Tuesday, December 6, 2022

University Woes: Is Academic Freedom a Tool for Academic Abuse?

by Earl Guen Quiñones Padayao | January 21, 2022

People in higher education, like college students, instructors, and professors, are all very familiar with academic freedom. We almost stamp it on our foreheads as a badge of power. More like an agimat, so to speak, which warrants justification to do so many things.

Indeed, academic freedom covers and protects a plethora of matters. This is a legal concept found in Section 5(2), Article XIV of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. This is a guarantee only enjoyed by institutions of higher learning, like universities and colleges. According to present jurisprudence, academic freedom encompasses the independence to determine “(1) who may teach, (2) what may be taught, (3) how it shall teach, and (4) who may be admitted to study.”[1]

Academic freedom, as a concept, is very powerful. Even the great Commission on Higher Education (CHED) bows to the guarantee of academic freedom. When Congress created CHED through Republic Act 7722, it made a very important provision respecting such. Reminding CHED where it stands in the grand scheme of things. Section 13 reads in relevant part: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as limiting the academic freedom of universities and colleges.”

Before I proceed, a caveat: do not get me wrong; academic freedom is important. Higher education cannot thrive without it. However, we must beg the question: is academic freedom a tool for academic abuse?

Academic freedom translates to certain powers, and much like any other power guaranteed by law, when it falls in the hands of abusers, it would lead to many alarming problems. Turning universities into a cesspool of students’ rights violations.

Recently, we are seeing multiple reports of students being overworked in distance learning, ultimately leading to documented accounts of some taking their lives because of the current academic setup and how grossly unemphatic some policies are.[2][3][4] I have also personally observed that students are dropping out not only because of financial concerns but also those of mental health. Attrition rates are ballooning unprecedentedly. I’ve come across one case, from a certain Twitter thread, of a student who narrated how one professor said that his academic freedom guarantees his independence to determine how to teach. Well, indeed, it is guaranteed. But, can the guarantee go as far as imposing unreasonable deadlines, ridiculous amounts of coursework, and the imposition of inconsiderate class policies?

Otherwise stated: is abuse also guaranteed by academic freedom?

I do not understand why there are cases of academic abuse in the middle of these very challenging times. I mean, how unemphatic and evil could a person be? Alas, a question for the philosophers.

About the Author:

Earl Guen Quiñones Padayao is a young academian and staunch advocate of students’ rights. He is a 3rd Year Juris Doctor student at Silliman University – College of Law and the incumbent President of Salonga Center for Law and Development. In addition, he teaches college-level philosophy classes at Bukidnon State University (Malaybalay City) and previously taught at Negros Oriental State University (Dumaguete City). He was also a legal intern at the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor — Cotabato.

He finished college with Latin Honor (cum laude), harboring a 1.25 or 97% Grade Point Average (GPA), and graduated as salutatorian during high school. He also studied environmental leadership at Northern Illinois University, U.S.A. as an international exchange student.

He is a recipient of multiple local and national recognitions — including the prestigious Mga Bagong Rizal Award of the Philippine Center for Gifted Education. He is a decorated youth leader and a reputable parliamentary debate adjudicator — with multiple medals during his prime. He occupied various positions in socio-civic and academic organizations in both Visayas and Mindanao.


[1] Regino v. Pangasinan Colleges of Science and Technology, G.R. No. 156109, November 18, 2004, 443 SCRA 56. The “four essential freedoms of a university” were formulated by Mr. Justice Felix Frankfurter of the United States Supreme Court in his concurring opinion in the leading case of Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 US 234, 1 L. Ed. 2d 1311, 77 S. Ct. 1203

[2] Jennifer P Rendon, College student commits suicide over arduous online classes, DAILY GUARDIAN, January 26, 2021, available only at https://dailyguardian.com.ph/college-student-commits-suicide-over-arduous-online-classes/ (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[3] Ding Cervantes, Group assails DepEd, cites 17 student suicide cases, THE PHILIPPINE STAR, October 28, 2021, available at https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/10/28/2052834/group-assails-deped-cites-17-student-suicide-cases (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[4]  Patricia Recaña, Three students die from suicide due to education-related problems, HERALDO FILIPINO, September 19, 2020, available only at https://www.heraldofilipino.com/three-students-die-from-suicide-due-to-education-related-problems/ (last visited November 2, 2021).

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