MAY ONE TRAGEDY LEAD TO MANY POSITIVE CHANGES IN THE UNIVERSITY
The untimely death of Kristel Tejada has led to much soul-searching among the University constituencies. We in the CSWCD condole with the family and friends of Kristel, whose decision to take her own life was triggered by a sense of despair and hopelessness. Her death could perhaps have been avoided if the STFAP had been implemented more effectively and compassionately, with her parents revealing the fact that they had expected to be in Bracket E but were instead categorized under Bracket D which imposed a heavier and unaffordable financial burden on them. Inability to pay in effect resulted in exclusion, with Kristel being disallowed to continue her studies and thereby pursue her dream of lifting herself and her family out of poverty.
Kristel was forced to go on a leave of absence on the last day of filing an LOA (Leave of Absence) because of her inability to pay. This policy which authorizes University authorities to drop/purge/remove from the rolls students who have outstanding balances and are therefore not credited for the academic work they have done is harsh. This policy should be rescinded. Instead, the student should be allowed to complete the semester and his/her grades may be withheld until their accounts with the university are settled.
The CSWCD has always stood for justice and compassion. We are alarmed by the fact that the University has become more and more inaccessible to the poor. The best and brightest of our youth who come from disadvantaged families no longer are able to enter the portals of a national university whose fees have increased substantially but whose operations are paid for by the taxes coming from the pockets of the Filipino people, majority of whom belong to the working poor. This, to us, is a form of social exclusion and injustice.
It is with this concern that a CSWCD research team conducted a study on the STFAP, tracing the reasons behind exclusion and inclusion errors, and recommending some positive changes to respond to these. Among these recommendations are increasing the budget for STFAP and improving its implementation mechanisms. These recommendations have caught the attention of the UP President himself and we trust that they will be implemented.
Over and above these, however, STFAP itself needs to be re-examined if it is indeed the best way to democratize admissions to the University. There could be a better program or policy. Some of the questions which we and University authorities can ask ourselves in this re-examination process are the following: Why are we requiring rich students to subsidize poor students if UP is a public university and entry is on the basis of academic excellence? How much is the university earning from student tuition and other fees? Cannot the government allocate that amount in the annual budget of UP? And should not a big chunk of UP’s budget increase for 2013 (which was a product of two years of major systemwide mobilization against budget cuts and higher state subsidy) go to programs benefiting students, especially those most in need?
A democratic admissions program or policy cannot just stand alone; it has to be complemented by measures to encourage students to work in order to support themselves and at the same time uphold the dignity of labor. Raising the remuneration of student and graduate assistants to realistic and competitive rates could be one step in this direction. Providing free or subsidized dormitory housing for underprivileged students could be another direction.
Still, this process of soul searching and direction setting needs to be anchored on participatory mechanisms, whereby students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, and administrators, can be engaged in a democratic dialogue to create positive changes together.
Only then can we regain our pride in being a part of a University of the people. Only then can we vindicate one tragic, avoidable death which will continue to haunt our collective conscience if it does not result in measures to prevent such an incident from recurring.