vol # / no # / January 2007 / issn #

The President’s Corner

By Ester A. Garcia, Ph.D.
President and Chief Academic Officer

Academic Freedom and Academic Responsibility


IN THE PHILIPPINES, ACADEMIC FREEDOM is enshrined in the Constitution. The 1987 Constitution states that “academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.” This was reiterated in the law creating the Commission on Higher Education, R.A. 7722, which states that “The State shall likewise ensure and protect academic freedom and shall promote its exercise and observance…” Furthermore, the same law states that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as limiting the academic freedom of universities and colleges.” In the University of the East, respect for academic freedom is enunciated in its mission statement and elaborated upon in the Faculty Manual.

The history of academic freedom has rather ancient origins, but for our purposes in this paper we will start with the academic freedom definition set forth by the American Association of University Professors in 1940 and the definition of institutional academic freedom by Justice Felix Frankfurter of the United States Supreme Court. Most of the Philippine jurisprudence on the matter has upheld these two definitions. The first focuses mainly on the teacher and includes the following:

A. “The teacher is entitled to full freedom in research and in publication of the results subject to the adequate performance of his other academic duties, but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.”

B. “The teacher is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing his subject, but he should be careful not to introduce into his teaching controversial matter which has no relation to his subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.”

C. “The college or university teacher is a citizen, a member of a learned profession, and an officer of an educational institution. When he speaks or writes as a citizen he should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but his special position in the community imposes special obligations. As a man of learning and educational officer, he should remember that the public may judge his institution and his profession by his utterances. Hence, he should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinion of others, and should make every effort to indicate that he is not an institutional spokesman.”

The second definition emphasizes institutional academic freedom, which means that a university can “determine for itself on academic grounds: (1) who will teach; (2) what may be taught; (3) how it should be taught; and (4) who may be admitted to study.”

The topic of academic freedom and the corresponding Philippine jurisprudence had been thoroughly discussed in this University by eminent scholars and jurists such as Justice Andres R. Narvasa, Professor Onofre D. Corpuz, Fr. Rolando De La Rosa and Dean Pacifico A. Agabin. Their papers were published in the UE Research Bulletin, Vol. 2, 2000.

The main focus of this paper will be on academic responsibility and faculty ethics and will be based mainly on a paper I presented several years ago during a conference on Academic Freedom and Academic Responsibility. A former law faculty member of UE, Prof. Delfin Ll. Batacan, published an article on a similar topic in the UE Law Journal, Vol. 14, Nos. 1-4, 1971.     

Academic freedom is not a basic human right. It is a freedom that is bestowed upon the academe by the larger community in the belief that society, in the long run, would benefit from a free and disinterested search for truth in the university and freedom to pass on the truth so uncovered to future generations. In enjoying this freedom, the academic community takes on the concomitant responsibility to ensure that it meets the expectations of society. While the academic community asks for protection from outside interference, it cannot allow its members to hinder the university from carrying out its mission effectively to its students and the larger community.

A faculty member has specific responsibilities to the students, his professional colleagues and the institution where he is employed. The following lists some of the duties and responsibilities of a faculty member in relation to these groups and the community at large.

• Teachers have the freedom to teach as they see fit and to rate their students accordingly. However, they have to make sure that the legitimate pedagogical goals of the course are met. The students should be informed of the course content, the evaluation criteria and the grading system. A syllabus given at the start of the term should contain all, if not most, of the information required. Teachers should teach their courses properly. If the course requires 54 hours, the teachers should provide 54 hours of quality teaching. There is no excuse for absenteeism and tardiness. A teacher should go to class prepared consistent with the standards of the discipline. Moreover, he should teach the students all the topics that the course calls for instead of offering an abbreviated version of the course, thus shortchanging the student who is paying his salary. A faculty member should evaluate the work of his students promptly and conscientiously. In giving grades, he must be fair and use only academic criteria for evaluating his students.

• A teacher’s special relationship with his students should be respected at all times, never exploited for private gain. Because of his influential role in the classroom, he should not take advantage of his position by repeatedly introducing topics that are outside the scope of the course and not within his professional competence. As the students’ intellectual guide, a professor must serve as an example of utmost integrity, impeccable scholarship and high standard of professionalism.

• Inasmuch as academic freedom grants the faculty member the right to pursue research in any topic or field, then he should be a true and competent researcher by developing and maintaining his expertise. He should be continually updated with the developments in the field. He has to exercise that competence through public lectures, discussions and publications whereby he will be appraised as a professional.

• Related to the previous item is the responsibility to maintain an impeccable integrity in all his scholarly activities. Spurred by the need to publish as a requirement for tenure or promotion and other incentives, some academicians commit outright intellectual fraud. A professor must acknowledge his academic debts by citing his sources. If he is working with his colleagues or students in his research projects, their contribution should be properly acknowledged. He must not falsify data or selectively report data with deceitful intent. Neither should he misappropriate the ideas of others.

• As a member of a self-governing academic community, a professor must observe at all times civility, courtesy, objectivity and fair play in dealing with his colleagues. This does not mean muting criticisms and disagreements, for it is the duty of a scholar to criticize or dissent and to call for revisions where, in his honest opinion, such are called for. Many among us, however, are not known for our objectivity. We give and take criticisms very personally and sometimes our peer review process is a failure. I know of at least one case where faculty members in a department, in trying to protect their turf, gang up on new applicants who may in fact be better than them, to ensure that the applicants are not appointed.

• Faculty members have the responsibility to participate in the governance of the university. It is the faculty’s responsibility to participate intelligently and with sobriety in discussions relating to university policies and academic programs. Once a consensus is reached, all should follow said decision while reserving the right to criticize it and seek revisions to it.

• If a faculty member is connected with business and professional interests outside the university, he should ensure that such activities do not conflict with his responsibilities to the university, which should have first priority. Because of the need for further professional advancement or to meet some pressing financial needs, a sweeping prohibition for such outside activities would not be advisable. But they certainly should not be pursued to the extent of jeopardizing the interest of the university. Moreover, the Commission on Higher Education permits such activities within prescribed limits.

In calling for academic freedom, faculty members are essentially asking society, which pays for the upkeep of academic institutions, to trust their judgment. In return, faculty members must convince society that they are worthy of that trust. The faculty’s visible and scrupulous efforts to live up to their responsibilities and duties as outlined above would be the clearest statement from the faculty that, indeed, they are worthy of that trust.