Open Letter to CPU President Robles from Concerned Alumnus
We picked up from The Good Old Days at CPU Facebook Page the letter that Dr. Lester Edwin J. Ruiz wrote to CPU President Teodoro Robles.
Please read the full text of the letter below:
June 9, 2014
Dear President Robles,
I trust this email to you, only my third in the past five or six years, finds you well and in good health.
Allow me to comment directly on the brief exchange between Ms. St. Denis and yourself regarding the CPU “chicken project” in Leon. I thought myself that Ms. St. Denis’ question on Facebook was pretty clear, she seemed to be asking about the transparency that a university—any university that is genuinely concerned about all its constituencies—should exercise towards its constituencies, including its alumni/ae. Many of us are familiar with the university’s obligation to be accountable to the Philippine government. Some of us work with national and international donor agencies, as well as government-recognized accrediting agencies. So we know that a certain kind of accountability is required in order to receive project funding.
But, the question, Mr. President, is less about accountability to government, and much more about the transparency and accountability towards alumni/ae—and to the internal constituencies of the university (i.e., faculty, administration, students). I believe we deserve the courtesy of a substantive response.
I myself welcome your invitation to seek the truth. Your offer to make the university’s internal records available to anyone who is seeking the truth is encouraging. Your invitation to alumni/ae to visit and to see for themselves what is going on is re-assuring. Where documentary evidence is concerned, we all know that alumni/ae for the longest time have already asked for these records, not only with regard to the “chicken” project, but also in other areas of university life, for example, student scholarships, infrastructure projects, and others. Sadly, none to my knowledge have been forthcoming. This is an old refrain that sometimes sounds like a broken record. But, you know as well as I that this constant request for information is part of the structure and process of transparency, accountability, and good governance. What I have seen thus far have been largely public relations reports: what I call “narrative evidence” (or “stories” from administration). The question, however, is about “documentary evidence,” maybe even “statutory evidence,” that describes the structure, process, and criteria by which the university undertakes, implements, and demonstrates its conformity not only to the legal requirements of government, but also the desirable expectations of good governance, including what mechanisms of independent accounting, audit, budget, and control are used and their results.
If the only reports we as alumni/ae deserve are the ones the university has released thus far, then so be it. But please, do not invite us to seek the truth, and not provide us with what is needed to arrive at that truth, including the free exchange of information and ideas, the right and obligation to ask difficult questions—without censure or insult, and the unqualified welcome of alumni/ae who request such information (some even visit CPU and you).
Facebook, for me, is not, in the first instance, a source of data or information. It is a “weather station” that indicates how the (social, political, institutional) winds are blowing, reflecting the sentiments of part of the university’s constituencies. I may or may not believe what I read on Facebook. But I take seriously what it reflects, namely, a deep concern by some alumni/ae regarding the way the university is being run. I work with 270 seminaries, divinity schools, and graduate schools of theology in the US and Canada; and probably tens of hundreds more in other parts of the world. So, I have a little bit of understanding of the challenges universities face with regard to its constituencies. In fact, whether you believe it or not, I can appreciate the challenges you face, including the frustration that comes with what feels is endless, unwarranted, even uninformed, criticism. At the same time, Mr. President, these alumni/ae are only exercising their care and concern for their Alma Mater. I believe they deserve a much deeper and broader response than what I have seen thus far.
I myself wrote you several emails in the past few years but never got a response from you. Maybe, these emails did not reach you; or maybe, you chose to ignore them. I really don’t know. And frankly speaking, there is a sense in which it does not matter if you respond or not. Truth be told, I don’t hold it against you; nor did I expect a response. But the other alumni/ae, such as those on FB are expecting their questions to be addressed directly and explicitly by you or by your duly appointed representatives. And while you may think that you have done that, the fact that they have kept asking—in all kinds of fora, including Facebook—means, their questions have yet to be fully answered. This probably means, your alumni/ae office needs to review how effective it is engaging its constituencies.
So why do I write now, and why publicly? There are several reasons. First, because I hope that should you wish to respond, as you did in the case of Ms. St. Denis, you would do so publicly. Second, because I am one of those who has been asking the university for transparency and accountability—not just from the office of the president, but from the entire university; and not just in the case of the “chicken” project, or the Nelson Diesto suspension, or student scholarships, but in all areas of the university’s life and work. More important, this insistence on transparency and accountability is not just for their own sake, but for the sake of institutional vitality and educational effectiveness. The mission of CPU demands a commitment to quality assurance and improvement, or in my language, to transformation: the “creation of the fundamentally new that is also fundamentally better.” And in this, all constituencies have a part to play, and therefore, need to be in the conversation.
Mine is not a new concern; it has been a longstanding one. And it feels that there has been uneven movement in the area of transparency, accountability and transformation in relation to alumni/ae. Let me be very clear, Mr. President. I am not blaming or accusing you for not doing your job. A university president’s performance review is the proper venue and obligation of the Board of Trustees—not of alumni/ae on Facebook. What I am saying, however, is that these important exchanges, even criticism, is part of our “life together” as Centralians, as members of civil society, and as sisters and brothers in the commonwealth of God—and in these public spaces, the winds are blowing, and they will continue to blow, perhaps even harder, until they are met with candor and compassion, understanding and grace—which is part of the exercise of true leadership and Christian discipleship.
Thank you for your service to CPU. I hope for better days.
Lester Edwin J. Ruiz, PhD
HS Class 1971
2012-2013 Visiting Associate Professor
College of Theology
Central Philippine University