Address to the College Faculty Assembly

*Author’s Note:  First delivered at the College Faculty Assembly of 4 June 2018, variations of this address were also given to assemblies of our basic education units and the university staff.  It was last presented at the Ateneo de Naga University Board of Trustees Meeting, 18 August 2018.

Our Ateneo de Naga Mission:  Commitment, Continuity, Conversation
Address to the College Faculty Assembly
Fr. Roberto EN Rivera, SJ
4 June 2018

I  Introduction:  Foundational Education, Education for Life

Our esteemed administrators, our distinguished faculty, my beloved colleagues and friends, Dios marhay na aga sa indo gabos.  It is my distinct honor and privilege to address you this morning on this college faculty assembly, at the beginning of this new school year.  It is with a small bit of trepidation that I face you today, for my very first opening of the schoolyear address to the faculty, but I do so with great excitement and gratitude as well.

When I made this same address to our friends and colleagues in the basic education units just last week, I had suggested to them that never in the history of our school, or in the history of Philippine education for that matter, has the term “basic education” seemed so diminutive, so belittling.  The word “basic,” after all, refers to something simple, the minimum of what is required. I had explained to our basic ed faculty that with all the dramatic changes that have happened in basic education, with the sweeping implementation of K-12 and the many requirements thrown our way by the Department of Education, but also with the great support given by government to make basic education more accessible, basic education is perhaps more properly called “foundational education.”  It is not just basic, but foundational: the foundation for the learning of our youth, the foundation for their future, the foundation for the country.

I would like to follow this line of thinking from basic education to higher education.  With the recent developments in higher education, the term “higher education” itself has also become somewhat inappropriate.  The word “higher” implies something beyond the reach of some, something to be attained with a bit of exertion, something for the privileged.   But with the landmark legislation on free matriculation for state universities and colleges, and with the complete overhaul of academic curricula in all our courses that has followed the K-12 reform, it is not too far-fetched to speak of higher education using the more all-encompassing term “education for life.”  Building on the firm bedrock of foundational education, education for life prepares our youth for life itself, a life of productivity, a life of security, a life of meaning.

Regardless of all the changes that have been wrought by the government in education—and it is no exaggeration to describe these changes as tectonic shifts or tidal waves altering the landscape of Philippine education—I believe that we who are in the business of Jesuit or Ignatian education have always seen ourselves as establishing firm foundations, as educating for life.   Foundational education and life education have always been at the heart of what we wish to accomplish in Ignatian education, teaching our students to be firmly rooted on the foundation of Gospel values, to prepare for lives to be faithfully spent in finding and serving God in all things.

Foundational education and education for life are entirely consistent with what Fr. Pedro Arrupe said more than forty years ago when he described the purpose of education in these unforgettable words:  

“Today our prime educational objective must be to form men-and-women-for-others; men and women who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ—for the God-man who lived and died for all the world; men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce.”

Foundational education: an education founded on God and his Christ.  Education for life: an education preparing men and women to live not for themselves, but for others.  

II Fulfilling the Mission that is Ateneo de Naga

This reminder of our mission, of what we are here for and what we are all about is timely, because even as we look kindly on the tectonic shifts and the tidal waves brought upon us by the education reforms, these reforms have also brought upon us, as you very well know, its fair share of trials and tribulations.  The K-12 implementation has left a yawning gap in our enrollment, and these lean or empty years are now located in what should have been the full ranks of second and third year college. Our college enrollment has also taken an additional, significant hit because of the free tuition act for state universities and colleges.  While we have managed the decrease in enrollment quite well because of sound financial management and austerity measures, the fact remains that we have to deal with the limitations that come with financial constraints. Many of you have probably not recovered yet from the long and arduous process of curricular revisions imposed by the Commission on Higher Education.  Some of you have been asked and will be asked to help out a bit with senior high school while we wait for enrollment rates to normalize: I realize this has been quite a struggle for some, and for this I am truly, truly grateful. The reconfiguration of courses we have taught for decades means we will be facing significant challenges in the way we will administer our course offerings.

In other words, my dear colleagues, we are probably entering this school year with a lot more questions than answers.  We begin this academic year with not a small bit of trepidation, wondering about the sufficiency of class loads and the efficacy of our planned courses.

