Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dialoguing with CHED

I have received a letter from CHED Chairman Emmanuel Angeles commenting on my article on CHED and “martial law.” (Inquirer, 12. 21). [Incidentally I have a vague recollection that the Chairman started law studies at the Ateneo about my time.] I thank him for his letter and especially for the opportunity to dialogue with him on matters of great concern for us educators. The Chairman himself has published his letter by sending copies to various education offices.

First of all Chairman Angeles clarifies that whatever power CHED exercises over accrediting associations comes from Executive Order 705-A. A portion of the EO says that accrediting associations “shall not be subjected by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) under process of institutional Quality Assurance and Monitoring and evaluation (IQUAME), provided that these accrediting agencies conform with a set of common standards formulated by a Coordinating Council (CCA), hereafter to be established by the CHED.”

Unfortunately the Chairman failed to notice that whoever formulated EO 705-A worded it very carefully. The text says that the standards would be formulated not by CHED but by the CCA consisting of representatives of private accrediting associations. The standards, in other words, would be a form of self-regulation by the accrediting associations, i.e., if they freely agree to do it. CHED would then serve merely as a conduit for the standards. Thus EO 705-A itself in effect recognizes that CHED has no authority over private accrediting associations.

I know that the DOJ, distracted perhaps by martial law concerns, released a sloppily written opinion in favor of CHED on this. [The opinion was probably drafted by CHED itself.] I have to ask the DOJ how they could create CHED powers out of nothing!

But for those who wept on my shoulder suggesting to me that CHED was imposing "martial law" on accrediting associations, Chairman Angeles has this to say: "To my knowledge, Father, CHED has not issued any governing policies, guidelines and requirements that mandate standardized fees, composition of accreditors, etc."

Two comments: First, a letter dated 14 January 2009 asks accrediting associations "to suspend upcoming accreditation activities . . . until the Coordinating Council for Accreditation (CCA) has formulated the standards and instruments for accreditation." [Rightly, accrediting associations have ignored this.] Second, the letter to me now seems to signal accrediting associations to proceed as before, but only until further orders. I say “until further orders” because the Chairman immediately adds: “Such guidelines, I hope, will be recommended to the Commission by the CCA in the near future as I requested.” What this addendum means is that the Chairman sees the CCA not as a self-regulatory body but merely as a recommendatory body with CHED or the Chairman making the final decision.

I have difficulty with this. First, EO 705-A itself implicitly recognizes that CHED has no power over accrediting associations. Second, I have not seen any law giving to CHED power over accrediting associations. It is a basic principle in law that public officers, whether individual or collegial, have only such power as are given to them by law. Not even the President can increase the power of CHED. If CHED’s power is to be increased, it has to be done by Congress.

The Chairman proceeds in his letter with some observations about the performance of accrediting associations. Let me enumerate:

1. He says: “After 52 years of accreditation, only 8.4% of our total programs in the country are accredited!”

Could it be that the fault is not in the accrediting system but in the educational system?

2. “Accreditation is expensive. . . . Some accreditors demand five-star accommodations not only for themselves but for their families as well.”

This is a serious accusation which accrediting agencies must address.

3. Transparency is indeed important in the accreditation system; a more rigorous training program for accreditors is also desired.

4. It is also important that schools properly understand the criteria, goals and objectives of program accreditation.

A penultimate remark of the Chairman says: “On the issue of ‘control by CHED’ that you raised, it is quite obvious that the situation on accreditation has deteriorated according to school heads because ‘CHED in the past did not exercise control on the accreditation process in spite of the generous subsidy provided to the accrediting agencies.’

It is unfortunate that there might be some “school heads” who supinely would surrender the power of control to CHED. The Boards over which such school heads preside must investigate such betrayal.

Finally, the Chairman says: “In the future, I would be most grateful if you could contact me for elaboration on certain matters in the jurisdiction of CHED which is [sic] of interest to you before publishing it. I am open to dialogue anytime.”

I appreciate the invitation, but, as things stand now, the matters that interest me are not my interests alone. They are of great importance especially to the entire education community.

What is urgently needed is a public hearing and airing of CHED issues. Even the Chairman’s letter to me already contains rich material for public discussion. Private dialogues about matters of public concern can have the unwelcome result of burying important issues under dimmed memory or under a false cloak of executive privilege. Hence they should not be relegated to the level merely of matter for friendly private dialogue.

P.S. I have received a letter from CHED about collegiality but space limitations do not allow me to comment on it now.

11 January 2010

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