Management skills not enough

(The following is my column for today, July 17, 2006, at the op-ed pages of the Manila Standard Today)

THERE is a recurring dilemma that haunts our educational system. And it is embarrassing because when we come to think about it, the people who are tasked with educating our people should ideally be held in high esteem and therefore freed from the usual bickering and tussling that is expected of politicians, but not of our educators.

The selection of the presidents of our state colleges and universities and the appointment of the secretary of the Department of Education have become perennial contentious struggles. Cases in point are the recent selection of lawyer Lutgardo Barbo as president of the Philippine Normal University and the appointment of Rep. Jesli Lapus as Education secretary. Both appointments have met stiff opposition. In the case of Barbo, key officials of the university have turned in their resignations in protest of his selection and are now demanding his recall. In the case of Lapus, a number of Education employees are protesting his appointment. In both cases, other names that are considered more “qualified” and “deserving” are being bandied about.

Our educators have so far taken the higher moral ground by constantly stressing that there is nothing “personal” in the whole contest of wills. However, situations like these inevitably turn into an argument about the qualifications, character, and suitability of the central characters. And when these happen, things take a turn into the sordid and the ugly.

The main issue that is being put forward is the increasing “politicization” of the educational system. But since state colleges and universities do have representatives from the Senate and House of Representatives sitting in their respective Boards of Regents, and appointed officials of the education department do pass through the congressional wringer, the fact that politics is deeply imbedded in the system should not be such a major issue. Likewise, the selection of state college and university presidents have necessarily become “inclusive processes” where representatives from various stakeholders are allowed to weigh in their respective agenda and biases. It is a fact that more often than not, these representatives (e.g., alumni, faculty, students, Senate, Congress, government, community) are simply not on the same page as far as rules or the interpretation of the rules is concerned.

Whether we like it or not, politics is deeply imbedded in our educational system as it has been for the longest time, but it is not the main problem. Unfortunately, Barbo and Lapus are politicians and both are capitalizing on political savvy as their main strengths. Thus, rightly or wrongly, politics is perceived to be the main culprit.

The arguments for and against Barbo and Lapus have already been discussed extensively in media, so I will not go into these. Besides, I refuse to make judgments on their qualifications. I think that there are more important issues that need to be highlighted in order to provide a better context to the recurring problem and to ensure that these things do not happen again.

I am a little alarmed that while the debate has belabored the qualifications of the candidates, very little has been said to define the responsibilities of the contested positions. Surely, person-job fit is a principle that applies here and qualifications cannot be discussed in a vacuum.
So the foremost question should be: What exactly is the president of a state college or university or the Education secretary supposed to be doing? Or more to the point, should experience as an academician or academic administrator count as a primary consideration in the selection process?

It is being argued that the job of Education secretary or a state college or university president is primarily a management position. Consequently, proven management skills from any discipline should be adequate. Is it?

I think that academic institutions are unique in that their leaders do not only serve as administrators of the boxes in an organizational chart but more importantly, as wise “elders” of a professional community that feeds on the healthy exchange of ideas borne out of mutual respect among colleagues. Such is the nature of academe—it exists to confound. The purpose of any academic institution is to train people to question assumptions, to break new grounds. Thus, management expertise may be necessary, but it is not enough. Ability to muster resources from the outside world is a plus factor, but ability to muster and orchestrate internal resources, particularly intellectual, is an even more critical qualification.

The authority of an academic leader can only come from influence within the academic community. Such influence is largely dependent on reciprocal professional respect. His or her effectiveness can only come from willingness of a highly specialized and often intellectually egotistical academic community to be led. I firmly believe that the Education secretary, or the PNU president, or the president of any state college and university must, first of all, stand as a powerful and unquestioned symbolic representation of the core values of the institutions they represent. After all, education and learning are about winning minds and hearts more than anything else.

These are ideas that those who have a hand in the selection processes of academic leaders must seek to reclaim. Unfortunately, we live in a period where academic traditions are seen as more archaic and ancient than their acacia trees. There is a seeming disrespect, even contempt, for the same hallowed academic traditions that have carried civilization to the present. Thus, this penchant for selecting nonacademics to become Education secretary, or a state college or university president.

This is not to say that education department and PNU should exist as entities isolated from mainstream society. However, there are certain traditions such as selecting “yodas” for leadership posts that need to be protected because they represent our main lifeline across generations. The Department of Education and PNU are important pillars of the Philippine educational system. PNU is the country’s main training ground for teachers while education department is the government agency responsible for managing the educational system. The learning communities within these two institutions need to be given the respect they rightfully deserve.


Anonymous said…
Hello Bong!
I agree with a lot of what you are saying but let me, someone who's been with The State Univ for quite a long time and has seen quite a number of administration changes (since my student days up to now that I'm its mere employee), relate some of my observations. While it's true that at least we are kind of insulated from the problem of an "outsider" being installed as head, we've seen our share of problems. We'd almost always have no shortage of nominees, for univ president and for unit/campus chancellors, from within the UP system, But always the one who gets installed is not liked by all constituents, you wouldn't believe how many and how vicious some factions could be in a university setting! That's understood given the size of UP. The university is really a microcosm of our society, with all its politics. So while an insider gets to be selected I have yet to see someone who will bring back this state university to its premiership. Even the chancellors. Even if they come from our midst, academician and all, hindi pa rin sigurado that they get to be respected by all and most importantly, that they get to do what they promised to do in their nomination speeches. They may be respected academics in their field but that has got to be complemented by a lot of imagination and other skills, management being just one of them. The bottom line should be whether this person will bring the institution to where it should be. We've had good ones in the past, but it has gotten to be more difficult to head the university given all the constraints facing it, budget being the most problematic. That's why I still long for a really gifted person to rule UP and, frankly, I'm not sure where he or she should come from.
Good day, MommyJo
Taga - Iyam said…
I am finding myself saying "AMEN " to this one again.

I watched the new secretary of education on TV the other night....and I do not have any questions or doubts about his credentials and his experience , but, people need to start realizing that EDUCATION is more than management.....EDUCATION is not business and should not be treated as business.....I believe that the number 1 qualification that one who is to lead the EDUCATION of a country is one who is an educator. How can one decide what is best for the education of the students of the country, when, the extend of the leader in the area of EDUCATION is just being in the classroom as a can a leader of Education be knowledgeable of the curriculum, even the Standardized Tests is just taking them as student? A leader is able to pick out among his flock who is able to impart knowledge to the future of the country. Management expertise is a big plus....but....educator background is the prime qualification. The country has to take this seriously because the biggest investment we can have is the education of our youths.

Having been in Education for the last 40 years and having been in the system for 38 a teacher, curriculum development, developing standardized tests and bench mark,I have looked up to my superiors/leaders, because, I know we speak the same language and we have the same goals.....!

I was trained to be a teacher in the Philippines and very grateful for the training.The training has paved my success in educating the more than 50000 American students.Majority of these students are now the productive citizens of the country.....!
Iloilo City Boy said…
I believe that all this hullaballoo over another politician taking over DepEd is being perpetrated by "syndicates" inside the Education department who suffered because of the reforms initiated by another "politician," Raul Roco. During Roco's stint, many in DepEd lost lucrative rackets and their privilege to charge "overtime" pay. Now, school principals cannot even ask for "voluntary" contributions from parents (i.e. Boy Scouts, Red Cross, etc.) anymore since politician Roco put a stop to the practice.

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