MANILA, Philippines – Invoking academic freedom, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) has acknowledged that it waived the dissertation requirement for Chief Justice Renato Corona when it granted him a PhD in 2011.
The Commission on Higher Education (Ched), through its Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program (Eteeap), allows deserving universities a degree of autonomy in deciding when to grant doctorate degrees.
According to data obtained from Ched, however, the programs under Eteeap in UST cover only undergraduate studies in engineering, nursing, music and graduate programs in music and business.
In a statement, the university noted that while it had been deputized by the Ched to implement the Eteeap, which allows it to grant PhDs to individuals "whose relevant work experience, professional achievements…are deemed equivalent to the academic requirements for such degrees," it chose not to apply this to Corona.
The Chief Justice's doctorate wasn't part of Eteeap, UST said. The university said Corona was asked to submit a "scholarly treatise" in the form of a public lecture that was later published in a university journal, Ad Veritatem.
What the university failed to say is that civil law, the doctorate of Corona, is not covered by the Ched-authorized degrees that UST is allowed to grant under Eteeap, based on a list provided to us by Ched last Dec 6, 2011. UST, in effect, acknowledged that the university bent its rules for Corona.
In 2003, under Eteeap, UST granted a doctorate degree to businessman Lucio Tan. Three years later, in 2006, the university again awarded Tan a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, but this was also under the Eteaap program.
UST invoked "academic freedom" as an autonomous higher educational institute (HEI), a status granted by the Ched.
UST finally issued its statement over the controversy to the Inquirer on Monday, Jan 2, 2012, but not to Rappler, which broke the story on Dec 22, 2011 and had repeatedly asked UST to comment starting in October 2011.
The Inquirer had asked permission to publish the story last Jan 1, 2012 in its print edition. Responding to Inquirer, UST said Corona enrolled in all the required subjects for a PhD degree in civil law, took the entrance exams for it, attended classes, but was not asked to submit the final requirement, a dissertation.
Rappler's exclusive, written by Rappler's editor at large Marites Dañguilan-Vitug, raised two key points:
1.) That Corona did not submit a dissertation to complete his PhD, a requirement set by the university for all wishing to have their doctorate degrees. What we discovered is a public lecture that the Chief Justice delivered at the UST Graduate School in November 2010. Corona graduated in April 2011. (Read copy below)
In its reply to the Inquirer, UST said that instead of a full dissertation, the world's largest Catholic university "imposed on the Chief Justice an equivalent requirement," which is a "scholarly treatise" that was delivered in public and eventually published.
The university said that the UST consultant for graduate law programs had requested that the dissertation requirement be waived for Corona, but the UST Graduate School Faculty Council proposed a compromise. "It imposed on the Chief Justice an equivalent requirement to write a scholarly treatise on any subject related to his field, to be delivered in public and eventually published."
It's not a dissertation.
The Chief Justice attended classes, the statement claimed; the Rappler story never said he didn't attend classes. In fact, it cited a Newsbreak interview with him in 2002, after he was appointed to the Supreme Court, when he said as early as then that he was already working on his dissertation for his doctorate in civil law. "I am doing my dissertation already. By next semester, I will present it…After my doctorate in civil law, I plan to take a PhD in history…by March 2003."
At the time he was working on his dissertation, Corona was chief of staff of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. We wrote that he attended classes since he said in the same interview: "My classmates in UST are very young. They would ask: why are you still studying? You're already in the Cabinet. (I would reply) it's because of my drive for academic excellent."
2.) That Corona overstayed, since UST requires that PhD programs be completed in five years. Maximum residency is seven years. If Corona started coursework on his PhD in 2000 or 2001, based on a previous interview with him, it took a decade for him to finish his doctorate.
On this issue, UST invoked "academic freedom" as an autonomous higher educational institute (HEI). "Needless to say, since the university is an autonomous HEI, the other issues (his residency, the academic honor he received) are moot because these come under the institutional academic freedom of the University of Santo Tomas," the university told the Inquirer.
UST conferred top honors on Corona, summa cum laude, when he graduated in a special ceremony last April. He was one of six graduates to garner top honors during ceremonies intended to commemorate the university's quadricentennial.
This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the Chief Justice's academic record. The book, Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court, written by Ms Vitug, found his claim that he graduated with honors from his Bachelor of Arts degree at the Ateneo University is not recorded in the university's archives.
What started out last July as a routine request for Corona's dissertation for another book on the Supreme Court led to this story.
UST refused to reply to any of our questions and repeated requests for interviews. We sent out first set of questions last Oct 3, 2011, followed by requests for interviews. On Dec 12, 2011, we again wrote them a letter. On that day, they asked for one more day of extension but did not get back to us after. Again before we published the story on Dec 22, 2011, we asked UST officials for a response to no avail.
"What UST is saying is that they can flout their own rules because they're an autonomous institution," Vitug said on her Facebook post. "They didn't respond to our questions because they 'don't know how to respond to online journalism."
What's online journalism?
In their statement sent to the Inquirer, UST said they chose not to reply to Ms Vitug since it was at a loss on how to respond to "online journalism."
It asked: "[Should] anyone claiming to be an online journalist given the same attention as one coming from the mainstream press? We understand that while Miss Vitug used to be a print journalist, she's part of an online magazine, Newsbreak, which has reportedly been subsumed into www.rappler.com' What's that?"
"Is that a legitimate news organization? What individuals and entities fund Newsbreak and Rappler? Do these outfits have editors? Who challenged Miss Vitug's article before it went online so as to establish its accuracy, objectivity and fairness? Why was there no prior disclosure made? What gate-keeping measures does online journalism practice?" (Meet the editorial staff of Rappler here. And read Newsbreak's announcement of its merger with Rappler here)
The statement cited Ms Vitug's supposed "run-in" with the Supreme Court, which it said may cast doubts on her objectivity. It did not elaborate.
SC associate justice Presbitero Velasco filed a libel suit against Vitug, the first sitting justice to ever do so in Philippine history. - Rappler.com