The recent unilateral abrogation by the Department of National Defense of its 1989 Agreement (regulating military and police entry and operation inside U.P. campuses) with the University of the Philippines has brought the meaning and issue of academic freedom to the fore, with the U.P. community crying out that such act by DND infringes on, among others, its academic freedom. So, what really is academic freedom and why does it matter so much?

Article XIV, Sec. 5(2) of the 1987 Constitution assures the enjoyment of academic freedom by all institutions of higher learning. Save for a rearrangement of words, it is an exact repeat of Art. XV, Sec. 8(2) of the 1973 Constitution. Even earlier, the 1935 Constitution in its Article XIV, Sec. 5 already provided that “Universities established by the State shall enjoy academic freedom.”

Its meaning has been expounded in jurisprudence. In the case of Epicharis T. Garcia vs. The Faculty Admission Committee, Loyola School of Theology (G.R. No. L-40779, November 28, 1975), the Supreme Court referred to it as “the right of a faculty member to pursue his studies in his particular specialty and thereafter to make known or publish the result of his endeavors without fear that retribution would be visited on him in the event that his conclusions are found distasteful or objectionable to the powers that be, whether in the political, economic or academic establishments.” It then proceeds to quote educator Sidney Hook (from his book Academic Freedom and Academic Anarchy) who defined academic freedom as “the freedom of professionally qualified persons to inquire, discover, publish and teach the truth as they see it in the field of their competence. It is subject to no control or authority except the control or authority of the rational methods by which truths or conclusions are sought and established in these disciplines.”

The same case quotes U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter, who himself was an academician, to the effect that it is the business of a university to provide an “atmosphere which is conducive to speculation, experiment and creation”, and where “there prevail the four essential freedoms” of a university: “to determine on academic grounds, who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught and who may be admitted to study.” (concurring opinion in Sweezy vs. New Hampshire, 354 US 234, 236 [1957], quoting a report on The Open Universities in South Africa)

In the 1990 case of Ariel Non, et. al. vs. Hon. Sancho Danes (G.R. No. 89317, May 20, 1990) the Supreme Court citing a line of decided cases, elaborated on the connection between a university’s academic freedom and the rights of students, thus: “the right of an institution of higher learning to set academic standards cannot be utilized to discriminate against students who exercise their constitutional rights to speech and assembly.”

Philippine jurisprudence is replete with cases on academic freedom, the rulings of which indicate that it is both an institutional right which the Constitution grants to institutions of higher learning, as well as to faculty members therein as to their manner of teaching and research in their fields of expertise or specialization, free from outside influence or control by people who may be opposed to their knowledge and methodology. It is a freedom of a university as it is also a freedom of an individual teacher in the said university.

Former U.P. President Vicente G. Sinco, in his classic book on Philippine Political Law quotes Dr. Marcel Bouchard, Rector of the University of Dijon in France, on the distinction between freedom of the university and the individual scholar, in this wise: “One must distinguish between the autonomy of the university as a corporate body, and the freedom of the individual university teacher. The personal aspect of freedom consists in the right of each university teacher to seek and express the truth as he personally sees it, both in his academic work and in his capacity as a private citizen.”

In sum, therefore, the right to academic freedom encompasses the mutual but sometimes conflicting rights of institutions of higher learning and those of its individual faculty members. The former, as to how it operates as an academic center of learning; and the latter, as to what and how he or she teaches his or her subject of study and competence. These are the rights that our successive Constitutions protect and have protected from 1935 onward, because it is deemed as the cornerstone of a democratic and liberal system of education.

After we explain academic freedom, our next question is may academic freedom be endangered by the coercive power of the State? This will be discussed in the next installment of Ijtihad. MKS

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