DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 21 Feb) — I’m writing this piece in the afterglow of the 23rd Foundation Anniversary Recognition Program of the University of the Philippines Mindanao, which I attended because I received a service award. I couldn’t believe it myself. I have been teaching there for 10 years. “Matanda ka na pala?” was one incredulous response I also received, in addition to the plaque and the cash gift (amounting to P1,000 per year of service). Yes, I am indeed a senior faculty member, grown old from the privilege of serving the university. Yet it is nothing compared to those who received the 20 years of service award.
The program was peppered with reminiscences from the pioneers about the beginnings of our university, which is the only constituent unit of the UP System that was created by law. Chancellor Sylvia Concepcion joked that we are thus the only unit that can be dissolved by repealing that republic act. Yet that fact may have been one of the driving forces of our staff and faculty to prove that we deserve to exist, despite the birthing pains, the growing pains, the pains of adolescence, and so on. In human terms, do we ever get to sit back and marvel at the fruits of our labor? Or is it more common to look back at what we could have done better, what we had failed to do, and then finally live out the rest of our days lamenting our lost chances?
Fortunately, an academic institution is not judged by human standards. It does have time enough to live out its mandate and mission. And its members do get the privilege of marveling at what we have done right by looking at improvements in infrastructure, quantity and quality of research, and most important, our graduates. Our pioneers shared memories of the boulders they literally had to traverse to get to work. I could only imagine all the sacrifices they had to make for the 186 students they were serving in the first batch. Those of us who did not have to suffer the terrible commute and the lack of resources really shouldn’t have anything to complain about.
But complain we do, because that is how we ensure that the institution continues to evolve. We ask for more. We do not get satisfied with scraps from the table like productivity bonuses; we demand what we deserve as academic and non-academic employees. We seek an end to contractualization of workers. We interrogate procedures of hiring, retention, and tenure to ensure that they are fair and just. And more important, we participate in discourses involving the nation because the university does not exist in a vacuum of autonomy.
The truth is, I have been teaching since January 1991 right after graduating from De La Salle University-Manila. So my 10 years in UP Mindanao is actually less than half my real age in the profession. Not only ‘matanda,’ but ‘tumanda’ and hopefully, also ‘nagtanda.’ Not only old, but grown old and wiser. Wise enough to know (for certain) that teachers should not have romantic relationships with their former students, nor with their co-teachers, and must not post their bikini photos in Facebook. These may seem like fun at the moment, but they truly are disasters waiting to happen.
But what I have really learned from teaching in UP is embodied in the UP Hymn: “Humayo’t itanghal, giting at tapang. Mabuhay ang pag-asa ng bayan.” To teach in the state university is to serve the country directly because our students are the hope of the nation. This surely doesn’t mean we have a patent on ensuring the country’s future, but we hope at least that the message is not lost on the students. I assure you that it has not been lost on me. While UP faculty are expected to fulfil three roles: teach, do research, and serve the community, our most important obligation is to our students, whom we have the opportunity to imbue not only with the drive to excel as individuals, but also with a nationalistic consciousness. Otherwise, no matter how many years we have served in UP, we have not truly fulfilled our mandate.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz is an award-winning writer who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao and a columnist of Mindanao Times. This piece was first published in the Mindanao Times issue of February 19, 2018. Follow or message her on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz)