AGAIN, no student charter this year.

Since the initial draft of the Students’ Code came out in 2004, the tedious process of review and ratification has led to repeated delays.

Today, the situation is no better—no one seems to have any idea what has happened to erstwhile Magna Carta of Students’ Rights.

With drafts being reviewed by various offices each time a new University rector takes over, student leaders have become familiar with the process. Central Student Council (CSC) Vice President Raymond Angelo Gonzales said the code must first undergo the scrutiny of administrative offices of the University beginning with the Academic Senate, which is composed of deans from different faculties and colleges.

“After the [Academic Senate] gives its recommendations, we need to revise it before submitting it to the Council of Regents,” he said.

The code must also go through the Student Welfare and Development Board (SWDB) and the UST Faculty Union (USTFU), Gonzales said.

When the draft is finished, the Rector is supposed to sign it. The code will then be presented to the student body in a plebiscite.

In a previous interview with the Varsitarian, Rector Fr. Herminio Dagohoy, O.P. said he was optimistic UST would soon have a code of students’ rights.

Most deans declined to comment on the progress of the code, while Civil Law, Architecture, and Accountancy deans Nilo Divina, John Fernandez, and Minerva Cruz, respectively, admitted they haven’t heard anything recently regarding it.

The Varsitarian also sought comments from USTFU and SWDB but the two offices did not have much to say on the Students’ Code. Rene Tadle, USTFU internal vice president, said he has yet to read the proposed code. SWDB Director Antonio Chua said he had no idea what happened to it.

Lack of political will

Xialeemar Valdeavilla, 2004 CSC president and a pioneer of the Students’ Code, said there could be a lack of “political will” on the part of the administration.

“The UST administration doesn’t [give] importance to this code, I guess,” she told the Varsitarian in an interview.

Chua, however, said it was only natural for the ratification process to take time because aside from the student body, the faculty is also covered by the charter.

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He cited Article 2, Section 10 of the code, which leaves to students at least 50 percent of faculty ratings “in determining whether a faculty member is competent.”

“It cannot be simply changed just like that,” Chua said. “Those percentages were negotiated by the [Faculty] Union.”

The charter must also be “in sync” with USTFU’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which he said, could also be why the code has undergone many revisions.

“The University cannot answer for the demands of the students, because that is something that they have to negotiate with the Faculty Union,” Chua said, adding that faculty members, deans, and ad-hoc committees also needed to take part in the deliberation over the Students’ Code.

But Central Board of Students (CBS) Speaker Julius Romel Fernandez, who is also the Faculty of Arts and Letters (Artlets) Student Council president, said the Students’ Code should trump the CBA.

“In this set-up, the passage of this code will give the students a binding document to protect them and to preserve their interests,” Fernandez said.

Student representation

Student participation in the University’s policy-making bodies was one of the key provisions in the initial draft of the Students’ Code.

Under Article 5, Section 2 of the original draft, the CSC president and the central board speaker will represent students in the Board of Trustees, the highest policy-making body of UST. The provision was later dropped.

In the latest version, Article 5, Section 2 states that the CSC executive board will represent the student body in all policy-making bodies recognized by the administration, faculty, non-teaching personnel, and students.

UST is trailing behind other top universities when it comes to student representation.

In De La Salle University, students are represented in the “trisectoral council” (which includes the administration and faculty), the student disciplinary board, the president’s council of representatives, as well as the committees on budget, security, financial assistance and personnel services, and information systems management.

Likewise, students from Ateneo de Manila are represented in various offices. Student representatives are present in the school council and the committees on standards, curriculum, discipline, budget, and agenda-setting.

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Recently, the University of the Philippines-Diliman passed its Code of Student Conduct, which is awaiting the approval of the University Council before taking effect next academic year.

This year’s version of the UST Students’ Code retained provisions such as Article 2, Section 6, or the right to information about a course; Section 7, or the right against unreasonable deadline requirements; and Section 9, or the right to receive a just and reasonable grade.

Meanwhile, the code’s definition of academic freedom, provided in Article 1, Section 4, or “the independence of an academic institution to determine for itself who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall teach, and who may be admitted to study,” contradicts provisions such as Article 2, Section 4, wherein “students shall have the right to hear and invite off-campus speakers of their choice.”

Vague vision and mission

Gonzales said some of the provisions of the code remained controversial. He cited Article 2, Section 1 of the latest version, which states that “a married pregnant student shall not be denied enrollment and/or scholarship. However, she may be asked to take a leave of absence if her condition shall prejudice her academic studies, her health, as well as the life of the unborn.

The existing rule under “Special Item: In Case of Pregnancy out of Wedlock,” in the students’ handbook states that a pregnant student should not be allowed to enroll.

Eight years in the making

Together with the Political Science Forum of Artlets, Valdeavilla spearheaded the drafting of a rights charter in 2004, the first in the history of UST.

Formerly known as the “Magna Carta of Student Rights,” its name was changed to the UST Students’ Code in 2007 upon the request of the Academic Senate, Council of Regents, and the UST Board of Trustees who thought the term “magna carta” was too extreme.

In 2006, the CSC and CBS finalized the draft of the code during the term of former rector Fr. Ernesto Arceo, O.P.

Arceo was ready to sign the Students’ Code but deliberations were disrupted when he resigned following a dispute over a P3-billion project to expand UST Hospital. Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, O.P. succeeded him as rector.

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Due to the sudden change in the University’s leadership, 2008 CSC president Angelo Cachero was forced to go back to square one with the Students’ Code.

The following year, CSC president Jeanne Luz Castillo submitted the charter to de la Rosa for final approval.

The code, however, seemed to have been forgotten in the year that followed. Then CSC president Leandro Santos II said in a previous Varsitarian report that the administration probably did not prioritize the Students’ Code “due to the Quadricentennial festivities.”

After several amendments, the CSC obtained the approval of the SWDB in 2010, Gonzales said.

Fernandez noted that last year’s CSC president, Lorraine Taguiam, and CBS Speaker Lester Lomeda came close to clinching de la Rosa’s approval.

“Unfortunately, he did not sign the code, saying his term was about to end, and he saw that it would be more befitting for the next Rector to sign the code,” Fernandez said.

Student apathy

Meanwhile, Gonzales blamed the charter’s slow pace on students’ apathy. “The challenge [before] was to prove to de la Rosa that the Students’ Code was necessary,” he said.

But Gonzales said getting even a portion of the 45,000-strong population to participate actively would be difficult. “The CSC and CBS need to ensure that students are aware of what a Students’ Code is and how it will benefit them,” Gonzales said.

Faculty of Civil Law student council president Mark Arthur Catabona echoed Gonzales, saying they were planning to launch an “awareness week.”

“The students can see the issues at hand but they do not understand,” he said, adding that conflicts between the Rector’s and the CBS’ schedules did not accommodate a courtesy call and a chance to talk to the Rector about the measure.

For Valdeavilla, the only way for the Students’ Code to be ratified is by pressuring the administration by means of a student rally.

“It will just be redundant, a waste of effort until a different approach is done,” she said.

The Varsitarian tried to seek comments from CSC President Rubi Anne Dauan, but she has yet to reply. Kristelle Ann A. Batchelor and Andre Arnold T. Santiago

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