Management skills not enough
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.