Fr. Tabora’s ‘elitist’ statement was ‘taken out of context’ and students who called him out for it had ‘poor reading comprehension’.
This was the shifting discourse that welcomed me as I scrolled through my Twitter feed on the morning of March 30, a day after Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) President Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ released a controversial opinion piece responding to ongoing protests against online education throughout the country.
According to Tabora’s apologists, and later, even the SAMAHAN, AdDU’s student government, Fr. President clearly did not mean for students to stop enrolling in AdDU with the line “If they can’t, they either stop studying or enroll to a school that can,” but rather, he was pertaining to those from other schools who are not capable of online education to enroll in AdDU.
Still, the message could have been phrased differently in a manner that reassures and unites, instead of threatens and divides. We’re in the dark. This is not the time to draw a line between those who can and who can’t.
It would make all the difference, therefore, to ask, “Was the message straight and clear enough?” or was it written in a way that allowed room for maneuver should issues of misinterpretation arise?
Tabora’s statement gained much irk from Ateneans on Twitter that the SAMAHAN, in a thread regarding a dialogue with University administrators, relayed Tabora’s clarification about his statement. While this somehow clears the rubble created by the said post, I don’t see why the burden of explanation should be shouldered by the student government instead of Fr. Tabora himself.
We should be alarmed that we have a SAMAHAN that speaks on behalf of the administration. Instead of shedding light on the actual conversations taking place, it further keeps us in the dark when we do not know who is saying which.
These concerns aside, SAMAHAN updates regarding the conduct of online classes have claimed that the University is eyeing partnerships with telecommunication companies to ensure internet connection, especially for students living in far-flung areas. Responding to questions on payments, the SAMAHAN also said that the University promised a ‘more lenient and understanding Finance Office’.
It seems that our clamor for an Ateneo that listens to the plights of less privileged students has been heard, after all.
I beg to differ.
While efforts such as these may show AdDU’s commitment to ‘level the playing field’, it is, again, a manifestation of the University’s propensity to tread ambitious, yet potentially fatal paths. By seeking to push for online classes, AdDU hopes to become a model to other Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the country. However, the question remains: will the solutions that it has come up with be workable in the long run, and will they adequately respond to the needs of the students given their different socioeconomic positions?
The students had every right to call the administration’s push for online classes anti-poor. This arose from a justified uncertainty and anxiety that some students do not have access to resources for online learning and cannot provide such due to financial burdens caused by COVID-19. However, now that the tables have turned as the University has pledged to ease online class mechanisms and payments, it is apt to shift the discourse to challenging it and holding it accountable in terms of providing adequate infrastructure to facilitate the shift to online learning.
This, I believe, is where the role of the SAMAHAN is most important. It needs to carefully lay out the interest of the students to the administration. While dialogue is necessary, it needs to stay vigilant that it will not be fixated with ‘listening lovingly’ that it becomes too soft in asserting the demands of the student body.
As a student government, it should ensure that information and interventions will trickle down to the last student, as well as check and assess the administration’s fulfillment of its promises. If this goes wrong, less privileged students, instead of being served by these efforts, will further be pushed to the margins.
If online learning is an inevitability as the administration claims, the University should assure the students that it is a change that will not come with excruciating and damaging birth pangs. Until the students are provided with adequate assistance to adapt to online learning and until we see that no one will, indeed, be left behind, only then can we say that our clamors have been heard.