Friday, February 22, 2019

Abellanosa: Doctoring lawyers

Fringes and frontiers

THE resolution of the Legal Education Board (LEB) no. 2019-406 has triggered most academics and lawyers to lay down their aces on the table or shall we say “pull their guns out.” FYI, the said resolution sets a “graduate level” equivalency to the basic law degree, i.e. either Bachelor of Laws (Ll.B.) or Juris Doctor (J.D.). A related internal controversy among lawyers and “law people” erupted earlier when last year, the LEB issued a memo officially declaring J.D. as the “universal basic law course” thereby considering those who were granted Ll.B. equivalent to those who obtained or will still obtain their J.D.

In specific terms, the resolution 2019-406 provides that the J.D. is equivalent to a doctorate in other non-law academic disciplines for the purposes of “appointment/promotion, ranking, and compensation.” What does this mean? Well, LEB has not yet given us its official interpretation but we may take it to ordinarily mean that a person who obtained a law degree is like other doctorate degree holders, say a State University professor who has a Ph.D. in Economics, or a DepEd superintendent who has a doctorate in Education (Ed.D.). The way I see it, LEB is obviously asserting that a law degree is “not inferior” but rather of the same level as a doctorate degree.

This interpretation of LEB’s position is best supported by no less than the very arguments of the resolution: (1) total duration of studying law is normally four years, while MA and Ph.D. are normally 2 and 4 years respectively, and (2) a basic law degree has 152 to 168 units while MA and Ph.D. combined have 100 units more or less. The LEB adds that while thesis or dissertation is generally not a requirement for the acquisition of a basic law degree nevertheless its “curricular requirement” is “more than that” of doctoral studies.

Apparently, the basis of LEB’s resolution is not only too technical but also bland. If only this matter is a topic for a debate in a Junior High School English subject, LEB’s line of reasoning would be acceptable. It would be expected therefore for the Commission on Higher Education to immediately react with a “serious concern” to the decision of the LEB. It appears that the board has not factored in other pertinent documents nor are they discerning within the context of the so many realities of the country’s changing educational landscape.

But there’s more. Perhaps it is best to test the logic of LEB’s resolution by raising a few questions. Perhaps we can try the following: if we consider the basic law degree as equivalent to doctorate degree, how about those who possess the degree but are bar flunkers (more so those who flunked the bar exam two times or even more)? Is there logic, wisdom, or more so honor in calling them doctor? Another, if the argument for the equivalency is merely the length of studies or the number of units, then might as well consider those who studied Theology in the seminary for four years (which is normally a post-baccalaureate in philosophy studies) also equivalent to a doctorate degree holder. After all, there is also rigor in theological studies in the seminary.

This whole debate about titles and honors reminds me of what the Italian philosopher Umberto Eco says: “there are people whose intellectual capital comes from the name they sign their ideas with.”

The increase in the number of people with doctorates does not necessarily mean that this country is getting more advanced or better than the others. So long as the ideas of many Filipinos particularly academics and professionals are raw, poorly articulated, and mediocre, we will continue to stay in where we are. We will only appear ignorant and stupid signing documents and Facebook posts with whatever prefix or suffix we attach to our names. This country needs more critical, creative, innovative, and emancipatory thinking for it to step up in the global scale. Sadly, Filipinos are very good in competing with each other only to end up obliterating the whole nation from within.

A title is supposed to only “indicate” ones real capabilities and skills. It should not be an infallible indelible mark of privilege or synthetic prestige.


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