There is a mad drive to do research in higher education these days—where the emphasis is on “mad” and not “drive”. Higher levels of voluntary accreditation rely heavily on research output. Vertical typology—whether an institution is a vocational or crafts institution, a professional school or a university—is determined considerably by research. And “performance based bonus,” in state universities and colleges, uses research and publication as part of its table of criteria. But the result is a deluge of unpardonably mediocre papers made to pass off as high-level research.
There is, first of all, the hard fact that in the Philippines, university professors must teach a load of subjects—and prepare for them (on the premise that they are intent at earnest teaching)—that there is neither leisure nor time for research. It would be ideal if members of a university’s professorial corps could be assigned a maximum of 9 to 12 units, leaving ample time for research and publication. But that means having to multiply the number of teachers, and that is a tough prospect both for private as well as for state higher education institutions because that has serious fiscal consequences.
Then there is the ineluctable fact that some who may be competent at impartin—teaching—may be miserable at writing. And that, of course, begs the question of whether a professor must necessarily be a competent researcher. I am fully aware that the almost spontaneous—and, to me, pretentious response—will be “of course”, but that does not seem to me to be a matter of course. Every professor must do prodigious reading if his professing is to be worth the students’ time. And every professor must possess the competence to produce lecture notes and even student hand-out—because off-the-cuff witticisms and nuggets of wisdom do not an academic lecture make! But to produce a well thought-out, methodologically sound, systematically written research paper calls for quite other skills with which, it should not be presumed, every professor is endowed.
And because no one can hope for an advance in rank without coming out with some publication of sorts, there is now a race to get Springer, SCOPUS publications and other so-called “accredited journals” to publish one’s written musings, peppered with citations from books of which the “researcher” has read one or two pages! Aside from the age-old form of prostitution that is blamed for the spread of dreadful diseases, and cyber-prostitution that, most of the time, moves from virtual sex to actual sex, the scandalous form of academic prostitution that a skewed “research culture” has spawned is for aspiring academics or academic-wannabes to offer huge sums to get their papers to print. It was the opposite not too long ago—journals and publications of repute offered in the very least token honoraria to reputable writers and publicists. Those were the days that respectable journals sought out noted and acknowledged writers. It is the shameful opposite these days: mediocre writers must pay journal publishers to publish articles that one’s own grandparents may not even care to read!
Not too long ago, I picked up a journal, intrigued by a studied that announced itself to be a “phenomenological analysis”—and it soon became apparent to me that while the author thought that “phenomenological” was titillating enough to capture the attention of readers, there was hardly anything resembling Husserl, Merleau-Ponty or any of the evolved forms of phenomenology that warrant the use of the descriptive “phenomenological”. And because there is “pressure” to research and to publish, one comes across every sort of insane correlational study. I will not be surprised if somewhere, there has been published a study that asks about the correlation, if any, between the sexual activity of a couple and the luxuriant growth of plants and shrubbery outside their bedroom window! It is even worse now some gurus at the Commission on Higher Education have decided that only the journals that they list as “accredited” will count as vehicles of research output. That, to me, is a serious transgression of academic freedom and professional autonomy. If a group of philosophy professors should band together and decide to come out with a publication of their research papers, why should they seek the approval of some authority to superintend their publication and adjudge it as “reputable”? The Journal of the Philippine Judicial Academy is not on CHED’s list—but the articles and studies that find their way to that journal are far more sophisticated and learned than the printed mutterings that find their way to the “accredited publications”. I still have on my desk a Springer publication on the first page of which are two grammatical errors that one will not find in a decent university journal that may not be CHED-accredited! Commissioner Popoy de Vera recently posted on Facebook a piece on the “disconnect” between academe and social reality—brought about largely by aimless or purposeless research—research for the sake of research points!
And that brings me to my final rant. While every university is supposed to be a university hub—particularly its graduate school—what many times happens is that the research component of the university becomes a self-contained, self-enclosed, self-propelled section that has its own aims with nary a connection to the academic aims of the institution. My point is that research should both lead to improved instruction and come about as the result of instruction. That is the reason that many of the significant archaeological finds involved PhD students doing field work. That is research that is intrinsically connected to instruction. It absolutely makes no sense for me for a university to have a flourishing research department that does not engage in a continuing conversation with its instructional corps.
I hope research in Philippine academe does not go the way of many things in this troubled and controversial land—born out of good intentions, misshapen at birth, totally deformed in its metamorphosis!