With the highest number of disapproved Maximum Residence Rule (MRR) and readmission appeals across the University of the Philippines System, the UPLB administration has long been criticized for its indifference towards its primary constituents, the students. MRR indicates that students who fail to finish the requirements of a degree program within a certain period of time, equivalent to one and a half times the normal length of the course, shall not be allowed to register in that college, however, under some circumstances, extension of residency is granted.
Readmission, as stated in Article 389 of the UP Code, refers to the process by which students who were dismissed due to failed subjects, double probation, leave of absence (LOA), etc. are trying to continue their education. For years, these students are given the bare minimum whenever they heed for solutions regarding their cases; students argue that unjust policies regarding processing appeals are set in place and their right to education is impeded by an absentee administration.
Last February 3, 2020 students from UPLB gathered at the University of the Philippines Diliman to shed light on the numerous MRR and re-ad cases in the constituent campus. UP President Danilo Concepion agreed to meet with the said students in order to grasp their demands. The students called for mass approval to all appeals but were quickly turned down stating that only the extension of the deadline in processing was approved, denying the assurance that all who submitted appeals are automatically given exemption. Students brought up concerns such as the irregular basis in admission, wherein the UPLB admin is evidently selective in choosing which appeals are to be granted and a templated letter that provides no concrete reasons as to why there was a disapproval of qualification after they submitted requirements. The students requested for a meeting with the Board of Regents (BOR), the highest decision-making body of the UP System, to voice out their concerns and to demand solutions, however, was denied because the BOR did not want to undermine the independent authority of constituent units in handling these cases.
In a promised dialogue with Concepcion on February 20, the University Student Council (USC) reiterated their call for mass approval regarding appeals but was answered by, “Pag bumabagsak ng napakatagal ay babagsak ang kalidad ng standards ng ating university.” (Read: UPLB students confront UP President over reg concerns). Students asserted that academic excellence is not the only factor in determining a student’s capacity in learning as others face difficulty in coping with external factors such as mental health and financial capabilities. They also stated the burden of seasonal subjects, as these are only offered in specific semesters, on top with the inefficient Student Academic Information System (SAIS) used in enrolling academic units.
The UPLB admin was also reprimanded by various students for its discriminatory memorandum releases concerning MRR and re-ad affairs. On February 12, the Office of the Chancellor (OC) released Memorandum No. 30 which prohibits unregistered students from attending classes, barred them from receiving lessons and accomplishing requirements needed for the subject. Chancellor Fernando Sanchez defended that it was only in accordance with Article 330 of the UP Code stating that persons not duly matriculated may not be admitted to class. It was not after the dialogue that the memorandum was withdrawn and was replaced with Memorandum No. 36 allowing students to attend their classes while their appeals are ongoing. USC also called to “stop and review” the university MRR policy in which students cannot apply for MRR after a certain duration and cannot apply for Re-ad for the second time.
Sanchez also declared that he has already approved 76 out of 185 cases but it opposes the real number of 600+ cases presented in a dialogue between the USC and the UPLB admin last 2018. Julieta Delos Reyes, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, shared that in one weekend, she interviewed more than 500 students and said “Sobrang bulk ng papeles na pumapasok sa amin. It’s useless to interview.” It is worth noting that back in 2018, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Portia Lapitan, confessed that they rely on gut feeling in order to identify students who were worth interviewing. This manifests the admin’s disservice towards its main constituents and their insensitivity when it comes to matters involving the lives of students. Even after hearing concerns, there were still no concrete plans and progress regarding the cases; dialogues meant to address and provide solutions turned into a manifestation of the admin’s indifference towards the students.
On April 16, UP President Concepcion issued the “UP System Policy On The Second Semester AY 2020-2021 In The Time of Covid-19” for the upcoming academic year guidelines but there were no mentioned developments about the pending cases of MRR and readmission. With the recent student town hall meeting held on June 29, Cynthia Bautista, Vice President of Academic Affairs, said that rules on MRR and readmission for the second semester of AY 2019-2020 are lifted, however, when asked about current cases, she affirmed that it was brought back to the University Council (UC), the same local constituent council spearheaded by Chancellor Sanchez and that they would decide on the matter. Passed from office to office, the growing anxiety of students from the lack of assurance of being able to register is aggravated by the admin’s absence in prioritizing their concerns.
Various efforts such as conducting interviews and online mobilizations to make everyone aware of the dire situation concerning cases of MRR and re-ad were also set in motion as well as countless dialogues with the administration. USC Councilor Gelo Aurigue said, “The administration, both UP and UPLB, has been out of touch, disrespectful, and inconsiderate to the students and we’ve been pressuring them even before classes started on 2nd [semester Academic Year (AY)] 2019-2020 yet they never understood the gravity of the situation of those students struggling. With their anxieties peaking because of the administration moving at a glacial pace. Inabot na ng covid at lahat. It’s enraging and we will continue to assert our right to education and fight alongside the students who are continuously being victimized by this administration’s heartless bureaucracy.”
The USC, on July 10, sent a letter to the OC to request that matters regarding MRR and readmission appeals of students be included in the agenda of the UC meeting and that there should be student representation. However, no response was made by the OC. According to the USC, it was only acknowledged during the UC meeting with the Committee on Student Progress (CSP) declaring the admin’s disapproval of MRR-readmission appeals; as of writing, there are no concrete reasons yet as to why they have come to this conclusion. The students are stripped of their rights from receiving genuine education and the admin has shifted to callous bureaucracy yet again.
