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Hallowed Halls. Consistent with the Ateneo Law School’s thrust of maintaining high academic standards, Dean Candelaria stressed that the previous school year’s high casualty rate was a result of “natural pruning,” and not because of “kill orders.” Photo by Mike David.

Dean clarifies the ‘kill order’ fiasco

A.Y. 2013-2014 ended with 52 students being dismissed from the Ateneo Law School (ALS)—42 freshmen, 6 sophomores, 3 juniors, and 1 senior. A.Y. 2014-2015 started with 297 first year students, 181 second year students, 199 third year students, and 171 fourth year students. While it is never easy to bid farewell to a fellow student, those that have been with the Law School for some time have accepted this sad reality. However, after the Bar results were released last March 2014, some have expressed their fear of the infamous “Kill Order.”

A “Kill Order” is a term coined by many students that has developed varying definitions. Essentially, a Kill Order is a directive by the ALS Administration, towards the professors to either: (1) dismiss as many students as possible; or (2) not be lenient in terms of failing their students. It is a systematic screening of students with the end result of increasing the school’s chances of attaining a high passing percentage in the Bar examinations.

A “natural pruning”

Dean Sedfrey Candelaria, when requested to shed light on this Kill Order issue gave an unqualified “NONE” as his response. The Dean made it clear that what transpires is a natural result of the Qualitative Point Index (QPI) system that has been inculcated in the Ateneo curriculum from the beginning. He expounds, “the standards are there. Do we kill? No. It’s the system. We’re very strict about it. That’s why you are pruned almost on a natural basis.”

The Dean clarifies that although there may be a greater risk of not achieving a high percentage when there are more graduates sent to take the Bar, this does not mean that those who have graduated are not qualified. He states that if a student passes through the objective standards set, then he or she becomes a candidate for the school. “If you start with 300 and you’re 300 by fourth year, fine. You made it through the process.”

Academic freedom

The professors implement the objective standards carried out in the ALS, in line with academic freedom. This entails not only a determination of “what to teach” and “how to teach,” but also the prerogative to set the requirements in recitations, midterms, and finals.

The Dean explains that it will be very hard to manipulate midterms and finals as both these examinations are subject to the appeal procedure. The recitation grades may also be opened to students who would wish to check their previous performance.

Sought for comment, Student Council President Armand Dulay (4A) said that the Ateneo Law School really has high standards and that most professors believe that it is better to fail in law school than fail in the Bar. This results to a stricter implementation of the grading system, in the hopes of maintaining quality graduates.

Deliberation process

A few days before grades are released to the students, the faculty members conduct deliberations. Faculty member Atty. Ronald Chua acquaints us with the process.

Deliberations start with the faculty convening to discuss the performance of each student. If there is a student who currently has a failing mark in a particular subject, the professor for such subject may then seek advice or information from other professors to decide whether to pass or to fail the student. In reaching a decision, the professor looks at the past performance of the student, as well as other special circumstances that might have occurred during the semester that may have affected the student’s output.

It also helps if the professor sees that the student passed all his or her other subjects. Atty. Chua emphasized that other professors, including the Dean, can only give their opinions, as the final decision still rests with the professor. He also emphasized the fact that in all his years of attending deliberations, he has never seen a student’s grade changed from “pass” to “fail”—only the other way around.

 Appeal transparency

A student who receives a failing mark or simply wishes for a change of grade has to seek the help of the Student Appeals Committee (SAC).

According to Sheena Tengco (4D), the current SAC Chairperson, the appeal procedure starts upon a student’s request for his or her bluebook. The student’s bluebook, the highest bluebook, and the questionnaire will be given to the student. The student, after reviewing his or her bluebook, will then write a letter of appeal, accomplish the appeal form provided by SAC, and submit these to the SAC Representative. The appeal letter should state the grounds for the student’s appeal, which could either be Manifest Oversight or Computational Error.

The SAC Representative, who necessarily belongs to the same class as the student appealing, will initially review the request and produce his or her recommendation, stating whether he or she agrees or disagrees with the request, as well as a recommended number of points that should be awarded. The recommendation and the request are thereafter sent to the Review Head who reviews the same, recommends to grant or to disapprove the appeal, and sends his or her recommendation together with the request to the SAC Chairperson.

The SAC Chairperson then repeats the process and sends all the recommendations and the request to the Law School Standards Committee, headed by Atty. Jacinto Jimenez. Note that the SAC Representative, the Review Head, or the SAC Chairperson may all agree to disapprove the appeal, but the request will still reach Atty. Jimenez. A recommendation is then furnished by Atty. Jimenez, and the appeal envelope, containing the recommendations and the appeal request, is subsequently sent to the professor.

Tengco explains that though there may be rumors that a particular professor does not allow a student to appeal, that should not stop a student from proceeding with the appeal procedure. However, it is true that most professors in the Ateneo Law School rarely grant an appeal and most of them do not even get the chance to open the appeal envelopes on their tables. But this, according to Tengco, should not discourage a student from appealing, especially for those who received a failing mark for a blatant computational error.

In addition, Dulay assures the student body that the Student Council may serve the students during the appeal procedure by conducting consultations with the Law School Administration in order to develop the best plan of action for the students.

Formation

Mr. Dulay also talks about the shift of approach when dealing with incoming freshmen. Instead of instilling the fear of being dismissed in their minds, the Student Council endeavors to imprint a positive outlook towards law school. The Student Council, especially the Orientation Seminar (OrSem) Committee, promotes an atmosphere of inclusiveness and generosity towards one another. The Student Council believes that working together as a batch can go a long way.

The Dean admits that a change in mindset cannot happen overnight. But he remains hopeful as he recounts the time when he, together with Atty. Melencio Sta. Maria, Atty. Amparita Sta. Maria, and others, created the group Balikatan in Law School. The idea behind Balikatan was to put their heads together in making notes and reviewers that were kept open for everyone.

Dean Candelaria emphasized that this kind of mindset can be cultivated eventually because it has been done before—“No amount of Kill Order from the faculty can actually overrun a really determined group of students who have the same mindset, motivation, and passion.”

Conclusion

Despite the opinions received from the different personalities who can shed light on this lingering issue boggling ALS students, the question may still be unanswered for many. But at the end of the day, whether it is a Kill Order, a systematic screening, or a natural pruning, it all boils down to the students’ ability to withstand the hardships that one encounters in law school. The only way to overcome such “directive,” whether real or imagined, is to keep pushing forward, until the fear only becomes a memory of your uncertainty. P

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