5 September 2016
OPEN LETTER FROM THE U.P. PRESIDENT TO THE U.P. COMMUNITY
re the 25 August 2016 incident at the Board Room in Quezon Hall
Dear Members of the UP Community:
Last 25 August, as you may have already heard, a group identifying themselves to be students mainly from UP Los Baños and UP Diliman stormed into the UP Board Room in Quezon Hall shortly after the adjournment of the Board of Regents (BOR) meeting, but with several Regents still around. The students came to decry, among other issues, the alleged “failure” of the new computerized registration system, known as the Student Academic Information System (SAIS), during the registration period in UP Los Baños this semester.
While I definitely do not condone the disruptions the said group caused, I can understand the reasons for their distress. Evidently, information on what we are doing to address UP’s perennial registration problems and improve administrative efficiency has not been adequately disseminated.
I have decided to write this letter not only to those students who came to the BOR for “answers”, but also to the University community at large, whose members deserve to know the pertinent facts behind these issues.
At the heart of the protesters’ complaints was the SAIS, which is an integral part of the eUP program we launched in 2012 to integrate and harmonize the information and communication technology infrastructure across all constituent universities (CUs) of the UP System. The eUP program has, in addition to SAIS, other key information systems covering human resources; financial management; supply, procurement and campus management; and executive information.
The eUP program also has other components, such as, upgrading of fiber optic networks, increasing bandwidth for faster Internet connectivity, and providing computers and other equipment to our various campuses—things which the University needs regardless of what information systems we implement and which accounted for about 70% of the P750 million spent on the eUP program.
SAIS was specifically designed to streamline such familiar and often tediously complicated processes as admission, enlistment, cross-registration, advising, study program planning, shifting, transferring, and alumni tracking, as well help faculty members and academic units do longer-term planning to meet future demand for courses. SAIS is meant to eventually banish the long queues that have remained an embarrassing hallmark of the UP registration system in this digital age.
We agreed to adopt SAIS because its particular features address our needs. And more significantly, SAIS has worked, and worked well, for over 700 of the world’s leading universities and colleges (e.g., NUS, NTU, SIM, Universiti Malaya, Chulalongkorn, HKU, HKUST, Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Princeton, Cambridge, Oxford, ANU, RMIT, UNSW), including some local higher education institutions. Properly implemented, SAIS can do much more than the respective registration systems previously or currently in use in the CUs can handle.
SAIS has already been successfully implemented previously in three CUs—in Manila, Baguio, and Cebu. This semester we introduced SAIS in UP Los Baños, and after a few initial glitches at the start, SAIS settled down to its normal operation, thus enabling registration to proceed up to its completion. The fact that there were initial glitches cannot mean that the system per se is fatally flawed, and thus, to be rejected.
We already expected that the adoption of any new system, such as SAIS, will have birthing problems. But in the case of UPLB, the problems were compounded by a massive and apparently malicious Denial of Service (DoS) attack on our server at around the start of registration, which is now under investigation by the authorities. Apparently, someone out there wanted SAIS to fail, for reasons only he or she can tell.
I assure you that we are dealing with operational problems as well as certain issues being raised by the students and will make SAIS work as it should, while taking cognizance of everyone’s needs and concerns.
There have been suggestions, for example, that we should have sought a cheaper, open-source alternative. We already did. We discovered in 2012 that a consortium of US universities, known as Kuali, had been trying to develop a student administration software. However, we found out that a consortium member (University of California Berkeley) had pulled out after five years of waiting and another one (Florida State University) had left a couple of years earlier. Both of these universities that pulled out of the consortium subsequently decided to adopt the Oracle PeopleSoft Campus Solutions software, which we call SAIS, for their student information system.
The original quote for the software suite we got was not cheap, but we were able to secure the perpetual license at a huge discount. In any case, the benefits we expect it to bring us would far outweigh the costs. And I would like to make it clear that whatever funds we have spent on the eUP program did not, and will not, diminish any of the pre-existing funding commitments of UP prior to our administration.
The reality is that during the past five years we have been able to mobilize very substantial increases in the funding for UP from government and other sources.
This availability of funding resources has enabled us to pursue not just the eUP program, but also many other important and much bigger initiatives. For example, we have been able to provide substantial merit promotion (P800 M) and monetary benefits (P2.8 B) to our faculty and staff members; to invest in more than a hundred new buildings and renovations in our various campuses (P9 B); to modernize the hospital equipment of PGH (P3 B); to support interdisciplinary research of our faculty (P950 M); to support their PhD and Master’s studies; to provide them research dissemination travel grants; to recognize their achievements through professorial chairs, enhanced scientific and arts productivity awards, and other academic awards; to send students on exchange programs abroad; to provide undergraduate and postgraduate student assistantships; and to meet other priority needs of the University and its constituents.
I understand and accept that dramatic political action is part of our hallowed tradition of dissent. In a sense, this is good as it provoked more questions about and drew more attention to what eUP is all about and what it will mean to the University’s future.
As I approach the end of my term, I can only hope that as a university—indeed the national university—we can continue to discuss and resolve our problems in an atmosphere of reason and sobriety, impelled by our common love of this institution and our desire to seek only the best for it and its future. That desire should include openness to new ideas and new technologies to improve the way we work.
As a community of scholars, students, and workers dedicated to the truth, we cannot allow malice, ignorance, and disinformation to derail the University’s growth or block the way forward.
Should you have any more questions about any aspect of eUP or SAIS, my office will only be too happy to receive and to answer them.
There is an urgent need for us to catch up with our peer universities in the region and the rest of the world. Please join me in this continuing quest to bring our beloved University up to the highest global standards—to be a model for the other local higher education institutions. Much of the future of our country will depend on the future of the University of the Philippines.
Thank you for your attention and support.
Alfredo E. Pascual (sgd.)