Leonen on academic freedom

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen concurred and dissented with the ruling by the majority in the case of Pimentel vs. Legal Education Board. In essence, he opines that the provisions permitting the Legal Education Board to conduct the Philippine Law School Admission Test are unconstitutional for violating academic freedom of law schools. He reasons that the State has no business in deciding and substituting its judgment for the academic institutions.  PhilSat is therefore an unwarranted intrusion on this essential freedom of law schools as to who to admit. Further, Leonen believes that the existence of the Legal Education Board interferes with respect to the right of academic institutions on how to teach and who to teach.

As is characteristic of him, Leonen, in a most scholarly manner, draws attention to the meaning of academic freedom by tracing the jurisprudential history of academic freedom, citing certain relevant Philippine cases including Garcia v. Faculty Admission Committee where the Court recognized academic freedom as an institutional facet, not solely confined to individual academic freedom or the right of faculty members to pursue their studies without fear or reprisal. In the cases of Miriam College, Foundation and Angeles v. Sison and Cudia v. Superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy, as cited in the separate opinion, the Court further amplified the scope of academic freedom by upholding the right of institutions to discipline its students. Leonen also makes reference to Villar v. TIP which sets a limit on the discretion of academic institutions to discipline their students. He further clarifies that academic institution’s discretion applies not only to the admission and dismissal of its students, but also to its decision to confer academic recognition.

Justice Leonen concurs with the majority that PhilSat is unconstitutional insofar as it prescribes a passing score that must be followed by law schools. Agreeing with the majority, he is of the opinion that the PhilSat employs a “totalitarian scheme” which usurps the right of law schools to determine their admission requirements.

However, Leonen disagrees with the majority ruling that it is unconstitutional only insofar as it is a mandatory requirement for the law schools’ admission processes. Here, he detracts therefrom by saying that any national admission test, even when not mandatory, is still an infringement of academic freedom. In support of this view, he argues that academic freedom is intertwined with academic liberty; and as such, the institution’s and individuals’ right to pursue learning must be “free from internal and external interference.”

A State sponsored examination like PhilSat runs afoul of academic freedom. Standards for choosing who to admit must be divorced from the standards for maintaining or ensuring the quality of education. The view, according to him, that changing the admissions policy will improve the quality of education is simply a non-sequitur. Besides the members of the LEB, being government appointees, are prone to influence by the appointing authority, consequently undermining the academe’s most significant role to inquire into the truth, to powerfully disseminate this truth, and to speak this truth. The State’s intrusion, in whatever way or form, stifles the ability of academic institutions to be critical.

Further, Leonen points out that the creation of PhilSat was not based on scientific research and that the State does not give justification for its conduct other than that it copied the Law Admission Test administered in the United States. There was no showing how the PhilSat as copied from a foreign country could be applicable, or even relevant to the Philippines. Making reference to U.S. Court decisions, Leonen states categorically that the PhilSat is arbitrary and unreasonable as the government imposes a single determinant to ascertain who can pursue legal education. F

According to Leonen, the right to pursue legal education is within the ambit of one’s right to life and liberty; hence, by enforcing an arbitrary and unreasonable measure in the law school’s admission process violates the applicant’s due process. Ultimately, he says that the right to life is intertwined with the right to pursue education. Right to life after all is not only the right to exist but also the right to achieve the “fullness of human potential.” Leonen is of the view that standardized tests are skewed in favor of well to do applicant who have access to better education, resources and wealth.

Following this line of arguments, Justice Leonen is for the scrapping of all government sponsored standardized admission test, whether mandatory or not for infringing academic freedom.

Justice Leonen’s opinion in Pimentel is the best articulation I have ever read on the value of academic freedom to society and humanity. At the beginning of his opinion, he writes eloquently about this:

“Institutions of learning perform a basic function in nurturing and sharpening the people’s understanding and intellect. They ensure an educated and thriving citizenry on whom a nation’s civilization and life depend. Educations leads to an economically productive populace through learned skill. More importantly, it leads the people to think more prudently and critically.

Without educational institutions, our country will inevitably approach a shallow and dismal future. Thus the state has a paramount interest in guaranteeing that they flourish and function robustly. Part and parcel of this guarantee is to freely determine for themselves ‘their aims and objectives and how best to attain them’”

These words are so true. Indeed, Leonen’s words applies not only to law schools but all institutions of higher learning.  I write this as someone who has taught for nearly forty years, at all levels of higher education (PHD, MA, MS, LLM, JD, and AB/BS classes) and in as many as 20 schools all over the world, including more than a dozen law schools.

One hopes that a future Court will adopt his views. Society will be much better if it did.

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