In the hustle and grind of academic life, there are those who are contented with their tenure position and just “teach and go.” Others labor under pressure to research and publish, churning in proposals, reports and manuscripts for the elusive promotion and recognition in their discipline. A few rise above these professional or livelihood imperatives to nurture and strengthen the University’s sense of community. They are problem solvers, social capital builders and serve as an overall repository of institutional memories. Their achievements often defy standard metrics for academic performance, but bring attention to core values of what the University as a social entity exists for.
We are a university strongly rooted in the local scene. Our students come mostly from the Western Visayas region or Ilonggo-speaking enclaves in Mindanao and from predominantly poor to middle class families. A large proportion of our students receive full or partial benefits under the University’s socialized tuition and financial assistance scheme. A good number are from fishing, farming or informal sector working families who could not afford to pay for their child’s board and dorm fees on a semester basis. Our graduates supply the region’s elite workforce: bank managers, lawyers, doctors, social and business entrepreneurs, government heads and local chief executives (as well as a handful of Communist rebels). Our 68-year presence is entwined with Iloilo City’s cultural legacy- from our American colonial-era buildings, to our collection of important works by local artists, to the wealth of our local history archives and academic studies on minorities (Sulod-non, Atis) and the marginalized.
There are three people (all academics), Lisa Baliao, Gilma Tayo and the late Henry Funtecha who exemplify the importance of grounding academic work where it matters most: to our community of students, staff, alumni and the city/town folks. Lisa, a dyed-in-the-wool UP maroon from high school onwards, leads the Alumni Office which for the past 3 years has raised more money, ran more alumni events (breakfasts, lunches, dinners, film screenings, cocktails, you name it) and has singlehandedly padded the donor list for university scholarships and grants. Her latest coup was raising in a year’s time most of the US$40,000 needed for a school bus. She has an enviable memorized Rolodex of her students from the past 30 years and their whereabouts; she is a great teacher, mentor and friend to many of these students who today when personally called upon, would instantly shell out or wire a $100 donation to Lisa. She’s indefatigable and a pillar of the University’s external engagements.
Gilma organized the UP Leaders in Food Trust in 2006, which provides “discreet” meal subsidies ($25-$50 a month) and food-for-work arrangements with the cafeteria to very poor University students. Because of delays in the University-provided allowance or their salaries as work assistants, we have quite a number of students who literally can’t afford to eat 3 square meals a day or merely subsist on a diet of US$0.10 noodles or can of sardines. Gilma independently fund raised by tapping UPV alumni in the US; UPLIFT eventually assisted about 2 dozen students, half of them already graduated and one dropout. They have a longer list of potential beneficiaries (which they document through rigorous interviews with classmates) but couldn’t accommodate all given donation shortfalls. She plans on building a soup kitchen to cut down cost and crafting a student-sponsorship scheme among better placed (income-wise) faculty members.
The late Sir Henry was a genuine scholar and a public intellectual. He pioneered groundbreaking research on the city’s local history; he ran a column in a local daily; he was a mainstay in many local radio programs dealing with everything from cuisine or arts and crafts to festivals; in addition, he authored readable and popular college History textbooks. At the helm of the University’s Center for West Visayan Studies, he brought local artisans to demonstrate and sell their crafts under the Living Museum and organized heritage-centered conferences that brought together government officials, business operators and academics in one table. Under his mentor-ship, students and colleagues grew to know, love and be proud of Iloilo.
These three peoples’ careers are not summed up by their respective degrees or academic rank. Their passion and dedicated investment to community-strengthening is humbling, particularly since they received little or no monetary reward for this type of service. Theirs is a skill set which is not recognized under a system obsessed with only rewarding those who publish in peer-reviewed and ISI outlets, yet they supply the very lifeblood of the University by making available extra resources in this era of declining budgets, enabling students to finish their degrees and cementing the University’s place in the larger society. They provide an alternative template of what it means to be an academic.
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.