Be Worthy, pt. 2

This week is supposed to be crucial in the history of UP, as a public service and an academic institution. This is the week that the provisions for the 2011 budget will be approved by the senate.

As a public university, and as far as practically all institutions in the public sector go, UP has consistently been plagued by inefficiency and inadequacy, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the courses that require laboratory activities. Imagine having to do a lab exercise without a lab, that’s UP for you. The past few decades have had both students and faculty alike shrugging off these problems in what could be understood as good humor. “Try cutting an onion with a spoon and you’ll know the meaning of resourcefulness and creativity,” was how one professor pretty much put it. Try showing a film without the aid of a projector or a sound system, and you’ll know that resourcefulness and creativity are beside the point when it comes to honing academic abilities. It’s like trying to stay alive through the Robot Wars with, well, nothing.

Now you can see why the news of a proposed “budget cut” or “budget freeze” or whatever they want to call it has such grave repercussions on both teachers and students alike. After all, how do you take nothing from nothing?

This is what the student councils and some organizations are talking about when they call on the UP population to mobilize. Take action. Make some motherfucking noise. Get noticed.

But it’s not as simple as the student body makes it out to be when their representatives come to our classrooms armed with big words and calls to militant action. It’s not as simple as money we deserve–money meant to account for our basic right to education– being withheld and spent on other less highfalutin concerns, such as national defense.

Ask an anthropologist and you will be told that it all boils down to culture, and this is something I firmly believe in. UP Diliman, the biggest and loudest when it comes to initiating militant action in the UP system, is one of the few units that can possibly afford to independently sustain the column in its balance sheet that is alloted for capital outlay–meaning the accounts set aside for new buildings and facilities, and doing so would allow additional funds to trickle down to the other UP units that might need it more. And this is one of the arguments set forth by the House when they agreed to the proposed budget–UP Diliman already has other sources of income, not including tuition fees.

But all of this has forced me to think about the nature of work and the culture we perpetuate in our professional as well as academic environments. One of the points brought up by USC Chair Rainier Sindayen was that the same actions are being taken in public university systems in France, Ireland, and the United states. Students all over the world are walking out of class, going on strike, and being douchebags in the face of a government that refuses to give them is access to the education they believe they’re due.

But the student bodies in these countries, as far as I know, function very differently from the students at the University of the Philippines, and one of the areas where this is most clearly reflected is in the staff. We have a staff that remains paralyzed by low wages that UP is already paying out the ass. We have a student body that is also struggling to keep up with rising tuition fees. However, by international standards, both tuition fees and salaries alike remain obscenely low. Where does this set the bar on both education and performance? What kind of effect does this leave on the community?

Go to a state school abroad, and who assists the teachers, shelves the books, and does administrative work in some of the offices? When you can foster an environment of students working for students–as well as working to pay off their tuition–you effectively change the culture in that environment from one of entitlement to one of earning your place. You can ask for the best kind of education in the world and yes that wish can be granted, but the more important question is whether or not you even deserved it; or better yet, earned it.

Of course, in the Philippines, it’s not that simple. You can’t fire your staff and replace them with students, I mean where on earth would they go? No matter how shitty (or in better terms, humbling) the job may be, someone in this country needs that job. But at the same time, what kind of culture are you fostering by allowing that job to be performed at a level proportional to the compensation.

There’s a term for it, where the gap between superiors and subordinates is prevalent and palpable, but I forgot what it was.

More on that later when I’m not running late for a meeting.

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Author: alicesarmiento

San Juan, Metro Manila

2 thoughts on “Be Worthy, pt. 2”

  1. As a firm believer in meritocracy, I think you’re right about earning your education, however you can. And I’m not bothered by the moral dilemmas of a workforce displaced because I think that’s one of the major issues concerning progress as a civilization.

    I’m not saying be heartless but maybe a transition into a student driven university is the right way to go. How can the institution afford NOT to change?

    1. As someone tens of thousands of dollars in debt to finance his education, I can safely say we actually have it incredibly easy back at home, having access to education that inexpensive in addition to the cultural expectation that the parents will cover the entirety of the educational burden.

      While the opportunity for an education is a right, the education itself must be earned. Why not raise tuition to cover the rising costs of a university, but also allow for student employment, fellowships, teaching assistant positions, and such to lessen the burden? I spent half my time in studio and the other half working in an office or teaching other students.

      I’m just listing possibilities off the top of my head, so I apologize if none of them are particularly apt for the situation. I’m just wondering why I don’t hear of more students who aren’t already doing their MS or PhD actually working for the university.

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