at the Centennial celebration turned out to be a case of my avoidance of irrelevance. And so still I feel good, as otherwise I, graduate of UP Los Baños, would have had to witness those 100 naked UP Diliman play boys running the gauntlet of male and female starers and see-and-tellers gathered on campus. Flights of flesh, flights of fancy. The flesh was willing, the flesh was weak. They called it the ‘Oblation Run’ (Marlon Ramos, inquirer.net). Were the 100 play boys all from UP? Nobody could tell, as they all wore masks. For sure they were all boys.

I say to those play boys: You show your physical attributes and yet are ashamed to show your face? To display one’s physical attributes has never been part of the UP Mystique; it’s not a mistake, as smart UP sculptor Guillermo Tolentino showed in his original UP Oblation, those genitals showing – those which UP President Jorge Bocobo put the fig leaf on (Wikipedia), that which was a mistake. But, as UP Law scholars should know, nudity is irrelevant and immaterial to the UP case.

And so I feel better, as the Inquirer report says the Oblation Run ‘steals the show in UP Centennial activities.’ I never approved of scene stealers.

If naked this way comes is the way scholars celebrate the founding of a University and make a spectacle of themselves, I question the intellectual credentials not of the scholars but of that University. If the students have not learned, the school has not taught.

The UP Centennial? Stateside, what else! Made in the United States of America. It was on June 18 of 1908 when Yankee Governor General William Cameron Forbes signed the ‘Philippine Bill,’ as recommended by the American-dominated Philippine Commission, into Act 1870, officially creating the University of the Philippines. So you see, the Americans did not create Jose Rizal as the National Hero of the Filipinos: they created UP as the national university of the Philippines. It was Yankee W Morgan Shuster, Secretary of Instruction, who in February 1908 presented the ‘Philippine University Bill’ to the Philippine Commission, who readily approved it (Fernando A Bernardo, 2007, UPLB: A Century Of Challenges And Achievements, Los Baños: UPLB Alumni Association). So, UP is as American as apple pie! We Filipinos owe the Americans our democratic ideals; we even owe them our education. Thank you, Yankees!

So, my missing out on the UP Centennial celebration wasn’t really a big deal, even if it happens only once in a lifetime. The University of the Philippines has become irrelevant – the UP intellectuals have seen to that. (Since the Americans designed UP, you can blame the avoidance of relevance to the American intellectuals too. Note also that the Americans are avoiding the relevance of climate change.)

And the new UP Charter makes sure relevance does not matter to this University at all! From the title ‘An Act To Strengthen The University Of The Philippines ...’ to the ‘Effectivity’ clause (Section 31), it’s all of 5,341 (Word 2003 count) – and there’s not a whisper of the word relevance. Since the UP Charter reflects the mindset of its authors and their associates, allies, advocates, I say they all suffer from a fright of identifying with the people. ‘Relevance,’ according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is ‘pertinence to the matter at hand’ and ‘applicability to social issues.’ Do I take it that from now on UP is to avoid social issues lest its theory become pertinent and its practice become applicable?

If naked UP Diliman comes, can UP Los Baños be far behind? The uplb.edu.ph website shows a bare title ‘University of the Philippines Los Baños: UPLB’ and displays the naked slogan, white text exposed against a nude red background: ‘Iskolar ng Bayan: Tunay, Palaban, Makabayan!’ Scholar of the State: True, Militant, Nationalist! This webpage alone is a study in relationship, if not in communication, if I’m not mistaken. Consider the following:

UP Los Baños is a University spoken for by students? That’s not news to me. All UP is spoken for by students, period. It happened in my time too, when we students thought we knew better than our professors. For instance, I was the boy who cried wolf, the one who wrote the open letter ‘What did you do in the war, Daddy?’ that mocked the celebration of Loyalty Day (in that Cow College then) and declared it to be loyalty to the Americans during World War I – and I signed my name. My (double) mistake. That open letter made me persona non grata to UP Los Baños alumni and their allies. I have forgiven myself, thank God, if some people will never ever forgive me. Like so, many of the young are brash and foolish. Old hat. Been there, done that. Sorry.

