Setting Out on a New Journey
It is an honor to take the helm at Far Eastern University. The vision of Nicanor Reyes Sr. of an academic institution that is not cast in an elitist mold but offers quality higher education to the masses is as relevant as ever and remains FEU’s clarion calling. It was also prescient by more than a half century, making it all the more inspiring. (To be technical about it, one may use the new institutional economics theory of development of the Nobel laureate Douglass North (2009) to contend that making quality higher education accessible to all Filipinos is a sine qua non for transforming the internal logic of the country’s social order from an insularly oligarchic to an open, broad-based, and inclusive orientation. In other words, only with this transformation will the Philippines be able to join the ranks of the two dozen or so rich economies of the world.)
Thankfully, I am embarking on this FEU odyssey with a robust ship. President Lydia Echauz’s ten-year tenure was marked by impressive and sweeping changes: a continuous and systematic upgrading of buildings and physical facilities, a calculated expansion of campuses, steady increases in enrolments, improving standards (as indicated by FEU Manila’s attainment of level 3 accreditation status and as measured by the graduates’ performance in professional licensure exams), and rising national and international prominence.
These gains notwithstanding, new challenges loom. As expressed by the Board of Trustees, foremost among these is to scale the ladder of excellence, for FEU to become a top-tier university. Obviously, this can only be a long-term goal. Nonetheless, engagement will mean a long and comprehensive series of initiatives, such as formulating and adopting more selective student-admission policies, retooling the curriculum extensively (to transform students into life-long learners and to provide graduates with competitive edges in skills to be more employable than their peers from other schools), and allocating resources and restructuring incentives to push faculty to improve their academic credentials, boost the quantity and quality of their research outputs, and develop into pioneers in their fields and highly respected public intellectuals.
For FEU to successfully navigate the high seas of this new aspiration, it will need to use its scarce resources selectively and efficiently—for instance, by choosing disciplines and faculty that will give the highest returns (in terms of the attainment of the objectives) per peso of training investment, by adopting and adapting technologies and methods that make teaching more effective and learning more efficient, and by forging linkages with universities from which it can learn about best practices and emerging trends.
Equally important, the University will need the buy-in of its stakeholders. The faculty must commit to improving their academic credentials and to delivering teaching and research at standards that are consistent with international norms. The students must rise to the challenges of acquiring skills and attaining learning outcomes that are comparable to those of their peers in the advanced nations. Not least, the alumni must help by giving feedback on their industry experience and advice on how the curriculum and courses can be made more relevant and better aligned with industry needs.
The journey will not be easy. Rather,(switching to a more apt metaphysical metaphor) it will likely be closer to the following quote from Aeschylus’s Agamemnon:
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our despair, against our will, comes Wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
But if FEU succeeds in transforming itself, all the pain and sacrifice of its stakeholders will have been worth it. So as Peter Pan tells Wendy and as Captain Kirk orders Commander Chekhov at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the course heading is, “Second star to the right, and straight on til morning.”