CASE DIGEST: Calawag v. UP Visayas

G.R. No. 207412 : August 7, 2013



The petitioners enrolled in the Master of Science in Fisheries Biology at UP Visayas under a scholarship from the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development. They finished their first year of study with good grades, and thus were eligible to start their thesis in the first semester of their second year. The petitioners then enrolled in the thesis program, drafted their tentative thesis titles, and obtained the consent of Dr. Rex Bale to be their thesis adviser, as well as the other faculty members consent to constitute their respective thesis committees. These details were enclosed in the letters the petitioners sent to Dean Baylon, asking him to approve the composition of their thesis committees. The letter contained the thesis committee members and the thesis advisers approval of their titles, as well as the approval of Professor Roman Sanares, the director of the Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanology.

Upon receipt of the petitioners letters, Dean Baylon wrote a series of memos addressed to Professor Sanares, questioning the propriety of the thesis topics with the colleges graduate degree program. He subsequently disapproved the composition of the petitioners thesis committees and their tentative thesis topics. According to Dean Baylon, the petitioners thesis titles connote a historical and social dimension study which is not appropriate for the petitioners chosen masters degrees. Dean Baylon thereafter ordered the petitioners to submit a two-page proposal containing an outline of their tentative thesis titles, and informed them that he is forming an ad hoc committee that would take over the role of the adviser and of the thesis committees.

The petitioners thus filed a petition for certiorari and mandamus before the RTC, asking it to order Dean Baylon to approve and constitute the petitioners thesis committees and approve their thesis titles. They also asked that the RTC issue a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction against Dean Baylon, and order him to perform such acts while the suit was pending.

The RTC granted a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction, which Dean Baylon allegedly refused to follow. UP Visayas eventually assailed this order before the CA through a Rule 65 petition for certiorari, with prayer for a temporary restraining order (TRO).

The CA issued a TRO against the implementation of the RTCs order, holding that the petitioners had no clear right to compel Dean Baylon to approve the composition of their thesis committees as a matter of course. As the college dean, Dean Baylon exercises supervisory authority in all academic matters affecting the college. According to the CA, the petitioners reliance on Article 51 of the Graduate Program Manual of UP Visayas is misplaced. Article 51 provides.

Art. 51. The composition of the thesis committee shall be approved by the dean of the college/school upon the recommendation of the chairperson of the major department/division/institute. The GPO shall be informed of the composition of the thesis committee and/or any change thereof.

Despite the mandatory language provided for composing the thesis committee under Article 51 of the Graduate Program Manual of UP Visayas, the CA construed it to mean that the Deans approval is necessary prior to the composition of a thesis committee.

Lastly, the CA held that the case presents issues that are purely academic in character, which are outside the courts jurisdiction. It also noted that Dean Baylon has been accommodating of the petitioners, and that the requirements he imposed were meant to assist them to formulate a proper thesis title and graduate on time. Hence, this petition.

ISSUES: Whether or not the students have the right to choose their thesis topics?

HELD: Court of Appeals decision is affirmed.

Having reviewed the arguments presented by the petitioners and the records they have attached to the petitions, we find that the CA did not commit an error in judgment in setting aside the preliminary mandatory injunction that the RTC issued against Dean Baylon. Thus, there could be no basis for the Courts exercise of its discretionary power to review the CAs decision.

REMEDIAL LAW : requisites for preliminary injunction

"To be entitled to a writ of preliminary injunction, the petitioners must establish the following requisites:

(a) the invasion of the right sought to be protected is material and substantial;
(b) the right of the complainant is clear and unmistakable; and
(c) there is an urgent and permanent necessity for the writ to prevent serious damage.

Since a preliminary mandatory injunction commands the performance of an act, it does not preserve the status quo and is thus more cautiously regarded than a mere prohibitive injunction. Accordingly, the issuance of a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction [presents a fourth requirement : it] is justified only in a clear case, free from doubt or dispute. When the complainants right is thus doubtful or disputed, he does not have a clear legal right and, therefore, the issuance of injunctive relief is improper."

The CA did not err in ruling that the petitioners failed to show a clear and unmistakable right that needs the protection of a preliminary mandatory injunction. We support the CAs conclusion that the dean has the discretion to approve or disapprove the composition of a thesis committee, and, hence, the petitioners had no right for an automatic approval and composition of their thesis committees.

Calawags citation of Executive Order No. 628, s. 1980 and Republic Act No. 9500 to show that the dean of a college exercises only administrative functions and, hence, has no ascendancy over the colleges academic matters, has no legal ground to stand on. Neither law provides or supports such conclusion, as neither specifies the role and responsibilities of a college dean. The functions and duties of a college dean are outlined in the universitys Faculty Manual, which details the rules and regulations governing the universitys administration. Section 11.8.2, paragraph b of the Faculty Manual enumerates the powers and responsibilities of a college dean, which include the power to approve the composition of a thesis committee, to wit.

11.8.2 Administration

b. Dean/Director of UP System or UP Diliman-based Programs * The Dean/Director shall be responsible for the planning and implementation of the graduate programs. In particular, the Dean/Director shall exercise the following powers and responsibilities based on the recommendations forwarded to him/her, through channels.

Approve the composition of the Thesis, Dissertation or Special Project** Committees and Masters or doctoral examination/oral defense panel for each student.

By necessary implication,the deans power to approve includes the power to disapprove the composition of a thesis committee. Thus, under the UP Systems faculty manual, the dean has complete discretion in approving or disapproving the composition of a thesis committee. Harmonizing this provision with the Graduate Program Manual of UP Visayas, and the Guidelines for the Master of Science in Fisheries Program, we agree with the CAs interpretation that the thesis committees composition needs the approval of the dean after the students have complied with the requisites provided in Article 51 of the Graduate Program Manual and Section IX of the Guidelines for the Master of Science in Fisheries Program.

POLITICAL LAW: academic freedom

Anent the petitioners argument that Dean Baylon acted arbitrarily in imposing additional requirements for the composition of the thesis committee, which according to Calawag violated their right to due process, we hold that the deans authority to approve or disapprove the composition of a thesis committee includes this discretion. We also note the CAs finding that these additional requirements were meant to assist the petitioners in formulating a thesis title that is in line with the colleges master of fisheries program. Absent any finding of grave abuse of discretion, we cannot interfere with the exercise of the deans prerogative without encroaching on the colleges academic freedom.

Verily, the academic freedom accorded to institutions of higher learning gives them the right to decide for themselves their aims and objectives and how best to attain them.They are given the exclusive discretion to determine who can and cannot study in them, as well as to whom they can confer the honor and distinction of being their graduates.

This necessarily includes the prerogative to establish requirements for graduation, such as the completion of a thesis, and the manner by which this shall be accomplished by their students. The courts may not interfere with their exercise of discretion unless there is a clear showing that they have arbitrarily and capriciously exercised their judgment.

Lastly, the right to education invoked by Calawag cannot be made the basis for issuing a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction. In Department of Education, Culture and Sports v. San Diego,we held that the right to education is not absolute. Section 5(e), Article XIV of the Constitution provides that "[e]very citizen has a right to select a profession or course of study, subject to fair, reasonable, and equitable admission and academic requirements." The thesis requirement and the compliance with the procedures leading to it, are part of the reasonable academic requirements a person desiring to complete a course of study would have to comply with.