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The Unapologetic Scholar In Search of a Writing Space
May 19, 2011 - 8:30pm

“I am going on a writing break” reads the opening statement of my letter to the University Chancellor explaining why I am going to the US Pacific Northwest for four weeks in May. If one considers that temperature rises to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit with 90% humidity during the Philippine summer, surely escape to a temperate country if one can afford it is a reasonable option. Being married to an American, my annual sojourns to the US are regular events my reneging-fellow paranoid University officials are used to. I “disappear” during April-May and resurface in time for the beginning of classes. But having been designated as Division chair last year, my claim to a summer vacation is now subject to approval and rigorous inspection. In deciding to become an administrator, it appears I have also inadvertently signed up to relinquish any scholarly pursuit.

Being in the government’s employment, I need to get permission from my University boss to leave the country. A “travel authority” is one document I never treat lightly, having been barred once by Philippine custom officials for not having it en route to attend a meeting in Bangkok. Alas, I can’t just teleport myself into and out of my office. Worse, for newbie administrators like myself, I have to make a strong case for temporarily abandoning my post as it was assumed one is literally chained to her administrative job. Before I even wrote that letter, I had to consult with our human resources chief about the possibility of leaving, with her proclaiming that I have only earned 4.5 days (!) of paid vacation credits thus far and 15 days of teacher’s leave. I had to find an officer-in-charge, leave detailed instructions to the staff and promise to remain connected (via the internet) to take care of recruitment and student enrollment concerns wherever I am. It is NOT a vacation, I am constantly reminded but a necessary “spatial distancing” so that I can do scholarly stuff, which frankly I need no longer be concerned with since I am now an administrator (so the logic goes).

“I take my writing seriously” I added in my letter. I had to make the point because I feel that it is an under-appreciated activity in my University and even more so for administrators. It is neither financially rewarding nor is seen as a measure of success, not surprising for a faculty body that is so productive research-wise, but whose publication record is a mere blip compared to our counterparts in UP Diliman. For instance, my Division is one of the most prolific units in terms of research project involvement, but only four (out of 36) have ever published in an ISI journal and only a handful in established domestic journals other than the one published by our University. Writing for many is done under duress-- to complete a report, to comply with the requirement for tenure-- but rarely as an act of creativity. I am no snob-- I celebrate and publicize my faculty members who take time to connect with their public through their writing, like my Economics colleague who’s set a record for conference paper presentations on his work on valuation, or my Political Science colleague’s short but erudite commentaries on everyday-cultural politics in his Facebook account, or another colleague who recently published a book of poems.

“I can’t write in the Philippines,” I hastened to add. Writing does not come naturally to me. To write a journal article for submission, I need 4-8 uninterrupted hours in a quiet environment to write a 3-5 page draft. I can’t write in a hot, humid setting nor surrounded by blaring stereo music from neighbors and a wailing baby. I can’t squeeze in writing as it were on regular days where I also have to teach, administer faculty members, and manage my home. I can only do it on weekends or on long breaks. I have a set writing rhythm interspersed by caloric replenishment every 2-3 hours. My husband knows when to physically disappear; quit sending me messages on iChat; never to comment on or touch the pile of papers and books strewn on our bed when I am in my writing zone.

I am writing this piece on our cottage rental at Port Townsend overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the distant Vancouver Island. I got my approved paid leave and travel authority. No small victory to an academic administrator who’s also trying very hard to retain her academic core.

The Visayas, the 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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