As we pause at the cusp of the beginning of this school year, burdened by all these doubts and anxieties, we look back to the past for inspiration.  Tomorrow we celebrate our foundation day. Almost 78 years ago, Archbishop Pedro Santos asked the Jesuits to begin a school here in Naga, to establish the Ateneo at a time that makes the trials we face today seem insignificant.  The winds of war were swirling in the Pacific, and the conflagration of the Second World War would soon consume the Philippines. The Ateneo itself ground to a halt during the Japanese occupation. Our campus would be turned into a prison camp by the Japanese, where unspeakable atrocities would be committed.  But from the ashes of the Pacific War and its ravages here in Bicol rose the Ateneo de Naga as we know it today.

Crisis and opportunity.  Dark clouds and silver linings.  Worst of times, best of times. We all know these metaphors.  To which we might add, true to our Ignatian tradition, consolation and desolation.

For in these times of challenges we are inspired to hold on to hope and move forward. In times of desolation we are called to recall consolations past and trust in faith that the Lord will make His will for us known.  It is in this spirit of hope that I would like to speak to you this morning about our vision for the Ateneo de Naga, a vision which I spoke of in broad, general terms during our University day service awards, when I shared with you about three themes: continuity, conversation, commitment.  Let me revisit these themes today, in reverse order, to further build and craft with you this vision of where we want Ateneo de Naga to go from 2020 and beyond. Commitment, conversation, continuity.

A. Commitment to Our Common Mission

The first, commitment.  This is at the heart of what we want Ateneo de Naga to be.  It is a commitment that reaches out to our students, to you our teachers, and to the mission that we call Ateneo de Naga.

Committing to Our Students. For our students, we commit ourselves to doing what Jesuit education has always done best.  We commit ourselves, in the midst of change, in the midst of the shifting currents of times and places, to the task of conveying to our students the unchanging, timeless message of a loving God who nurtures them and calls them to serve his Kingdom.  Many of you have been involved in the arduous task of curriculum revision. It may seem like a thankless chore, but I believe it is an opportunity for us to build yet again, amidst the changed landscape of Philippine education, the towering edifice of Jesuit education.  If we build it, they will come. The curriculum revision was not just an exercise an exercise in conformity, it was an opportunity also to highlight the distinguishing marks of Jesuit education, including the Jesuit core of theology, philosophy, and the liberal arts. Let us resolve to brandish these marks well, to teach as we always have with a passion for excellence.

On the part of the students, we hope to attract them not just with our committed, passionate teaching, but with a commitment as well to make access to an Ateneo education more realistic.  The state universities and colleges challenge us by their vigorous offer of universal access to higher education. And even as our scholarship opportunities cover a healthy 27% of our student populace, in the spirit of magis, the more, there is certainly much more to be done to make the funding for our scholarship opportunities more sustainable.  One of the first stakeholders I encountered when I first arrived here was our alumni, in their grand annual reunion last December.  And since then I have constantly challenged them: if we can spend exorbitant sums of money for the biggest free party in the city, surely they can partner with us more than they are doing right now to increase our scholarship base.  We commit to mobilizing our alumni and other collaborators, and to building up development programs for those who long for an Ateneo education.

Hand in hand with our impassioned teaching and our resolve to greater access to Jesuit schooling is the commitment to inflame in our students a burning love for justice.  We have been privileged to witness the Bicol region serving as a cradle for revolutionaries, patriots, nationalists, and exemplars of governance. Our region and our students have always been at the forefront of the struggle for faith and justice; witness, as the latest example, the hashtag #DefendDemocracy.  If in the halls of our school our students were to find fertile ground by which to nurture their aspirations of service to God and country, we would have responded well to Fr. Arrupe’s call to form men and women for others.

Committing to Our Faculty.  Our commitment stretches forth from our students, to you our teachers.  For this Jesuit education that we commit to make more accessible especially to the poor, this education that we commit toward greater excellence and greater selflessness, will be wielded ultimately by you.

