“WAG KAYO matakot magsalita (don’t be afraid to speak out). That’s why we are trying to listen to you.”
Dean Sedfrey Candelaria gave this assurance to student leaders airing out their concerns and grievances during the fourth Jesuit Legal Education (JLE) Seminar held last March 7 to 9, 2014 at the St. Paul Center for Renewal in Alfonso, Cavite. One highlight of the annual gathering is the no holds barred dialogue conducted between the students and the administration on a wide range of topics—from academic matters to complaints on the operational aspects of the law school.
The Dean remarked that most of the concerns raised could have been addressed earlier, if only students exercised more vigilance. He reminded everyone that whatever concerns they have should be immediately reported so that it could be quickly acted upon. He likewise encouraged the students to approach him in his office anytime. “Would you rather stand up for your rights, or be quiet?” he quipped.
One of the more pressing concerns discussed was the issue of faculty performance. Associate Dean for Student Affairs Giovanni Vallente urged students to take the faculty evaluation forms seriously, as this is the primary way through which they determine if the professors are performing as expected. Students need not be afraid, since the evaluations are anonymous and they are only given to the faculty once the grades have been released. “If [the professors] are not willing to take criticism, then they have a problem,” Vallente said. The Dean stated that the administration has its own way of gathering information, but nevertheless, the students must remain honest in doing their faculty evaluations.
The problem of dealing with members of the Law School’s staff was also addressed. “Mediocrity is something we have been trying to address. But it takes a while to change the mindsets of people,” Candelaria stated. He motioned everyone to remain patient as they try to solve this concern. Concerning the impending shift in the Ateneo’s school calendar, the Dean also assured the students that they are taking steps to minimize its impact on those students who will be affected.
As he goes into the third year of his three-year term, Dean Candelaria also outlined the big plans he has in store for the school. Expected to be introduced anytime soon is the fast-tracked Masters of Law (LL.M.) program, wherein Juris Doctor (J.D.) students can obtain their master’s degree in law by just spending an additional six months in school right after taking their Bar examinations. The student can utilize his completed J.D. thesis and further improve it for his LL.M. thesis.
With the current reconstruction of the curriculum, the J.D. Program will further undergo enhancements. Acknowledging that the syllabus is the “life of the system,” the Dean wants to have uniform syllabi for similar subjects. This will ensure that students will be equipped with the necessary foundations needed for the Bar and future law practice.
An “elective tracking system” will also be introduced, allowing students to specialize on a particular field of law. Based on the school’s current offering of electives, there are already 10 tracks identified which are ready for future implementation. These are: Commercial and Business Law, Remedial Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution, Philosophy of Law and Legal Ethics, International Law, Emerging Areas of Law Practice, Intellectual Property, Human Rights, Natural Resources and Environmental Law, Political Law and Labor Law and Social Legislation. It has yet to be decided whether tracking should commence during third or fourth year.
As for improvements in infrastructure, the Dean shared the plans to renovate and expand the Bernas Center, coinciding with the upcoming construction of the fifth floor of the Ateneo Professional Schools Building. The digitization of transcripts and student records is also on the table. Next year will also see a further increase in the population of freshmen, ballooning to 325 new students. This is to anticipate the potential effects of the K-12 program in future enrollment.
In response to the concerns addressed by the Dean, newly elected Student Council President Armand Louis Dulay (3A) expressed his appreciation for the things being done by the administration. He said that the dialogue with the Dean was not just on school issues, but also involved bigger concerns. “What the Dean said is an invitation to see things differently,” said Dulay.