Insights into Perceptions of Academic Freedom; Educators Speak

Manila Bulletin, July 26, 2003 | Go to article overview

Insights into Perceptions of Academic Freedom; Educators Speak


Byline: Dolores Baja Lasan

THE simplest way to look objectively at academic freedom is from the students and the professors points of view. Academic freedom, on the student side, is the freedom to learn and inquire fully in any field of investigation without fear of hindrance, dismissal, or other reprisals. On the side of the professor, it is freedom to teach according to personal convictions about what is or appears to be the truth without fear of hindrance, loss of positions, or other reprisals.

In the classic sense, academic freedom is a vital feature of a university something which distinguishes it as an institution of higher learning for any other post secondary institutions, albeit also necessary and useful to society. This principle is not always in universities even if sometimes they are referred to.

Academic freedom is anchored on the assumption that universities are supposed to be centers for reflective and creative thinking, hot beds for discovery and innovations and leaders in the pursuit of truth in the process of teaching and learning. The pursuit of truth can both be satisfying and frustrating because it does not always pleases everyone. In the process it must always be realized that the absolute truth belongs to the real beyond human endeavors.

One must pay tribute to universities which are able to retain and strongly reaffirm their commitment to the classic mission of institutions of higher learning and uphold academic freedom while they adopt to the demands and consequences of globalization, knowledge explosion and implosion in a knowledge society propelled by growing demands for specific skills and competencies in a globally competitive society. On the other hand, there are those universities which have evolved to be top level schools, with world class laboratories, physical facilities, top caliber faculty, even nationally and internationally accredited, but not universities in the classic sense, strictly speaking.

In an effort to gain an insight into current perceptions of students and faculty members on academic freedom in so-called HEIs, (Higher Educational Institutions) which the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) regulates to ensure quality education, I conducted a cursory survey among students and professors from different universities living within a certain geographical area. In this manner I tried to de-emphasize institutional affiliations to focus on individual perceptions in a setting somewhat detached from the confines of a given university of which they are a part.

While not claiming validity in terms of statistical sampling, the 100 respondents (88 students and 12 faculty members) turn out to come from 16 schools; 88 students ranging from first to fourth year in their tertiary level studies from 11 different schools and 12 faculty members from 7 colleges and universities, (2 State Universities and 5 private schools). Out of the 100 respondents there were 14 students and 4 faculty members from the same school. This particular phenomenon was not known to both the students and faculty respondents. As a cursory survey, my goal was only to gain insights into academic freedom and should by no means be used as representing definite findings, not even a trend. Insights are good for the formulations of assumptions and hypothesis which lay the foundation for formal research.

As a cursory survey the instrument was made as brief and simple as possible to elicit on the respondents instant reactions independent of so many deliberate considerations. The same instrument was used for both students and faculty members and responses of students and faculty members were not differentiated in the summary of responses.

In the cursory survey instrument, five university focal points were identified, i.e. (1) Competencies and skills (2) Values Education (3) Academic freedom (4) Spirituality (5) Governance. It is fully acknowledged that these five focal points may not be mutually exclusive, however subjective and objective boundaries between each of them are general present among students and faculty members. …

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