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UPLB to ‘ease’ into second sem as constituents call for recovery break

During the easing period from February 8 to February 18, the OC memo states that no synchronous and asynchronous sessions will be held and no submission of requirements will be imposed.

Words by Yani Redoblado and FJ Masangkay

UPLB will be “easing into the second semester of A.Y. 2021-2022”, as detailed in an Office of the Chancellor (OC) memorandum released last January 31.

The memo details the guidelines of the easing period, which will be done from February 8 to February 18. During the said period, “no synchronous and asynchronous sessions and submission of requirements in all courses” will be imposed. The memo adds that students are also enjoined not to email any teaching staff-member during the two-week period.

“In the spirit of UPLB being a caring university, imbued with the values of honor, excellence, and compassion, we recognize the critical balance between performing our tri-function (instruction, research, and public service) and ensuring the safety and wellness of our human resources and the University’s constituents,” the memo reads.

The OC memo is pursuant to the UP system’s Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) Memorandum No. 2022-16 released last January 28.

The decision came after university constituents called for a two-week “recovery and wellness break”, amid the COVID-19 surge, recovery from Typhoon Odette, and various registration concerns.

(RELATED STORY: Start of 2nd semester to push through on February 7)

In an exclusive interview with the Perspective, UPLB University Student Council (USC) Chairperson Siegfred Severino said that the USC welcomes the UPLB administration’s decision to grant a two-week recovery break for the constituents.

Tayo sa USC ay winewelcome itong pag-release ng memorandum na nagbibigay na 2-weeks recovery break o pahinga para sa mga estudyante, guro, at kawani ng Unibersidad. ‘Di maikakaila na ang desisyong ito ay bunga ng walang pagod na pag-assert ng mga estudyante at faculty para mabigyan ng sapat na panahon para makapag-pahinga at makapag-handa sa susunod na semestre.”

[“We in the USC welcome the release of the memo that grants a two-week recovery break or rest for the students, professors, and staff of the university. It is undeniable that this decision is the result of the tireless assertion of students and faculty to have enough rest and preparation for the upcoming semester.”]

System bureaucracy

The semester opening on February 7 will proceed for all UP campuses except for UPLB, UP Open University (UPOU), UP Cebu (UPC), and UP Baguio (UPB).

Because of the damage brought by Typhoon Odette in Cebu, the opening of classes in UPC will start on February 21. Meanwhile, UPB Chancellor Corazon Abansi moved the start of their second semester to February 14, citing the series of Student Academic Information System (SAIS) downtime and health status of students, faculty, and staff.

Severino said that all participants in the system-wide dialogue held last January 25 agreed “in principle” that a break is needed. 

As a response, the UP admin included general guidelines for the academic easing policy in the OVPAA Memorandum No. 2022-16. The constituent universities are given autonomy to adjust the guidelines depending on their situation.

The OVPAA memo also mentioned “adjusting work allocations under Work-from-Home (WFH) arrangements for Research, Extension, and Professional Staff (REPS), administrative staff, Contract of Service (COS) workers, and Job Orders (JOs) performing regular office functions”.

Severino said that the UP admin, in its decision to push through with the semester as scheduled, cited legal reasons, financial constraints from the Commission on Audit (COA), and salary of contractual employees and JOs.

“The [UP system] admin said that they cannot justify giving a two-week salary to JOs and contractual employees if bibigyan sila ng recovery break,” Severino said.

[“The UP system admin said that they cannot justify given a two-week salary to JOs and contractual employees if they are given a recovery break.”]

He further commented that the UP system admin wants its constituent universities to adjust their guidelines, yet they fail to do the same, saying that they are legally bound not to adjust their policies.

Umiiral ang pagiging bureaucratic ng ating university na they put first the logistical constraints of their offices instead of adjusting, being flexible as they ask their constituents to be flexible also,” Severino added.

[“The bureaucracy of our university is prevailing in that they first put the logistical constraints of their offices instead of adjusting, being flexible as they ask their constituents to be flexible also.”]

A few days before the start of general registration period, the UPLB Department of Social Sciences (DSS) and Department of Humanities (DHum) released separate statements supporting the call for a genuine health break, and for the adjustment of the semester opening to February 21.

According to All UP Academic Employees Union – Los Baños (AUPAEU – LB), the system-wide petition to have a genuine two-week recovery or wellness break for the UP system has already garnered over 1000 signatories from various sectors in the UP community.

Clamor for a genuine break

Even before the dialogue with the UP admin, AUPAEU cited widespread health crises and sluggish recovery of constituents affected by Typhoon Odette as primary bases for the call for a break. According to Severino, 16% of the UPLB population was affected by the typhoon.

AUPAEU also criticized the statements and policies of the UP admin for its lack of compassion after the first semester ended, saying that there are no system-level policies that would ensure a compassionate extension of grades submission.

Naroroon ang kanilang pahayag ng pag-unawa sa mga mag-aaral, ngunit ini-extend lamang ang pasahan ng grado [nang] iilang araw,” AUPAEU’s post read.

[“There was an assurance from the UP administration that they understood the students, but the grades submission deadline was only extended for a few days.”]

In UPLB, the deadline for submission of grades for the first semester was extended until January 23 at the request of the USC. However, the pre-registration period for the second semester that was scheduled from January 24 to January 27 initially still pushed through, but was later extended until January 31 due to technical difficulties in SAIS. Meanwhile, the general registration period for UPLB runs from February 2 to 4.