The UP Los Baños homepage is telling me that Truth, Militancy, Nationalism are the bedrocks of this UP campus? I always thought the 3 pillars of UP Los Baños were Instruction, Research, Extension. So what’s the relevance of the 3 new pillars to the old 3 pillars? In this campus, I majored in education; I suppose I need more education on this.

So, okay: Is Truth a proper study of Science? Of course. ‘Science is the search for Truth,’ says Linus Pauling, a (double) Nobel Prize winner, for Chemistry in 1954 and Peace in 1963 (Thomas Blair, harvardsquarelibrary.org). And I say Religion is also the search for Truth. Albert Einstein did not profess to any religious faith either. I admire Pauling and Einstein, but if I have to choose, I’ll pick Science and Religion anytime.

What about militancy? ‘Militancy is having a combative character; (being) aggressive, especially in the service of a cause’ (American Heritage). You can be relevant and militant at the same time, but it all depends on your cause. My causes are Truth, Beauty, Goodness.

What about nationalism? ‘Nationalism is devotion to the interests or culture of a particular nation’ (American Heritage). That’s fine with me; I have no quarrel with that. Still, globalization is upon us all, not to mention global climate change – all that renders nationalism relevant but narrow. It’s territorial imperative all over again. That’s why I admire Ateneo University and the National Hero of my country, as the Jesuits never taught Jose Rizal love of country; instead, they taught him love of people; they taught him not nationalism but internationalism.

The problem with nationalism is: Your nationalism or mine? The University of the Philippines has 7 campuses – UP Baguio (located in Baguio City), UP Diliman (Quezon City), UP Los Baños (Los Baños, Laguna), UP Manila (City of Manila), UP Mindanao (Davao City), UP Open University (Los Baños, Laguna), UP Visayas (Iloilo City). The new UP Charter was signed by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo April 29 this year at the UP Visayas Cebu College campus. Why the strange location? Because Diliman, Quezon City is hostile environment to GMA while Cebu City is friendly territory. Birds of a feather flock together; some birds just peck on the others.

Now that UP has its own Charter Change, will the noisy half of UP intellectuals advocate for and stop opposing a national Charter Change? I half-expect it.

Of the UP Charter, I have a pdf copy that I downloaded from the UP Los Baños website and transformed into a Word 2003 document. And why did I do that when our Core Two Duo desktop PC with 2 GB of RAM is good enough for Adobe Reader 8 that is good in what it does? Because Word 2003 is a better reader to a writer who wants to work directly with the text. After I transform the pdf into a doc file using Word 2003 tricks, Microsoft’s Bill Gates counts the words for me. With Word 2003, I can zoom into the text say 500% with a single mouse click; I can split the window into 2 or more; I can easily copy text. I enjoy what I’m doing, researching and writing, and Word 2003 is a genius to my genius.

What’s more, when you enjoy what you’re doing, Serendipity surreptitiously walks in the door and you discover things you never expected. And that’s how I have come to know that the UP Charter is, would you believe, half serious and half funny! Consider these:

The Charter says ‘The University of the Philippines is hereby declared as the national university’ (Section 2). In my view, that is because UP itself has failed to assert its role as The National University in fact if not in name – it has failed to provide ‘distinctive leadership in higher education and development’ (quote from the Charter, Section 3). Now UP can claim the title it deserves in theory but not in practice.

The Charter says UP is ‘a community of scholars dedicated to the search for truth and knowledge as well as the development of future leaders’ (Section 3). Truth is there for all to admire, but not a word about Beauty and Goodness, my goodness! I must blame Jun Lozada for this; for all his crusading, he has made his claim for truth stick in the minds of priests and preachers, senators and scholars alike. Jun Lozada must be a good non-preacher preacher, not that his truth agrees with me.

