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COMMENTARY: Mindanao State University-General Santos education needs fast repair

In December 2013 I was able to visit the General Santos City campus of MSU as part of the project aimed at “transfer of knowledge and scientific methods in the area vital to further progress in food security and economic growth”. In other words, as the president of my University, Dr. J. Alutto, put this in words, “academic passion of the university professors must translate into pioneering discoveries that will improve lives of everybody”. The program that allowed me to travel to Mindanao was born out of the ideas of distinguished scientist, Norman E. Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his work on new varieties of wheat, saving millions from starvation. It was therefore my responsibility to make best use of this opportunity to visit MSU and make the lasting impact on its students.

I had a couple of lectures and met many enthusiastic students who were working on their dissertation thesis in order to graduate. After returning to Columbus I arranged an exchange of information to help them with experimental designs for their thesis research and suggested some current literature related to their scientific work for them to review. It took many hours of work but continuous correspondence with students of College of Fisheries assured me that they greatly appreciate this advice and help. In that very spirit I engaged myself and students I am teaching here at Ohio State and in collaboration with Prof. Arlyn Mandas and her advisees. We developed the plan for mutually beneficial relationship, not only professors but most importantly, American and Filipino students working on the same subject, fisheries and aquaculture. My students and myself reviewed their researcher proposals and made suggestions regarding experimental design, diet formulation for fish and shrimp nutrition studies and procedures to collect reliable results. We provided all students with the most recent world literature on the subject of their studies, and made sure that their objectives were original, innovative and would make a new contribution to science. Needless to say it took many hours of all of us, including 10 of my undergraduate and graduate students to accomplish this effort. I hoped it would be helpful to the educational process at MSU. I want to emphasize that I thought it would also spark an interest in my students in the geography, education and culture of Philippines, something that most American students know very little about.

I have read three of the dissertation theses produced as a result of this collaboration and in my opinion they meet all the criteria required for proceeding with their defense. However, I have been informed that these students (7 of them them) were denied their right to defend their scientific work because of some internal rule in the Department of Fisheries that requires experimentation to be carried out for “60 days”. In my understanding of scientific work in this field, there is absolutely no justification for such a criterion. As mentioned in my letter to the Chancellor of MSU there is no such criterion in any of the 100 journals I have worked with as a reviewer and have never experienced such an arbitrary and un-scientific requirement during my own 40 year career as a scientist which has led to the publishing of over 400 peer-reviewed articles. The Dean of Ronald P. Sombero and eight professors of Aquaculture Department signed the letter to MSU Chancellor specifically stating that “a simple rule of completing duration of the study was not met (60 days) and resulted in not allowing the said students to proceed” to graduation. There could not be more unjustified rule and as M.L. King once said “Unjust law is not law at all”.

In my letter to Chancellor A.T. Canacan on March 24, 2014, I wrote: I am willing to review dissertations of the students who were denied graduation and provide you with my judgment as to the scientific value of their work from the perspective of my teaching and research experience in many countries of the world. I strongly encourage you to step in and help to resolve this dilemma. I am convinced that the good of education and scientific merit will prevail as there are no borders to the right process. My letter remains unanswered until today.

I am of the opinion that an enormous injustice has been done to these students at MSU who have done great scientific work, were very receptive to our suggestions during their experiments and prepared dissertations that would certainly meet any scientific criteria for graduation set by a United States academic institution. In part my outrage and this letter is also response to my American students who could not understand why their Phillipino counterparts were punished for their collaboration and all their effort was wasted. To the contrary, my students at OSU were awarded for their collaboration as part of their evaluation and told me that their learned a lot about Mindanao aquaculture and established personal relationships with MSU students.

On a more personal note I would like to explain why I was inspired to write you this letter. I was listening to a lecture by Professor Jeffrey Sachs (a world renown economist) a couple of days ago whose message was that there will be no change in human progress if “old rules” are not abolished to make room for a wave of new ideas. I believe that this “60 day” rule at MSU is one of these old ideas, not only because it has no scientific merit but because it impedes the progress of young scholars who will define the future of all of us.

I strongly encourage you to publish this letter and inform public in the General Santos City. After all, University is responsible to provide to the community. The best way is to educate critically informed students who will be socially engaged and the example of change. It is imperative to change rules that make no sense and inhibit progress. I believed that association with Ohio State would provide them access to world-class education and opportunity to study further at the academic institutions worldwide. (Konrad Dabrowski, Ohio State University, Columbus,U.S.A.)

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