And so we commit further.  In these times of dire financial straits for our, we shall not hesitate to invest on the prime movers of our school, our faculty.  The government has done its part to make CHED scholarships and opportunities available for faculty development. We respond by committing to further such opportunities for our faculty, to maximize the available resources and yes, take a risk in sending out more of you for graduate studies.  I think many of you have heard the somewhat inappropriate joke: in the academe, we start by working to get our BS degrees, BS standing for bull s—, then you work for your MS, which is more of the same, and finally obtain your PhD, piled higher and deeper! Well, let us coopt that somewhat cumbersome joke and say, if K-12 has made some of our educational offerings fallow, this is not the time to lie idle.  It is time to fertilize, to make soil fertile for the planting. Your generosity in persevering in the Jesuit education mission, in the face of other lucrative opportunities is not unnoticed. We strive to do our best to make sure that perseverance is supported by opportunities for faculty development.

Together with this commitment to our teachers’ academic development are unstinting efforts to further research opportunities for our faculty.  Ateneo de Naga has well distinguished itself as a teaching institution. During these fallow years it is time to plant the seeds that will make Ateneo de Naga a premier research institution as well.  It is truly consoling and inspiring to see many of you venturing out into the conference and presentation circuit, braving the research project and publication trail. We commit ourselves to supporting and nurturing such efforts.  We are laying the groundwork for a University research office and to enhancing opportunities for research.

And from among the ranks of our competent, research oriented faculty we commit as well to lay leadership.  In the other Ateneos the conversation has begun in earnest, of a future where only several Jesuits will be in our Universities.  There is already talk of possible lay presidents in our schools. We entertain this talk not with desperation or resignation, but with great anticipation.  For if lay people are the bulwark of Jesuit education, it is only fitting that leadership in education comes from you as well. Thus we commit ourselves to developing such leadership, and overhauling the mentality that leadership is but for a qualified few.  We will look for people who will go against the grain, who are willing to challenge the pervading culture, and yes, who are willing to rise up from trials and mistakes. We commit to an overhaul of our leadership development programs, going out on a limb to identify and develop leadership at its earliest stages.

In all these ways, we commit to our students, we commit to our teachers.  We do so at a time when it will be tempting to simply ride out the storm, to “grin and bear it,” as they say.  But if we courageously commit to our students through teaching, educational access, and justice formation, if we continue to invest in the academic, research, and leadership potentials of our faculty, then this time will not simply a time of surviving crisis.  We will have prepared well for the future of the Ateneo as it moves towards its first century of existence.

Committing to our Shared Vision.  Committing thus to our students and teachers, our commitment to the Ateneo as an institution becomes clear.  We peer into the future knowing in confidence that things will be better. In two years we will begin getting the full complement of our students.  The students that have swelled the ranks of our basic education units, including those whom some of you have taught in senior high, will be filling our college classrooms.  Soon we will also get a fair share of the government’s largesse with the Tertiary Education Subsidy embedded in the free college tuition act, for which implementing rules are being drafted.  Most importantly, if we do not shirk from committing to our students and teachers, then we can truly dream big and commit to the Ateneo’s future.

Allow me to hazard a vision for this commitment to the future.  Moving beyond 2020, to 100 years of Bicol Jesuit education in 2040, we dream of Ateneo de Naga as a premiere international research University.  We set our sights to an Ateneo de Naga, nestled in Bicol and its confluence of rich historical, cultural, and scientific influences, contributing through teaching and research to pushing the frontiers of knowledge and service not only for our region and country, but also for ASEAN, for the wider expanse of Asia and the world. 

B. Conversation as Community

This vision will be fulfilled through commitment.  But it will need to be accompanied by our second important theme, conversation.  If we are in the business not just of higher education but education for life, if we wish our education for life to make an influence from our students and teachers to Asia and the world, we do so in constant conversation.  It is a conversation that allows us to be rooted on the ground while reaching out for God. Let me explain.

Conversation with God.  We can commit all we want and set the loftiest vision for our school, but commitment and vision begin with conversation with God.  And in our Ignatian tradition, that conversation is couched in the language of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It is truly a joy to see that Ignatian spirituality is alive and well on our campus, with a healthy percentage of our faculty and staff attending retreats, including retreats in daily life.  Let us sustain that conversation with God and disseminate it to others who may not be part of it. Let us together reach out for and converse with God.

