Published 3 June 2022, The Daily Tribune

Learning can be a source of true joy. To paraphrase a poet’s words, if you can look back at your life and say with conviction that you have once learned and loved, that will mean you have been happy, and your time on earth will not have been for naught.

Typically, learning is understood as the acquisition of knowledge or skill through instruction or study. Too, we have ceded much of the how’s of learning to schools and universities, to which most of us now turn our attention as quarantine restrictions ease and the government contemplates a return to face-to-face classes.

But how well do these institutions guard and guide an essential life process so lined with desire and so critical to shaping a nation’s growth? And what role does the law play in ensuring they do so positively and productively?

Our Supreme Court has acknowledged an “eruption of militancy in the academic groves” in recent past generations such that students have “demanded and plucked for themselves… their own rights under the rubric of ‘right to education.’” (Ateneo de Manila University v. Hon. Capulong, G.R. 99327, 27 May 1993) However, in the same breath, the Supreme Court maintained that this right is accompanied by a concomitant duty “to learn under the rules laid down by the school.”

This is so, for our laws safeguard every academic institution’s academic freedom. Our fundamental law itself states that academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning (Article XIV, Section 5(2), 1987 Philippine Constitution). While, however, guaranteeing the same, the Constitution has not defined academic freedom, leaving it to the courts to provide its metes and bounds. Philippine case law has been content to adopt the concurring opinion of United States Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in the case of Sweezy v. New Hampshire (354 U.S. 234) to consist of four essential freedoms: (1) who may teach, (2) what may be taught, (3) how it shall be taught, and (4) who may be admitted to study.

In Garcia v. Loyola School of Theology (G.R. L-40779, 28 November 1975), the Supreme Court dichotomized academic freedom as enjoyed by a faculty member, vis-à-vis academic freedom as enjoyed by the institution of higher learning itself. As enjoyed by the faculty member, it is “more often identified with 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.”

As enjoyed by an institution of higher learning, this means freedom “from outside coercion or interference save possibly when the overriding public welfare calls for some restraint.” For institutions, this necessarily means that they are accorded a wide latitude to determine what atmosphere is most conducive to speculation, experiment and creation.

(To be continued)

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