Learning for Truth (First of three parts.)

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle

June 30, 2013

UP as “the National University.” When I was president of the University of the Philippines (1987-1993) I wondered what the National Board of Education had meant when it declared in 1972 that “UP was the National University,” and why this declaration without explanation was actually unknown, ignored and forgotten. So, before my term ended I identified the paramount status and interacting roles of UP in the nation’s system of higher education that should make UP our country’s National University in law as she was in fact.

 I said then that UP was, and deserved to be recognized as, the Philippines’ National University, because among all our many universities UP alone had these capabilities: (1) UP is the university that sets standards of excellence in higher education; (2) UP is the nation’s  premier graduate university, offering the greatest number and the most varied graduate programs; (3) UP is the leading research university in terms of her investment in research and her scientific, professional and humanistic studies, publications, and creative works; (4) UP is the leading public service university in her training, extension, consultancy, and public service; and (5) because of all these roles, UP is the leading Philippine university in the Asian  region and the world.

The Revised UP Charter of 2008 (R.A. 9520) defines the vision of UP as the National University basically in terms of the paramount roles I had articulated. Beyond this—happily imbibing the transformative ethos of the University—the revised Charter calls on UP seriously to undertake the following: (1) “training and learning in leadership, responsible citizenship, and the development of democratic values, institutions and practice…”; (2) “regularly study the state of the nation…in relation…to national development…[and] formulate responsive policies…and give advice and recommendations to Congress and the President…the Supreme Court and…lower courts, and constitutional bodies”; (3) under UP’s “social responsibility”…“pursue universal principles” and relate these “to the needs of the Filipino people for social progress and transformation…”; and (4) “provide venues for student volunteerism.” 

Interpreting the UP Charter of 2008, in my Centennial Lecture at UP Diliman on September 28, 2008, I formulated the vision of UP as the National University as “Learning for Truth, Leadership, and Social Transformation.” For fun I said as I started my lecture that I felt young because I was born 20 years after UP was established in 1908.  

UP’s Role in Learning for Truth. I use “learning for truth” in two ways. One to mean UP’s primary role and responsibility as an institution of higher learning to help push the frontiers of knowledge and understanding in the physical and natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities and the arts. Independently of its immediate, practical utility, this is a primary function and an end in itself of every university and community of scholars. Allied to this is the practical function of developing technology (R&D) and the various professions.

By “learning for truth” I also mean discovering other than scientific or empirical truth as can be discerned by the human senses and by logic and experimentation. I mean especially our knowing the revealed truth in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other world religions and faiths. I also mean the truth we can discern from various ethical systems. This would include “The Global Ethic” based on all faiths and ethical systems as synthesized by the great Catholic theologian, Hans Küng, and adopted by the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1993.

In particular, as Catholics predominantly, with over two billion Christians around the world we believe Jesus Christ when he said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life….”  Our various faiths help us to understand the meaning and purpose of our life on earth and beyond, in ways that the natural and physical sciences cannot. To know what is good and beneficial to all of us humans and also as citizens.

In this regard I think UP has been too secular in not enabling faculty and students deliberately to learn more from the world’s religions. In UP many some in our faculty may have misinterpreted the constitutional separation of church and state to also mean that we should avoid learning about religion in our courses; that we should not have invocations in our programs, or religious services in our buildings. The preamble of our Constitution implores “the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish” an ideal “Government….” 

While accepting the value of secular morality, let us not go to the extreme that American liberals have banished the worship of God from their schools and public places. It is good that our government offices, including the Supreme Court, allow invocations and religious services in their premises. Not only the singing of our national anthem and reciting oaths of public service. 

Let us realize that in the formation of good students, citizens and leaders we need to learn and practice the moral and ethical ideals and norms that our religions and civic cultures can teach us. Among them are the love of God and one’s neighbor, truth, peace, equality, justice, honesty, patriotism, and not to kill. We need the humility and good sense to accept this truism because many of our families and schools might have failed to inculcate these norms and virtues to the young. And maybe our society suffers from too much individualism, materialism, consumerism, parochialism, and lawlessness.

The observed “moral bankruptcy” of some of our leaders collectively and the continuing shortcomings of our democracy and development since about the mid-1960s are partly traceable to the self-seeking, cynical divorce of our politics and governance from morality and religion. We fail to follow the example of extraordinary leaders like Ramon Magsaysay, Emmanuel Pelaez, Jose W. Diokno, Jovito R. Salonga, and Jesse Robredo whose integrity comes from the oneness of their faith and politics. All our schools and universities, UP and religious organizations must help in training many more moral and transforming leaders like them.

In learning truth as our faiths can teach us, UP as the National University can team up with Ateneo, LaSalle, Santo Tomas, Philippine Christian Colleges, Mindanao State University, and other schools. In this way we can also dispel the myth that UP is a Godless institution,” which some religious schools use to attract high school graduates and turn them away from the premier university of our country.

Cultivating wisdom. Moreover, to become good persons, citizens and leaders, cultivating wisdom must be added to acquiring knowledge and skills as an aim of learning in the University. Here I adopt Robert J. Sternberg’s definition of wisdom as “the use of one’s intelligence and experience as mediated by values toward the achievement of a common good through a balance among…” self-centered, other-directed, and altruistic interests. 

Sternberg gives the following reasons why schools should “give instruction in wisdom-related skills”: (1) “Wisdom seems a better vehicle (than knowledge) to the attainment of satisfaction or happiness.” (2) Wisdom provides a mindful … way to enter considered and deliberative values into important judgments. (3) “Wisdom represents an avenue to creating a better, more harmonious world.” (4) “Finally, students, who later become parents and leaders, are always part of a greater community and hence will benefit from learning to judge rightly, soundly, or justly on behalf of the community.” ( ANNALS, AAPS, 591, January 2004.)

At my 80th birthday celebration, in 2008, I distributed T-shirts to my guests with the caption: “If one gets wiser with age, I must be approaching magnificence!”

In our next columns I shall deal on “Learning for Leadership” and “Learning for Social Transformation.”

Comments are welcome at pepevabueva@gmail.com

Also see my blog: https://joseabueva.wordpress.com

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