Published 6 June 2022, The Daily Tribune

The well-adopted formulation of academic freedom points to the rule that admission to an institution of higher learning — and staying thereat — is a privilege on the part of a student rather than a right.

Indeed, in the previously cited case of Garcia v. Loyola School of Theology, the Supreme Court categorically declared that private schools have the right to establish reasonable rules and regulations for the admission, discipline and promotion of students.

The Supreme Court has since gone on to postulate that the optimum impact of learning is best realized where the freedom is “exercised judiciously and does not degenerate into unbridled license.” (supra., Ateneo de Manila University v. Hon. Capulong)

While giving such a latitude to institutions of higher learning has led to life-altering consequences for students, namely, suspension and expulsion upon violation of school-mandated codes of conduct, the Supreme Court has not looked back.

In the fairly recent case of (Pimentel v. Legal Education Board, as represented by its Chairperson, Hon. Emerson B. Aquende, G.R. 230642, 10 September 2019), the Supreme Court elucidated that academic freedom embraces discretion in the areas of admission, dismissal, and conferring of academic recognition, of and upon students.

The only seeming limitations upon academic freedom are those set by the student’s constitutional rights. Thus, in Villar v. Technological Institute of the Philippines (G.R. L-69198, 17 April 1985), the Court held:

The academic freedom enjoyed by “institutions of higher learning” includes the right to set academic standards to determine under what circumstances failing grades suffice for the expulsion of students. Once it has done so, however, that standard should be followed meticulously. It cannot be utilized to discriminate against those students who exercise their constitutional rights to peaceable assembly and free speech. If it does so, then there is a legitimate grievance by the students thus prejudiced, their right to the equal protection clause being disregarded.

Further, it has been ruled that in cases where discipline is enforced, punishment must be commensurate with the offense (Malabanan v. Ramento, G.R. L-62270, 21 May 1984) and that every student has the right to due process (Guzman v. National University, G.R. L-68288, 11 July 1986).

Knowing the above, it is my hope that students reading would go about the endeavor of learning, cherishing it for the prized privilege that it is.

Similarly, educational institutions should not abuse the exercise of academic freedom. There is always a middle ground to balance the prerogatives of educational institutions and the right of the students. It should not be difficult to find, given their shared objective.

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