Missing out on the 3 universal ideals – Truth, Beauty, Goodness – what’s the matter, ladies and gentlemen of the Philippine Congress, as well as activists for the UP Charter: You don’t appreciate that Holy Trinity? Or, nearer home, you never heard of Rotary International? The Rotarians know that truth is not enough. In any case, that’s what I told the Rotarians the Rotarians knew when I was invited in by Jerry Quibilan as a guest speaker last May 19, Monday, of the mother club Quezon City Rotary, where Dante Liban is President. I told the distinguished gentlemen that I noticed the Rotary 4-Way Test talks not only about Truth (‘Is it the truth?’) but also Goodness (‘Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?’) – and, I said, if you combine truth and goodness, isn’t that Beauty?

Unlike Jun Lozada from many a captive audience of his, I didn’t get the applause I expected from my captive audience, so it shows that Truth, Beauty and Goodness are appreciated only half the time.

I don’t have a problem with that. But I have a problem when the UP Charter speaks of the search for truth and knowledge. Unlike the wise guys who authored the UP Charter, I can’t separate truth from knowledge. I can’t separate chaff from grain either – you can’t have rice without one of the other. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Actually, there’s more where that comes from. Consider that the Charter mandates that

The University shall lead in setting academic standards and initiating innovations in teaching, research and faculty development in philosophy, the arts and humanities, the social sciences, the professions and engineering, natural sciences, mathematics, and technology; and maintain centers of excellence in such disciplines and professions. Section 3 (a)

Whew! Can you read that in one breath? You can avoid relevance by being wordy. The quote, this essential part of the UP Charter, does not pass Frankenstein’s 4-C Test; I give it 1 star out of 4 stars possible. It is Concise, but it is not Comprehensive, not Clear, not Coherent. I’m inspired to give it another C: Chaotic.

There is Instruction (Teaching) as well as Research – but where is Extension as the University’s 3rd main function? Has the UP Charter reinvented the University and cut off its Outreach duty and responsibility? Starting with UP President Emerlinda Roman, do I understand that from now on UP is giving scant attention to public service? That UP is not supposed to extend the truth and knowledge that it discovers ‘to enrich the lives of all citizens’ (quote from extension.uiuc.edu)? I am unhappy to note that the Charter enumeration that begins with ‘the arts and humanities’ and ends with ‘and technology’ is a laundry list. I didn’t know Philippine legislators are henpecked.

There’s more. Note the Charter emphasis: ‘maintain centers of excellence in … disciplines and professions.’ This is another avoidance of relevance. In law, it’s called an escape clause. This is setting a dangerous University tradition, a law encouraging the professors to mind their own business, in this case, their disciplines. This must be the territorial imperative, as I remember Robert Ardrey calling it. Attachment to ‘an area of space’ (quote from amazon.com) is animal instinct and, of course, man is an animal. So, while UP knows what it knows, law is on the side of UP as it is not obligated to maintain centers of excellence based on the disciplines or professions that are to totally immerse in collaboration, integration, not obligated to summon synergy. It’s a triumph of mortal law over moral law. When the law is not against you, it’s with you.

‘Maintain centers of excellence in … disciplines and professions’ – by such declaration, the UP Charter minders remind us that the pixels are more important than the Big Picture, the pieces of the puzzle are greater than the Big Puzzle. That is to say, the new UP Law is effectively against the Law of Holism, which states that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Excellence is not in the details; it is in the whole.

And there’s more in all those 5,341 words. The UP Charter ‘recognizes the separation of Church and State’ (Section 9). Since the brains of the Charter separate the physical (Reason) from the metaphysical (Faith), I believe UP is bound to search only for half the truth, because Reason is one avenue to the truth while Faith is another. That is my faith.

One last word. The Charter says UP is dedicated to the ‘development of future leaders’ – but this country can’t wait; it needs the development of present leaders now! Growth is a process, so UP training in leadership must begin in high school and leaders must emerge while in college; after college is too late. By that time, it would not be surprising that the students would have learned to lead only in holding parliaments of the streets, or talking people down, or doing writedowns, not writeups. Been there, done that. Half of UP graduates grow old looking too highly of themselves and you know, if you are a UP Professor, you can teach only half of old dogs half of new tricks.

And by the way, I did notice it was a full moon when UP celebrated its naked American-made Centennial. THAT NIGHT, IF YOU LOOKED UP, YOU WOULD HAVE SEEN A NAKED FOOL’S MOON.

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