A CERTAIN university has been praised and criticized for expressing support for a certain presidential aspirant. Apparently, there is a temptation to immediately and without qualification hail such a move. But it remains important to ask whether it is "something which a university must do?"
Some would argue that a university has a "juridical personality," and as a "person" it must be allowed to also express its stand and choices by virtue of its "corporate identity and values." This argument may sound logically correct, but it actually leads to slippery paths that may cause greater injuries (on the part of the university) in the future.
A university is supposed to teach "values" that are higher than that of "political personalities." "Higher" because they are supposed to serve as norms in determining moral and ethical choices. Higher because they rest above partisan alignments that are subject to the laws of power and the fluid nature of human interests. This does not mean that a university should live outside society, rather it must be clear as to what its role in society is.
The serious task of a university is the formation of its students according to its values regardless of who sits in power. This in fact, for me, is more difficult (and thus, must be the focus of schools) because at stake are the kind of citizens that we prepare for the future who will have the responsibility of building the country through their participation and decisions in political life. It is true that the politician that we choose also reflects our value-system but we must be very careful in not sending a message that it is through a politician alone that we can make our world a better place to live in. A political figure is no substitute for the values and norms that we must cultivate, nurture, and protect. At the very least a politician (and here we mean all politicians) is a limited personification of certain interests who can be used as a "mental shortcut" in our decision-making process. In the face of political discourses that are getting less intellectual, giving in to the populist temptation is attractive. Doing so is dangerous.
So, a university can go as far as "critiquing" anyone who is in power if only to emphasize the importance of its values but never use the same in order to raise the hand of, more so explicitly endorse, a particular candidate. There is a difference if a university contributes to the formation of critical discourse and endorses a candidate. The former is within the spirit of the intellectual tradition of the academic sphere. The latter is an indication that democracy is getting cheap.
Universities (as well as basic ed schools, religions, or churches) can affirm the values of a politician that are in harmony with its teachings but never endorse him or her as “the candidate to vote.” Doing the latter would run the risk of being accountable for the endorsement should the politician "do something crazy" in the future.
December 09, 2021
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