The Line in the Sand

Consultancies, research and ethics among academics in public universities.

September 25, 2013

Two news items created a shock wave amongst our faculty in the past month: (1) two former high ranking University officials were meted with prison sentences for fiscal irregularities involving them being paid for a project which they themselves have approved; (2) two Political Science professors, seconded as board members of a state bank, were dismissed  after the Ombudsman found them guilty of participating in a fraudulent loan approval for a former Philippine President’s crony. These cases illustrate the thin line of accountability that permeates the way some academics in the Philippines have been drawn to lucrative consultancies and government endorsements.


I do not think that these are cases of personal moral failings. Rather, I see them as the result of the University’s failure to regulate the terms by which a faculty member may accept “paid” work outside of our job, which is funded by state taxes. Because our state university pays less than the leading private universities in Manila, it has been an accepted practice to allow the faculty to “moonlight” in different ways. These practices have been found to adversely affect faculty performance as many “skip out” from their classes and renege on academic responsibilities. Equally distressing: many engage in research but never publish; accept consultancies but never produce anything but reports for the funding agency. In other words, our faculty are raking in money from outside with no institutional gain for our University; a very lopsided arrangement as nothing is added to our University’s publication metrics.


Below are some mechanisms set up to draw the line with respect to outside engagements by the faculty, and own critique:


1. The Limited Practice of Profession (LPP)


A faculty member wanting to consult or do a project outside is required to file an LPP application on a yearly basis.  The form does not require for these outside individual engagements to be declared (who is engaging you? for how long? is this paid?). It is more like a “legal blanket” meant to avoid the prying eyes of the Ombudsman, but offers no means of establishing accountability. Even the required annual LPP “report”  does not merit transparency. As a former Division Chair tasked to “approve” these LPP applications and renewals, I find the whole procedure shady and disconcerting.


2. Credits for Promotion


One reform initiated under the current administration was to give promotion points only to projects for which an ISI or peer-reviewed publication was made. This strengthens the university’s institutional interests and brings scholarship back, front and center into consultancy practices, not the money. While promising, I still am skeptical about whether these rules will dissuade those who are already in the consultancy loop to shape up. I rather like De La Salle University’s practice that all consultancies and research projects be institutionally-registered (i.e. subject to approval), rather than simply giving the faculty the option to seek out things independently, sans institutional vetting.

3. Putting Value to the University’s “official time”


On paper, every faculty member is supposed to render 40 hours of service a week to include actual teaching, student consultation as well as institution building activities (committee work, meetings, seminars, socials, etc.). It is now required for the faculty to request for travel authority (including official time) for any kind of engagement outside of one’s post during the period for which you are expected to be around (only exception is summer vacation). The requirement does not prevent the faculty from being out in the middle of the semester; it only provides a mechanism for oversight and making sure class make-up arrangements are made. I find this more lax (hence open to abuse) compared to the standard in Western Universities where you can only do field research during the summer (or a built-in term specifically for research/writing  as what they do at the US Naval Post Graduate School). In public Australian universities, part of the research budget is payment for the official time of the faculty-- in other words, these external funding agencies have to “buy” from the University the time so that their faculty may be engaged in work outside their post.

On the whole, I find that strides have been made to draw the ethical line in the way we as employees of a state-funded tertiary institution behave, but much is still left to be done. Every day as a researcher, I struggle not to cross that ethical line-- openly declaring my outside engagements, painstakingly doing make up classes for every one I miss, carefully arranging my field work during semester breaks and holidays, and actively helping to build our institution and publish.    

Iloilo, Philippines

Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus



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