Faculty members talked about the concerns of the student body but were told that they should instead raise their questions and comments during the Other Matters (OMs) part of the meeting; only for the admin to end the meeting before the agenda was even brought up, causing distress among the faculty members asserting the rights of the students. The admin did not only ignore concerns but also deliberately overlooked the gravity of the situation. It is ironic that a meeting intended to address faculty and student affairs is lacking student representatives who are directly affected by its ending decisions.
Students, with MRR and readmission cases, suffer from continuous mistreatment as they are not prioritized and tended by the university. Some students only need to complete 1 unit and their manuscripts for their thesis yet are denied approval. There are also cases of late processing where students passed the required documents and appealed for more than two times but were disapproved. This is clear evidence that the admin does not address the issues at hand and instead opts for student abandonment.
When asked about the difficulties of being an MRR student, Leslie*, a student from the College of Arts and Science (CAS), shared, “Nung una syempre breakdowns. Lalo na halos kakastart ko lang mag meds nun kaya hirap po icontrol talaga. Nagtatry po ako sumama pa rin non sa mga mob for the cause pero grabe po yung effect afterwards. Tapos lumalala rin due to the ECQ kasi parang naisangtabi na lang yung cases namin. Madalas iniisip ko ano gagawin ko if di na ako nakabalik, ang dami kong nasayang na oras. Minsan gusto ko nalang mawala because of the shame plus the anger na hindi fair yung treament nila sa lahat ng nag aapply.” She also said that, currently, she is just focusing on online jobs in order to forget her hopeless situation.
Worsened by the ongoing pandemic, some students act as the breadwinner of their families and would risk having no income if they ever leave their job for an empty promise. Mobility is also limited due to the imposed quarantine making it harder for these students to process their appeals and requirements. There are no developments so they are forced to stay home, powerless, with the added pressure from their parents and relatives. Future job applications are also stained because of recorded academic history. However, there are no concrete plans from the admin which causes unrest among students who are making ends meet by working and studying at the same time.
Inefficient processing and the rigid selectivity of the admin in granting appeals blocks these students from exercising the liberty of education, a basic right of every Filipino. The refusal of the admin in heeding the demand of the students is an indication of a community thrived by insensitivity; prolonged repression turns the institution into a university that upholds academic excellence at the expense of its students.
Fight for Genuine Education
RA 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act is a law mandated to provide free education for public Filipino students; it includes state universities and colleges (SUCs), such as UP, and administers selective educational programs. Unfortunately, students with pending cases cannot avail the free tuition law because as stated in Section 6, students who fail to complete their bachelor’s degree or comparable undergraduate degree within a year after the period prescribed in their program are not eligible. These students, therefore, are charged with tuition fees determined by the university board. Since not all students have the financial capacity, some are forced to look for jobs that would provide them income to be able to pay the required tuition fees and to be able to afford basic necessities. However, at some point, the burden becomes unbearable resulting in severe circumstances. In the year 2013, Kristel Tejada, a behavioral sciences student from UP Manila, took her own life because of the merciless policies implemented by the university system. Unfortunately, she did not meet the “no late payment” policy, which forced her to file for LOA; this policy directs professors to prevent students who failed to make payments from entering their classes. It is appalling that the “university for the masses” does not treat financial capacity as a factor in tempering stringent protocols.
Rise for Education – UPLB (R4E), a progressive alliance that advocates for accessible quality education, said, “Albeit some argue that education is “free” because of RA 10931 or the Universal Access to Tertiary Education Act, the fact remains that this is very much limited. First, students still pay for everything other than tuition, and this would include purchasing of lab equipment, books, references, dorms — which are all expenses related to our education. Second, post-graduate students and those who exceed the maximum residency still pay for their tuition and other school fees, and all other expenses.” R4E also added that the disapproval of MRR and Readmission appeals is a violation of academic freedom and the university’s principles. They stressed that it goes against the UP Code which emphasizes that students must not be denied admission no matter the circumstances. They stated that the disapproval is also a violation of a constitutionally- guaranteed right to education as the administration deprives a lot of students from pursuing their dreams because they fail to recognize financial and emotional problems. R4E asserted, “Despite the anti-student nature of the administration, the alliance remains firm in forwarding its call to approve all appeals. Education is a right. Hence, it must not be treated as a commodity that people purchase; it should be afforded by everyone. The fight for free education will not be over until students, regardless of number, are made to pay for their right to education.”
Searching for a pro-student chancellor
In accordance with the UP Office of the President’s Administrative Order No. PDLC 20-20, the UPLB OC announced Memorandum No. 104 s. 2020, which aims to search for the next Chancellor of the constituent university (CU). Incumbent Chancellor Sanchez’s term will officially end on October 31, 2020 and the last day to submit nominations for Chancellorship is on July 31.
This implies that if not solved within the next few months, transitioning from chancellor to chancellor will only leave MRR and readmission students in limbo as their cases would be set aside yet again. Being the highest decision-making official in the campus, the next chancellor should be chosen rigorously to minimize administrative faults. There is now a sense of urgency to elect a chancellor that is not only qualified based on credentials but is also considerate and capable enough to address issues firsthand.
The UPLB admin should be held accountable for their actions and should approve all appeals. This will defeat the perception that students with appeals are just a bunch of stacked up paperwork; on the contrary, these are real individuals whose futures are at stake and should be given utmost priority because above all, no student should be left behind. [P]
ERRATUM: Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) Cynthia Bautista said that rules on MRR and readmission are lifted for the second semester of AY 2019-2020, not AY 2020-2021. We’ve since edited the post.