Nebres confirms no laude policy change in revised student handbook; Admin to establish Taskforce AI for academic honesty

By Kathrina Necollie Serdeña
Photo by Sophia Esguerra

Bicol University (BU) President Dr. Baby Boy Benjamin III D. Nebres assures that the revision of maintaining grades for latin honor candidates will not push through as the university student handbook undergoes review after four years.

Nebres clarified that the matter was only raised during the third drafting session of the BU student handbook, wherein the BU teaching faculty unanimously accepted the 2.4 minimum grade of graduating laude candidates, but was not approved as it required more in-depth discussions and research.

“It was only laid on the table but it was not approved,” he said.

Professor Daves L. Tonga, the dean of the Office of Student Affairs and Services (OSAS) and one of the attendees in the third drafting session said that the proposal was only raised for quality assurance of future students in the university.

“Kung gusto nating mag-improve ang ating system, then we need to improve our policies as well. That includes our assessment of the students. Dapat kung magaling, walang incomplete. Kung magaling na magaling, dapat walang tres. Kung magaling na magaling na magaling, dapat walang 2.5 or mas mababa,” he said.

He also added that while there are also measures being applied to filter the admission of students in the institution, there are also policies considered on examining the teaching staff as well.

“Of course, we’re expecting opposition from the students, lalo na ‘yung may grade na 2.5. Ngayon, sa faculty, may mga proposal din. Bawal na magturo ang hindi doctor… Ang changes na gagawin natin, hindi lang sa students’ side, pati na rin sa side ng faculty,” Tonga said.

Nebres echoed Tonga’s sentiments, saying that a faculty member must have a Doctor of Philosophy of the same baccalaureate program that they will teach as part of the Commission on Higher Education’s requirements to obtain a Certificate of Program Compliance.

Nebres added that the student handbook is now underway to the clearing house and it will be subject to the approval of the Board of Regents (BOR) afterwards.

“Actually, finalizing na eh. I already ordered Professor Daves Tonga, the dean of the OSAS, and even the director of the Student Development [Services] na to call for the final meeting and these revisions be included in the coming fourth admin clearing house,” Nebres said.

Industry Feedback

In terms of post-graduation job huntings, Nebres said that he has been regularly receiving calls from human resource officers of different industries giving feedback on the performance of BU graduates after being deployed in the field.

“Walang change, pero gusto kasi naming ibalik ‘yung nangyari noon… na kapag may 2.4 below ka na, you are disqualified from [being] a cum laude,” he said.

He emphasized that reports from companies and partner institutions on the lagging work ethics and competencies of fresh graduates from the university prompted the administration to review the policy, claiming that the negative updates are a blow to the latin honor population BU produces annually.

“Gusto ng lahat maging cum laude, pero ang question ngayon is [if] they can provide the necessary skills to these hiring industries,” Nebres added.

Relatively, Tonga received questions from the BOR regarding the data on honor graduates from 2022 which heavily contrasted with that of 2023.

“Tumalino ba ‘yung mga students during pandemic or naging lenient ‘yung faculty sa pag-grade? Ako gusto ko maniwala sa number one, kasi unfair sa student na cum laude tapos pinagdududahan,” Tonga admitted.

The administration now faces the challenge of proving the quality of honor graduates that they will deploy to different agencies.

“Papatunayan pa natin na ‘yung grumaduate natin na cum laude ay talagang ang quality ay pang cum laude. Ayaw natin makarinig later on sa industries. Kunwari, cum laude na teacher tapos na-employ ng DepEd, tapos nagrereklamo ang DepEd kasi hindi magaling magturo. Ay, something is wrong talaga,” said Tonga.

BU’s Taskforce AI

In relation to the academic standing of students in the university, Nebres shared his sentiments on the present issue of Artificial Intelligence (AI) being utilized by students in completing their academic outputs.

