Legacy: Commemorating 100 Years of Liberal Arts at De La Salle University

Dean’s Message | 16 November 2019

Br Ray Suplido FSC, President; Br Bernie Oca FSC, Chancellor; Dr Robert Roleda, Vice Chancellor for Academics; Deans and other fellow administrators; Former deans of CLA: Dr. Wilfrido Villacorta, Dr. Tish Bautista, Dr. Telly Gruenberg, Dr. Asa Marco, Dr. Antonio Contreras, Dr. Jun Bombongan, and Dr. Julio Teehankee; Prof Emmanuel Leyco, President of the CLA Alumni Association; Distinguished Alumni of the various programs at CLA; Members of the CLA Board of Advisers; Officers of PUSO; CLA faculty and staff; dear students, guests and friends, ladies and gentlemen.

Magandang umaga po.

This event marks the conclusion of a yearlong celebration of 100 years of liberal arts at De La Salle University. We kicked off with an evening program and dinner on November 9 last year and the yearlong celebration took the form of many events in teaching and learning, research, and social engagement activities of the various departments and centers at the College of Liberal Arts–from book launches and poetry readings to community visits, seminars, workshops, international conferences, and many more. During the year, I counted at least seven international conferences co-organized with local and international collaborators. Our faculty have continued their productivity in research and publications and a clear proof of this is our recent entry in the Times Higher Education subject rankings for social sciences—hooray! although I understand there is a data lag in the rankings by two years, which means there is even much greater chances that we will keep our place in the rankings. Our faculty have also received prizes and awards in prestigious competitions like the Palanca and the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino and prizes conferred by the National Academy of Science and Technology – Outstanding Book Award and Outstanding Young Scientist Award. And our students have demonstrated that they are a cut above the rest – in the board examinations for Psychologists and Psychometricians, in the Model UN competitions, or even in the search for who will speak on behalf of the graduating students at our commencement programs. And this is definitely not only about skill or the art of self-presentation. It is definitely about the Lasallian heart of faith, zeal of service, and communion in mission.

Thank you to all of you who labored to make all these happen, with a special mention of the working committee headed by Dr. Florina Orillos-Juan, chair of the History Department, who worked in tandem with Assistant Dean Allen Surla and our staff at the CLA. Thanks again to Ms. Chiqui Escareal Go, former president of the CLA alumni association, for last year’s prompt for the celebration, and to Professor Leyco, the current CLA alumni president, for his support. And certainly not the last, thanks to Br Ray and Br Bernie who allowed and supported our efforts, including the display of our celebratory banners on the beautiful façade of St. La Salle Hall.

I would like to repeat some few parts of my talk last year, which you probably do not remember anyway, or did not hear. I feel it is but fitting to say them again so that I can then conclude or wrap up, hopefully with something that can stay in our mind for further reflection.

‘So, what is the fuss about? What does 100 years mean? A whole century of liberal arts at De La Salle! Why should we celebrate? A certain awe grips us just at the thought of a century — for or in which we have become a part, for or in which we have contributed to something that is bigger than ourselves. What does a century mean? Duration. Endurance. Perseverance. Fortitude. Triumph over adversity. Fidelity. All of these come to mind. Though 100 years is paltry when thought against the billions of years of the universe, it still makes us feel we have touched eternity, bolstering our courage to face the uncertain times to come, strengthening our resolve to defy death.

I am perhaps attempting to be poetic, but this is the only way to face the harsh truth of our times – the truth that the liberal arts are seen to be on the brink of death, that we are facing obsolescence, as the denigrators of the humanities say. And there are indeed many indicators that our demise is imminent if not already here. Don’t let me start enumerating our pains – from the insensitive moniker used for liberal arts courses as ‘floating’ subjects to the way global metrics and funding for teaching and research and valuation systems for the contribution to knowledge production favor the STEM programs. But on the 100th year of liberal arts at DLSU, perhaps this is neither here nor there, because 100 years are a testament to the power of an idea – the idea of liberal arts education.

A liberal arts advocate, W.R. Connor, refers to the liberal arts as the ‘skills of freedom’. What does it mean both conceptually and operationally? What implications are possible for curriculum, for teaching and learning, for research? How can it translate to outcomes that impact not only the university but its publics or the communities it serves? How can the liberal arts transform our world, the classic utopian aim of the liberal arts? How do we go beyond a dominantly instrumental argument for the liberal arts? Should the value of liberal arts be in terms of ‘benefits’ – the ‘benefit of creativity and well-rounded perspective that comes from a liberal arts education’? Benefit for what? Benefit for whom? Liberal arts at De La Salle aims for higher, perhaps impossible things to realize at least in our time. As it should doAS WE SHOULD DO, even at the risk of being contrary or difficult. For instance, a proper liberal arts education, in my view, in counterpoint to the fast times, should enable slow and think thinking about hard questions and ‘sticky’ situations – such as the continuing poverty of the 99%, the widening gap between rich and poor, the challenge of building and sustaining democratic institutions and practices in the here and now of the Philippines.’

There has been no significant change from last year to this year. The inflation rate is down to .8 percent, I learned from Dean Tess Tiongco, but also in yesterday’s Kamalayan forum on the rice tarrification law, held here at DLSU, the farmer who spoke said they do not see that improving their quality of life. Indeed, in many ways, things have even worsened, evidenced by the red tagging and sedition lists of this government and the recent arrests of people identified with critical groups. 

Having said that, I am reminded that I have in fact been doing research on reenactments and commemorations and one of the recent targets of repression has been Escalante in Negros Occidental, on which I have published and done talks. Some of the community artists rehearsing for the reenactment of the Escalante massacre were arrested on the eve of the commemoration last September. And the Negros arrests have continued in October and November. An ethical question that continues to haunt me, therefore, is ‘how shall I act?’ in the face of repression being suffered by my subjects of research. For the liberal arts at DLSU, we can ask the same question, for our time now and for the future, especially in light of our desire to have ‘impact’, to make what we do in the university matter and count and contribute to our nation and world.

Our gathering today is a commemoration and with it we seek to remember and celebrate both our victories and our failures, and face and endure all our intellectual hauntings, so that we can keep going towards the future—although I do speak only for myself in terms of the ghosts we grapple with in our work as intellectuals. 

We commemorate to tell stories. We commemorate to honor the past and learn from it. We commemorate to understand how we were before and have a sense of where we want to go. We commemorate to re-create and re-animate our world, our work, our joys, perhaps even our griefs so we can mourn and let go. But this is not really about the future, because the future will surely come, with or without us. It is about the present. Our present at CLA and the bonds of our relations and our caring for each other. And today we have with us all these wonderful people who will be perpetually present with us, perhaps in the sense of the multiple, syncopated time that the scholar Rebecca Schneider talks about—different times, of the alumni, of the former deans and faculty, and ours, that suddenly now become one shared, non-repeatable, time. This is a shared time we can treasure, once in a hundred years, but one we can recreate in our hearts, in our minds, a hundred times, a thousand times, or more, in the days to come.

Thank you all. Enjoy the rest of the day. Mabuhay, CLA! Animo La Salle!

Published by Jazmin Llana

Hello, I am Jazmin Llana. I work in higher education in the Philippines with arts and humanities as my subject area. Here you can find links to my published essays and current projects.

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