March 30, 2020 (8:45 AM)

4 min read

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Academic freedom belongs to institutions of higher learning. Social justice protects such freedom so it is equally enjoyed by those who compose these institutions—administrators, faculty, staff, and students. But what happens when social justice is suspended?

After reading University President Fr. Joel Tabora’s opinion piece, one thing was clear: this sense of academic freedom and responsibility of his was gravely misplaced. Crafted out of his apparent detachment from the realities students across the country are facing, the article explained how the insistence of suspending online classes was unfair on AdDU’s (Ateneo de Davao) part. 

The petition to suspend online classes mainly stems from the fact that the framework on which the said scheme is grounded only emphasizes the gap between social classes among the students, at the very least. It was never solely focused on whether or not HEIs (higher education institutions) are prepared. 

On the one hand, no matter how prepared in conducting online classes AdDU portrays it to be, its “preparedness” is ultimately useless when the supposed primary attendees of this service, the students, are not equally prepared. The lack of comprehensive directives and considerations as to how enrollment and online classes will be carried out is evident, adapting to it will only result to an aimless pursuit “of truth.”

On the other hand, the fact that students, even professors, are constantly being challenged to battle psychological, financial, and logistical hurdles that come along with this pandemic only defeats the purpose of education and AdDU’s thrust for “excellent instruction and formation.”

And no, it’s not a matter of who wants to be a part of a scheme which, in the first place, is designed to exclude those who can’t afford to be a part of it and include only those who can. What the university president failed to recognize is that it’s not a question of choice or preference but of capacity to choose.

Contrary to his opinion, the call for a new system means the abolition of corrupt, discriminatory, exclusive, oppressive one—not a creation of another that only underscores exclusion and oppression, or worse, perpetuates inequality and injustice.

Needless to say, stating that online class suspension amid the COVID-19 emergency is tantamount to “prohibiting higher education today” is a faulty analogy. It undermines the legitimate concerns of the students and completely misdirects the debate on the issues at hand. 

Issues of health, safety, survival are trivial and not as urgent as they are if you’re not the one learning or teaching despite the poor internet connection, or if you’re someone who can afford to live comfortably for months inside a blue tower covered in glass, with food and electricity at your disposal.

As much as academic freedom warrants AdDU to suspend online classes or not, it also poses the responsibility upon it to ensure that the students also participate in the exercise of the academic freedom it so claims.

Academic responsibility rests both on the students and the University, but to disproportionately distribute this burden against the students while claiming that it is the University’s way of realizing the mission it’s founded upon is a manifestation of how academic freedom and responsibility only operate to serve the interest of the privilege. 

Shame would be a gross understatement on AdDU’s claim of being an institution that emphasizes “being men and women for others” above all else when its president failed to become one for its students. It’s a travesty of its core values at that. Ultimately, this raises a question not only on sincerity and commitment but on practice as well. How can a university preach about social justice and at the same time ask its students to freely exclude themselves if they can’t afford online learning? Rather than addressing the problem, this only invalidates their struggles and frustrations in entirety. And it’s not for anyone to decide whether they speak of what’s unjust and unfair for them or not. Social justice inures to the benefit of the most vulnerable—and in this case, the students.

“COVID-19 is unfair,” so to speak, and the last thing that AdDU should do, if it still believes in social justice, is to address the chaos it has caused in an unfair manner likewise—that is, censuring the students for demanding an alternative and unjustly putting the blame on them for being underprivileged unlike their university’s president.


About Julien Jame Apale - Kamayo

She is an aspiring engineering student who ended up in the accountancy program. "Kamayo" is the dialect spoken in Cateel, Davao Oriental—her hometown. At the same time, it is a word in her dialect which means "relating to or belonging to the person or people being spoken to."




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