UST pilloried, defended online over Corona Ph.D

By David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Jan 02 2012 06:32 PM | Updated as of Jan 03 2012 04:58 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Renato Corona's doctorate in civil law summa cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas is raising an online firestorm.

This, after online journalists from www.rappler.com published an article written by Marites Vitug saying Corona was given his doctorate degree despite overstaying in UST and without the required dissertation. (Disclosure: Vitug is a former editor in chief of www.ABS-CBNnews.com)

In a Philippine Daily Inquirer report, UST denied it broke the rules to favor Corona. It said the Chief Justice passed all his subjects and delivered a "scholarly treatise" for his dissertation in a public lecture.

The university also invoked academic freedom as an autonomous higher educational institute (HEI), and said the UST consultant for graduate law programs had requested that the dissertation requirement be waived for Corona. However, it said the UST Graduate School Faculty Council turned this down.

“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,” said UST.

“He dutifully fulfilled these in 2010. The quality and relevance of his paper, his answers to the questions raised during the public forum, and the eventual publication of his paper were all evaluated and for which he was given the necessary credits equivalent to a dissertation.

“Needless to say, since the university is an autonomous HEI, the other issues raised (his residency, the academic honor he received) are moot because these come under the institutional academic freedom of the University of Santo Tomas,” the UST said.

UST said it did not reply to Vitug's query because it was at a loss on how to respond to “online journalism.” Rappler managing editor Glenda Gloria said they have been asking UST for comment since October 2011 but received no reply.

“Does anyone claiming to be an online journalist given the same attention as one coming from the mainstream press?” the UST statement said. “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?”

'A lecture enough for Ph.D'

In a statement posted on her Facebook account, Vitug said UST failed to answer 2 key points raised in her story: Corona's lack of dissertation and that an overstaying resident is not qualified for honors.

"What UST is saying is that they can flout their own rules because they're an 'autonomous' institution. There is no quarrel with academic freedom. UST should be clear with its rules and state in what instances do they give exemptions," she said.

She added: "In the case of CJ Corona, a lecture was enough (instead of a dissertation) and the 5-year residency requirement, to qualify for honors, was disregarded. Now we know."

On Monday, social networking sites were abuzz over UST response to Vitug's story.

In her Facebook account, National Anti-Poverty Commission Assistant Secretary Lila Shahani noted: "I don't know what rock UST has been living under. If they still don't know the power and value of online journalism, I hardly know what to say. But I take even greater umbrage at their flouting of academic standards. Dissertations are very difficult (I should know -- I've been working on mine, which is meant to be 400 pages long without the bibliography, for several years now)."

She added: "You don't have to be brilliant to get a PhD, but you certainly have to have patience, stamina and intellectual rigor: ultimately, it's a character building process. If you don't want to be seen as a two-bit institution that is nothing more than a glorified diploma mill, you better make sure every human being you give a PhD to is forced to pass through the same hoops. This is not even about taking political sides. It's about upholding academic standards. Very disappointing indeed."

Ed Tadem, a professor of Asian Studies at University of the Philippines Diliman, meanwhile, said that the "treatise that Corona allegedly wrote sounds nothing more than a glorified term paper and cannot, by any stretch of the academic imagination, substitute for a dissertation."

"Those of us who labored for years researching and writing a proper dissertation in order to earn an honest to goodness Ph.D. are deeply offended and outraged by UST's short-cutting of universally accepted principles of graduate studies. [The Commission on Higher Education], if it is to be of any use, should step in and properly admonish UST for this flagrant abuse of academic freedom."

Prof. Rommel Banlaoi, senior lecturer at Miriam College, said he had "never heard of a PhD degree without a dissertation."

"But I have heard that some universities are granting PhD degree to a good research paper or published work in lieu of dissertation," he said in a Facebook thread.

Lawyer Romel Regalado Bagares said he does not know of any student in UP who was awarded a PhD with a waiver of the requirement of a dissertation.

He also noted that Corona's lack of a dissertation speaks about the integrity and credibility of UST as an academic institution for granting the degree.

"It was willing to risk its academic reputation for what? That is the question. How ironic that it did so at a time when it was marking its 400th year as an institution of higher education. I think if there is any group of people who should be most interested in the issues this controversy has raised, it is the alumni of UST, especially those who earned their PhDs the hard way. They should be the ones assiduously defending academic standards here," he said.

'UST on solid ground'

Some netizens, however, said UST was within its rights to grant the doctorate degree even without the required dissertation.

Fr. Eliseo "Jun" Mercado of Notre Dame University noted that records would show both academic and public service of UST students and alumni stand out "even above the so called scholars ng bayan."

Mercado said any university reaching accreditation 3 in grad school is an accomplishment, and that most publicly funded universities are deregulated not because of accreditation but by the powers granted by their charter.

He also said Corona earned his Ph.D by "doing the course work with excellent grades, passed the comprehensive with honors, wrote a scholarly paper, published the said paper and delivered the same in public lecture with high accolade."

"Many universities are doing this now instead of writing dissertations that simply gather moss and cobwebs in the Grad school libraries... People know that there are but very few doctoral dissertations come out of the files of many graduates schools. Published and READ PHD Dissertations are more of an exceptions than the rule!" he said.

Nini Yarte, meanwhile, said universities abroad do grant Ph.Ds without dissertation so long as the required thesis is submitted, in consideration of the candidate's extensive work/life experience.

"I was going for an online PhD program with Bedford University, and this was the first thing I asked them. They could give an exemption to dissertation so long as I submit my thesis, show proof of my work experience, and take a doctoral test. This is discussed prior to entering a PhD program in any university in the US, and even here. It also depends on what program you are entering and the relevance of your work experience to the program. It is an acknowledged fact that a person's work experience is in many cases the equivalent of a PhD," she said.

She added: "UST is on solid ground in the case of Corona. I could inquire from Harvard Kennedy School, and I am almost sure I would get the same response as Bedford University. As I said, credible universities put a premium on the work experience of doctoral candidates. Corona, I believe, has a law degree from Harvard. That plus his decades of experience in the justice system must have weighed heavily in UST's decision to grant him the Phd without dissertation and the residency." With ANC