UST IS set to terminate the services of full-time and tenured faculty members who would fail to earn a master’s degree by the end of the academic year.

School officials set the deadline in compliance with Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Memorandum No. 46, requiring such faculty members to have at least a master’s degree by this year so the university could keep its autonomous status.

Autonomy means independence from regular monitoring and evaluation by CHEd, freedom to set academic calendars, and the privilege to revise its curriculum and to establish branches or satellite campuses, among others.

Another CHEd memo, the Manual of Regulation for Private Education of 2008 (Morphe), prevents college teachers from earning tenure unless they are MA degree-holders. But under the UST’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with its faculty for 2006 to 2011, faculty members are given tenure after teaching for five semesters.

Section 35 of Morphe requires a master’s degree as a minimum requirement to teach in the tertiary level.

In a decision last January 2013, the Supreme Court affirmed CHEd's authority to require an MA degree as a requirement to earn tenure, ruling in favor of the University of the East-Manila, which had dismissed two non-tenured professors without master’s degrees.

“The government has a right to ensure that only qualified persons, in possession of sufficient academic knowledge and teaching skills, are allowed to teach in such institutions,” the high court said in the decision.

But it was not clear how the ruling would affect college teachers with no MA degrees but are already tenured.

The Labor Code states that “in cases of regular employment, the employer shall not terminate the services of an employee except for a just [or authorized] cause…”

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Lawyer Jose Ngo, Jr., a UST Faculty Union (USTFU) board member, argued that a master’s degree was not required for the grant of tenure before Morphe took effect.

“They cannot remove tenured faculty members without a master’s degree because it is against the law,” he said in an interview, citing the Labor Code.

Basic legal principles dictate that a statute (such as the Labor Code) holds greater weight than an administrative regulation.

“The problem, according to UST officials, is [that the lack of MA holders] would be bad for accreditation, therefore these faculty members, which are already tenured, should still be required to get an MA,” Ngo said.

UST began requiring a master’s degree for tenureship in 2003. Seven years later, it asked non-tenured faculty members without such degrees to sign a waiver renouncing their right to tenure after five semesters.

That same year, three College of Fine Arts and Design professors were dismissed for refusing to sign the waiver.

Data from the Office of Faculty Evaluation and Development (OFED) showed that 1,085 out of 1,400 faculty members already have master’s degrees as of Academic Year (AY) 2012-2013.

The Faculty of Engineering has the highest number of faculty members with master’s degrees at 128, followed by the College of Nursing at 93, and the Faculty of Arts and Letters at 78.

OFED, however, was not able to provide the total number of faculty members without master’s degrees and those who had signed up for early retirement for this current school year.

Veterans to be replaced

Critics of the CHEd memo fear a scenario wherein a veteran professor, who is tenured but holds no master’s degree, would have to yield to a younger but inexperienced teacher, who happened to have a post-graduate degree.

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For veteran journalist Nestor Cuartero, experience is the best teacher.

“In the field of journalism and mass media, which are very practical disciplines, [teaching journalism] requires a more practical approach,” said Cuartero who has been teaching journalism in UST for 19 years without a master’s degree.

“We earn our ‘master’s degree’ in a different manner, in our experience and in our years of service and the time we have devoted to work in the profession.”

He said he feared to see the day when younger professionals with master’s degrees would replace veteran practitioners.

Last year, UST’s Journalism program was declared a Center of Development by CHEd, partly because of its improved faculty profile based on the percentage of teachers with graduate degrees.

‘Master’s degree important’

While admitting that experience was indeed important in almost all fields of expertise, Graduate School Dean Marilu Madrunio said a teacher could not bank on experience alone.

“If a traditional teacher does not upgrade his professional preparation, one day he will be left by no less than the students he is teaching,” she said in an email to the Varsitarian.

Having a master’s degree broadens a teacher’s perspective and equips him with high research skills, Madrunio added.

“A master’s degree on the back of a good writer makes him more competitive, more enduring in the face of unexpected challenges around the profession and more adaptable in linking the profession with other fields,” she said.

Transfer to senior high school

As a solution, UST can hire teachers without master’s degrees in office work or as high school teachers.

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USTFU expressed its concern over how the implementation of the K to 12 would prejudice college professors teaching general subjects last year. In a meeting-conference with USTFU last July 20, 2013, Alan Macaraya, director of DOLE-NCR, said around 90,000 college professors all over the country would be without teaching load by 2016.

Under CMO no. 20 series of 2013, several subjects in the college level would be transferred to the senior high school level as part of the K to 12 scheme.

To address the massive layoff, the DOLE proposed to employ the “deloaded” professors as senior high school teachers.

“The University has the option to give tenured professors without master’s degrees administrative work or hire them as teachers under the K to 12 program,” labor lawyer Samson Alcantara told the Varsitarian.

Leeway given

Ahead of the implementation of the CHEd rule, the University offered a reprieve to faculty members without master’s degrees.

Under the Special Reprieve program, the Graduate School allowed faculty members to finish their master’s degrees for a two-year period, and readmitted inactive students without penalties.

Qualified applicants were given study leaves with pay equivalent to a full-time teaching load, to finish their theses.

Last year, UST started the voluntary retirement program (VRP) for tenured faculty members who no longer wish to pursue a master’s degree.

The VRP granted 120 percent of basic monthly salary per year of service to faculty members below 63 years old and who have rendered 10 years of creditable service period. Jelina Anne S. Bunagan, Michael Carlo C. Rodolfo and Andre Arnold T. Santiago

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