Conversations on the Ateneo Vocation.  We converse with one another, for even as we reach out to God and for our vision for 2040, we must be rooted on the ground.  Let us discuss with one another the common realities and trials, but also our hopes and aspirations. I have begun discussing with many of you and I hope to converse with even more about these things.  We have talked about how private education, at least for now, cannot stand toe to toe with government opportunities in terms of remuneration. Our compensation package, especially in early career, cannot match up with what the state has to offer.  But let us also converse about the ways by which a career, and indeed, a vocation in Ateneo de Naga can be a more viable, career long option. I look forward to conversation on how the Ateneo can offer something more. The promise of a community and a spirituality that sustains the self and the soul.  The possibilities for personal academic advancement. Let us converse about how we can improve benefits that we can hopefully prosper: Ateneo education opportunities for your children, the housing programs that have begun in earnest, a review of the thirty year cap of service to the Ateneo that has many of our young and mid-career faculty worried.  While there may limitations to how immediately the concerns brought up can be remedied, we keep the conversation alive as a first step towards making Ateneo de Naga a sustainable and desirable career and vocation of choice for our faculty.

Conversing Leadership.  We carry on this conversation with a personal commitment on my part to be a conversing leader.  The doors of my office are open, and as many of you know, my policy has been that if I am not otherwise preoccupied with conversing with someone else or engaged in a meeting, you can drop in, even unannounced to speak.  I have done my best to meet you in your places of work, to see you in action. I have begun instituting regular hours in our Pacol campus, to ensure that our friends there will not feel marginalized by the “imperial main campus.”  I stand before you now with a vow to sustain this conversation.

C. Continuity

Our commitment to our students and teachers, and to the future Ateneo of 2040, our conversations that will allow us to keep this dream alive and rooted on the ground while reaching for God, all these are done with deep gratitude and respect for what our forebears have bestowed upon us. And so we undertake our mission with a strong sense of our third and final theme, continuity.

Continuing the Gains of Corplan 2020.  I have taken over the Presidency at a time when Corplan 2020 has been set in full motion.  In the spirit of continuity, we will continue to engage Corplan 2020. We hope to revisit the Key Result Areas with both gratitude and honesty.  We will make the necessary organizational adjustments that will help facilitate the attainment of these KRAs. We will also correct where necessary, recognizing that while institutionalization is a value, it is not the end of everything.  If institutionalization can be beneficial, so can delegation and subsidiarity. Corplan 2020 will be our stepping stone towards our planning for the next decade, and as we set our sights to 2040—our University’s centennial—and beyond.

Continuing Care for our Physical Patrimony.  In the spirit of continuity, we will continue to take care of our physical patrimony, our campus and our buildings.  We will give a premium to campus planning. We will streamline irregularities in the construction and planning process, for our physical spaces and structures are an enduring sign of the continuity of our Ateneo de Naga heritage and tradition.  Following this direction, I have appointed an Assistant to the President for Campus Planning and Development, who will directly advise me on these matters and who will also head a reconstituted Committee for Campus Planning and Development. We will nurture the legacy of our campuses, as the home and heritage of all who have passed through the school’s halls and carry Ateneo de Naga in their hearts.

Continuing Preservation of Culture, History, Memory.  Finally, we shall strive to promote continuity in terms of memory, preserving culture and heritage.  The recently finished 75 book publication project of Ateneo de Naga Printing press is a testament to this.  Our ongoing efforts to combat historical revisionism will also be sustained. We shall be true to the wider legacy of Bicol in which we partake, as nesting ground for revolutionaries, patriots, nationalists, and exemplars of governance.  We shall preserve their memory as an inspiration for the heroes of the future. In this light, we will reexamine plans to create appropriate heritage spaces within our campus, safeguarding culture, history, and memory for future generations of Ateneans.

III  Conclusion:  Gratitude and Prayers

Commitment to the future.  Conversation for mission. Continuity and preservation.  These are the hallmarks of how we face the challenges of the present, and peer out into the future, towards Ateneo de Naga 2040 as a premiere international research university.

This address has been long and much has already been said.  In the end, this day is all about you, the faculty! So in behalf of my fellow Jesuits and a grateful University community, let me end with a sincere word of thanks to all of you, for your commitment to our Jesuit mission, for our conversations that strengthen the ties that bind, for the continuity we preserve as we march together towards our shared future.

As we begin schoolyear 2018-2019, let us yet again dedicate all our efforts ad majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God.  Let us ask for the intercession of our Blessed Mother, our Ina as we journey together all through this year.

Again, a blessed morning to all.  Dios mabalos!