On my comments about USEP

(I will only approve comments to this post that have original and unraised points. Comments with points I’ve already addressed in this post or elsewhere will be ignored. Please try to be productive in contributing to the discussion, read before you comment. More to spare those commenting from embarrassment than for any other reason, I will not approve comments with faulty grammar. )

I recently caused a stir on Facebook with my comments regarding the University of Southeastern Philippines, one of the universities in Davao city. USEP made it to QS’s list of the world’s best Universities for the second time this year, one of only five Philippine Universities and the only one outside Metro Manila. Sharing the article relating this on Facebook, I described the inclusion of USEP as ridiculous, described its graduates as terrible, its facilities as deplorable, and summed up the university as a “bukot-bukot school” (“bukot-bukot” is an untranslatable word which could be roughly equated to “shabby”).

Unsurprisingly, I have received a wave of negative feedback for these comments, which for some reason or other reached the USEP students. One student or alumnus after another private messaged me mocking insults and implications of my insecurity or envy. People had even begun following me on Facebook just to misconstrue my posts to mock me. At the absolute worst, my hometown was derided and my mother insulted.

Having been educated and raised properly, I dealt with each and every message sent to me with civility, with politeness and in good faith. I explained to these students and alumni my point: that it was unfair for them for their university to receive this recognition while they suffered deplorable conditions in, and that it was unfair to the schools that give adequate service that weren’t recognized. Their replies have not always been equally civil: some continued to give their school a bad name with profanity and mindless mockery, while others insisted on my own insecurity and moral delinquency.

But a large majority of these people who began with downright rudeness, upon my polite response, changed instead to curiosity about my motivations before ending up giving me well meaning admonitions for using too offensive words. That these individuals have shifted their attention to my vulgarity to the point at hand is the triumph of my remarks.

And on that note let me clarify why I expressed my call for change in such offensive terms. Over five years of polemics have taught me that at times the best way to get people to listen to you is to slap them in the face. Sometimes an intelligent but polite expression of critique will fall to deaf ears, a harsh, exaggeratedly rude expression will catch more attention. That is exactly why “Sottocopy” had to be coined before Miguel Syjuco’s articulate critique of the senator’s plagiarism caught the wider public’s attention. Political correctness just doesn’t have the sensationalism needed to call attention to an issue.

Had I simply said “USEP needs to improve its teaching and its facilities before it can say it deserves this recognition,” only a handful of intellectual readers who would readily agree would reach it. By bluntly calling USEP a “bukot-bukot school,” I get to draw attention on the school’s insufficiencies from those who would not mind it otherwise.

I doubt I would receive too many messages, and therefore called attention to the matter, had I been polite with my critique.

All the people reacting to my rudeness however have failed to realize that my statement was not merely my own idiosyncratic opinion: it is the opinion of many in Davao. I was not the first to use “bukot-bukot” as an adjective for USEP, I just heard it used by someone else. Graduates of USEP also do not enjoy the highest esteem in Davao, to say it kindly. Whether one argues that my opinion was offensive or not, the fact of the matter is it is not my opinion alone, USEP has to deal with their image. What these backlashers are doing is merely waging war against the messenger and ignoring the implications of the message. The Mongols would have acted with more civility.

The backlash has also invariably criticized my affiliations, particularly my alma mater (Ateneo de Davao) and my current school (Silliman). Not only is this altogether beside the point of USEP’s foregrounded inadequacies, it seems to assume I put forward these schools as possible contenders for the list. While I love these schools deeply, I know their weaknesses, and I am not surprised they did not make it into the list (though Silliman’s output in Marine Biological research makes it a strong contender). I instead think MSU-IIT, with its impressive anthropological and ethnographic research, or the University of San Carlos in Cebu with its Cebuano Studies Center would be viable choices. USEP has had outstanding accomplishments of its own, no doubt (its Lumad school ought to be an international standard I say), but is this enough to disregard all the other schools of similar merit and, most importantly, of better facilities? “Iba ang ninging sa liwanag,” to quote Emilio Jacinto. USEP has hardly made it into any other university rankings, and while the other schools I cited are noted around the country consistently, USEP has only received National attention in a few occasions. I daresay, even USEP students don’t seem to know why they made it into the QS list.

The more civilized messages asked about my motivations for my remarks. I will preempt speculations and disclose that I applied for a part-time teaching post in USEP and have been turned down. But I have been turned down in other schools, including my alma mater Ateneo de Davao, and my estimation of them has not in the least decreased (the Philippine Women’s College of Davao is still an innovative leader in the arts, and it has a lovely campus). This case’s effect on my opinion is on why I was turned down: USEP would rather hire its own less qualified graduates over those from elsewhere. Not only does this promote academic inbreeding, it is downright patronage, and any school that practices this is far from deserving to be recognized internationally.

But this is not my only motivation. I am a loyal Atenista, and to avoid academic inbreeding Ateneo de Davao hires many USEP graduates into its faculty. I fear that the quality of education in my alma mater will be compromised by the hiring of bad USEP graduates. Additionally, USEP is calling attention to Davao Education in general, and I am concerned at the image this will project to the global attention, USEP’s appearance will affect the world’s perception of our city. Finally, I have several friends in USEP, and my opinion largely stems from their own complaints, and it is concern for them that motivates me to speak out.

And on this note let me mention that I have been quite surprised at the support I got from USEP students themselves. One student candidly calls USEP “a bad school, a waste of money to enroll in,” while another tells me “I learned all that I needed to know only when I transferred to UM” (the University of Mindanao, another school in Davao). I have had to calm these reactions down and call on them to show concern for their alma mater (readers close to me will know I treat glurge as demagoguery), and I have not always been successful at doing so. These reactions only show that I may possibly be on to something about the school.

I am not saying that USEP only produces bad graduates. On the contrary, it has like all schools outstanding products, and I am acquainted with many of them. I am saying instead that USEP’s conditions are such that it is not conducive for the production of consistently good graduates: these good graduates are invariably good in their own rights. The quality of a school ought not to be measured by outstanding individual products, but by the general excellence of all its products. “You need good facilities to excel” might sound materialistic, but it is a remarkably inclusive truth that gives as many students the opportunity to excel without suffering as possible, and I say that USEP needs to improve, among others, its facilities.

USEP, I reiterate, is a bukot-bukot school. But it need not remain that way. Where improvement can be made it must be made, and to the best effect achievable. I am not convinced that low budget is reason enough for substandard quality. I am personally aware, thanks to my mother’s prodigious management of the house, how a tight budget, with imagination and creativity, can still make a building look not only respectably but admirably clean and attractive. If USEP, with its little budget, can improve, I am more than willing to hail it and take back what I said.

Some of the feedback I received is in apology for the expected rudeness of the USEP community’s backlash, feedback that invariably shows that nobility still lies in that school. This good will, however, has not been universal, and I admit that even friends have proven to be unsupportive in such a trying time. It is for the latter reason, really, that I deactivated my Facebook account, to give me time to reassess my relationships. I will continue to accept feedback with civility and politeness via my email address (Lefthandednake@yahoo.com).

I am, have always been, and will continue to be the Left-handed snake. Get used to it, it might do you good.