“I already asked the VPAA to provide a separate taskforce on defining the role of AI in the curricular life of students. Kasi kung titingnan natin ngayon, a report from the teachers, ‘yung mga submitted essays are already perfect. Kaya what they are doing now is they evaluate it,” Nebres said.

He further explained that he wanted to include a section in the handbook circulating on AI matters but that would mean that the lengthy revision process has to restart.

Nebres added that he is still waiting for an update from the VPAA before deploying the taskforce to monitor AI-related concerns in the university, most especially in the academic work of BUeños.

“They have [to] first identify the parameters of AI that will affect the student life of the students in the university, particularly the curricular implementation of the university,” Nebres said.

Handbook Revision Process

Tonga said that the revision of the university student handbook starts with the creation of a committee on handbook revision and its chairperson designated by the university president.

Included in the committee are the different deans and directors across all offices and campuses of the institution, the faculty and student regents, the university legal officer, the university registrar, and the internal quality assurance officer.

After the committee is formed, members will start reviewing each section of the handbook and meticulously select provisions that need to be improved, affixed, or abolished with respect to its relevance.

According to him, the committee commits its time to read the handbook page by page. A lengthy deliberation of sections with revisions will follow, in which the committee has to present a tangible output in the form of a draft.

“Ako kasi ang lookout ko bilang dean ng OSAS eh ‘yung hindi malalagay sa alanganin ang karapatan ng students. Dapat pro-student. Kung may babaguhin tayo, dapat ‘yung makikinabang ang karamihan ng students, kung hindi man makinabang lahat,” Tonga added.

The committee will then initiate consultations with stakeholders and ask for their insights. These include the students, faculty, and alumni. They will then proceed to take into consideration the suggestions presented in consultation meetings.

By the end of the consultation with stakeholders, a final draft will be submitted to the academic council for academic concerns and to the administrative council for administrative concerns. Once the administrative council approves the draft, it will then be raised to the University BOR and presented by the institution’s president.

The final decision relies on the hands of the BOR, as they are the highest policy-making body of the university.

Revised Handbook Sections

According to Tonga, the handbook review committee also highlighted other revisions concerning curriculum, student safety, and disciplinary policies.

“Kung mapapansin niyo [rito], ang veterinary medicine and dental medicine, ang nagbibigay niyan private school. Medyo konti ang subsidy kung meron man from the government. So, sa atin ‘pag nakapasok, libre. Ibig sabihin kung dati noon ang veterinary medicine pati pagiging dentista ay kurso lang ng mayayaman, ngayon hindi na because mayroong [BU],” Tonga affirmed.

He added that the addition of the veterinary and dental medicine courses proves the commitment of the university to provide quality education, especially to those who want to pursue these costly programs.

The pandemic also caused changes in the learning modalities established by universities and colleges, such as the synchronous and asynchronous class options, and they also deemed it appropriate to revise policies in relation to hybrid education.

“Tinitingnan din natin ang mga revisions kapag nagkakaroon ng blended learning. Dati walang sinabi about blended learning sa lumang handbook, so ngayon in-incorporate natin na ang learning hindi lang mangyayari on-site, pwede rin naman siya palang online with the use of technology,” said Tonga.

In terms of bullying and harassment, the committee also raised improvements in student discipline, specifically the definition of cyberbullying and the depth of aggravation that students and faculty may experience.

“Dati, sexual harassment. Ngayon, meron na tayong Safe Spaces Act na susundin. Mas mabigat ‘yun, kasi sa sexual harassment, parang boss at subordinate. Halimbawa ako, naharass ako sexually ng aking empleyado, hindi ako pwede magreklamo under sexual harassment kasi boss ako. Pero under Safe Spaces [Act], pwede,” Tonga concluded.

Kathrina Necollie Serdeña is a Senior BS Forestry student at BU Guinobatan. She is currently the Managing Editor of The Bicol Universitarian. She started writing for the publication since 2020 as a staff writer.
Sophia Esguerra is a Freshman BA Communication student at BU College of Arts and Letters. She joined the publication in 2023 as a photojournalist.