Noong nakita ng acad union na magkakadikit ang dates, nag-start na ‘yong panawagan na kailangan ng breathing space ng students and faculty,” Severino said.

[“When the academic union saw the narrow schedule, they called for a breathing space for students and faculty.”]

In an exclusive interview with the Perspective, development communication freshman Dyan Chomawat said that he is not yet prepared for the second semester, given their current physical and mental state.

“The current semester [first semester of AY 2021-2022] has been mentally and physically exhausting; we also need enough time to rest and take care of ourselves,” he expressed.

Third-year veterinary medicine student “Chloe” [not her real name] adds that she is not sure whether she is ready for the second semester.

Parang wala na lang choice kasi kung mag-a-adjust naman [ang calendar], malamang ang mangyayari mako-compress na naman ‘yong second sem. Kung babalik lang din sa atin, parang hindi mo na alam ano pipiliin mo,” she said in an exclusive interview with the Perspective, which was conducted prior to the release of the OC memo detailing UPLB’s easing into the semester.

[“It’s like you have no choice because if we adjust the calendar, most likely the second semester will be compressed again. It’s like you do not know what to choose anymore.”]

The OC memo states that the schedule for the final examinations and grade submission deadlines will be adjusted, but an exact and detailed schedule has yet to be released.  

A ‘dysfunctional’ enrollment system

A week before the start of the pre-registration period, third-year chemical engineering student “Rachel” [not her real name] explained that she is not yet ready for the upcoming semester given that there were students still complying with requirements.

“Since may nagpapasa pa ngayon, meron pa ring walang grades. Kailan malalaman ng students na delikado sila bumagsak para maayos ‘yong ie-enlist nila?” she expressed during an exclusive interview with the Perspective last January 18, at the time when some professors have yet to release their grades.

[“Since there are students still submitting their requirements, some of them do not have grades yet. What about those who are in danger of failing a class? When can they plan the courses that they will enlist?”]

During the pre-registration period, the UPLB USC noted various student concerns regarding SAIS’ errors and inaccessibility. They were informed that the servers cannot handle the volume of Internet traffic from students trying to enroll.

“I’ve been a student since 2018 and I can say that this is one of the worst SAIS registrations na naranasan ko,” Severino said.

[“I’ve been a student since 2018 and I can say that this is one of the worst SAIS registrations that I experienced.”]

It can be recalled that issues with SAIS have been reported over the years since its implementation in 2016.

(RELATED STORIES: Four years later, SAIS still crashes; #JunkSAIS | UPLB students: ‘The students, united, will never be defeated!’; #JunkSAIS: SAIS Registration Leads to Chaos; #JunkSAIS: Mas Malala sa Singko)

Severino expressed frustration that after six years since its launch, SAIS still crashes. He said that it is disappointing that despite the online academic setup, the enrollment system remains “dysfunctional”.

As a result, students have raised concerns in relation to being underloaded or even delayed due to issues with SAIS. Rachel revealed that she could not advance to higher chemical engineering courses because she failed to enroll in prerequisite courses due to SAIS problems.

“Since ang Batch 2019 ay scheduled na sa third day sa SAIS this semester [first semester of AY  2021-2022], mabilis na ako nakakuha [ng course], pero ang dami pa ring hindi [nakakuha] dahil ten sections lang at kulang sila [faculty] sa staff,” Rachel said.

[“Since Batch 2019 is scheduled on the third day for SAIS during the first semester, I was quickly able to enlist higher courses, but there are still a lot of students who cannot enlist because only ten sections are available and the faculty are short of staff.”]

UPLB DHum associate professor and AUPAEU – LB member Prof. Jethro Pugal once addressed this issue in a press conference saying, “Ang problema ng kakulangan ng slots sa isang subject ay actually problema ng kakulangan ng guro at pasilidad para sa mismong subject na ‘yon.” 

[“The problem with inadequate slots for a subject is actually a problem with the insufficiency of professors and facilities for that same subject.”]

In line with this, he raised the call for more plantilla (or permanent) positions or a larger faculty to handle classes.

(RELATED STORIES: Youth groups hold online press conference to discuss demands amidst worsening education situation; UPLB REPS disclose pandemic work woes; demand better pay, health benefits, tenureship)

AUPAEU – LB President Prof. Cris Lanzaderas pointed out that the call for a break also stemmed from issues with SAIS.

Nag-resulta kasi ito [call for a break] noong nagloko ‘yong SAIS sa panahon na nag-i-input ng grades ang teachers at ngayong pre-registration ng mga estudyante. Dahilan ito talaga para magkaroon ng adjustments sa calendar at gawing genuine ‘yong health break sa susunod na dalawang linggo.”

[“The call resulted from system problems with SAIS at a time when teachers were inputting the grades and then during the pre-registration of students. This is the reason behind calls for calendar adjustments, and for a genuine health break in the coming weeks.”]

Prof. Lanzaderas reiterated that staff, faculty, and students need enough time to prepare for another semester opening.

Kailangan talaga ng lehitimong pahinga hindi lang para sa mga admin staff at kawani ng university, pati na rin sa ating mga estudyante,” he expressed.

[“A genuine break is necessary not only for our admin staff and university employees, but also for our students.”]

The USC and college SCs said that they will remain on guard to make sure that the two-week academic easing will be implemented fairly.

Sisiguraduhin nating tunay na pahinga ang mangyayari sa susunod na dalawang linggo,” Severino said.

[“We will make sure that a genuine break will happen in the next two weeks.”] [P]

Photo by Sophia Pangilinan

Layout by Arianne Paas

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