Sense and style in UP

If there is anything that has been proven in the ongoing debate on the issue of the Philippine Collegian editorship, it is that it is impossible to measure sense and style in numerical terms.  We can have notions of good, better or best, but the difference in beauty and sensibility between an essay that is graded 77.5% and another that  merits only 77% cannot possibly be meaningful.  Indeed, even when the differences are larger, the appreciation remains profoundly subjective – each of the judges would have a different notion of the equivalent in sense and style of a grade of 90%.

This is inescapable and there is nothing necessarily wrong with it. What evaluators or judges in editorial and literary contests are, however, bidden to observe is a certain judiciousness and fairness in assigning scores or ranks.  They should watch out for any sign of manifest arbitrariness on the part of any of the judges.

One way of preventing such arbitrariness is by defining and clarifying — in the most exact terms possible —  the criteria that are to be used in judging entries.  This should be undertaken even before any actual scoring is done.  Ideally, after the scoring, any of the judges should be free to challenge the scores of the others and question the manner in which the criteria were understood and applied in relation to the entries.

In the final analysis, what ought to matter is the way the judges rank the contestants relative to one another, rather than the  summation of quantitative scores separately given — precisely because this is not an objective examination where there is only one set of  predetermined correct answers.

The bone of contention in the Collegian editorial controversy is, however, simpler —  whether a first round of scoring had taken place whose results were then set aside in order to give way to a second set of revised scores.  This is important because the Collegian examination rules explicitly prescribe only one round of actual individual scoring, after which the aggregate scores are supposed to be computed.

The Board of Judges claims there was only one set of scores – the final one which showed Richard Gappi as the winner.  They deny that they went through a second evaluation.  Much depends on what is meant by a second evaluation.  It appears that the judges think of their evaluation as a single continuous act culminating in their final submission.  On the other hand, the second placer in the judges’ list, Voltaire Veneracion, claims that the original scores had been revised and that he was, in fact,  the winner in the first round of evaluation.

If the judges claim they had only one evaluation, then we must trust their own description of their behavior.  However, in the face of mounting doubt over the fairness of the judging process, they should now  render a public account of the precise steps they took in their deliberations.  More importantly, they should  be prepared to defend their choice against those who challenge its validity.

It is interesting that  the results have been challenged only on procedural grounds.  The substantive judgment of the evaluators has remained unquestioned, that is, the members of the Board of Judges have not been asked to explain and justify their scores.   Where the results are hotly contested, it is often desirable to have such a review in order to protect the credibility of institutions.

But it wasn’t the fairness of the scores that Voltaire Veneracion originally questioned.  He was protesting what he claimed to be an error in procedure –  the act of going through an illegal second round of scoring.  He did not ask to be declared the winner; he wanted the results nullified, and a new examination conducted.  He also wanted the Chairman of the Board of Judges, Prof. Luis Teodoro,  to inhibit himself because he had allegedly shown bias.

The Chancellor of UP Diliman, Dr. Roger Posadas, sustained the Board of Judges and dismissed the protest of Veneracion.  He found nothing defective or dishonest in the manner the members of the Board  conducted the examination.  However, convinced that he had been wronged, Veneracion appealed to a higher authority, UP President Emil Javier.  After studying the matter, President Javier concluded that the judges did nothing procedurally illegal, but he also thought they were not consistent and logical in the way they arrived at the final results.   He thus called for a new examination to be confined to the two top contenders, Veneracion and Gappi.

The Teodoro Board protested Javier’s decision and elevated the matter to the Board of Regents, a collective body higher than the Diliman Chancellor and the UP President.  The Regents, by a vote of 6-2, not only decided to stop the proclamation of Richard Gappi as winner in the Collegian examination, but also proceeded to proclaim Voltaire Veneracion as the new Collegian editor.  The basis for this decision was the finding that  there indeed was a first round of evaluation in which Veneracion emerged as winner.  The selection process should have ended there, they declared.

President Javier was correct in inquiring into the precise manner by which the results were produced.   However, he should have done so in consultation with the Diliman  Chancellor and the members of the Board of Judges themselves.  If he genuinely thought there was reason to doubt the results, instead of calling for a one-on-one contest between the top two contenders (which has no basis in the rules), he should have proposed a new examination open to everyone, under the supervision of a new Board of Judges.  This would have spared the Board of Regents and prevented it from committing yet another dubious act – i.e. arrogating unto itself the right to decide who should be the editor of the Philippine Collegian.

Voltaire has been sworn in as editor and has published his first issue.

Richard, on the other hand, has petitioned the Quezon City Regional Trial Court to stop Voltaire from continuing as editor – an act usually regarded as taboo in a UP that imagines itself as a separate republic. Who really won?  Don’t ask the RTC judge.  Read the editorial entries in the latest Collegian and judge for yourselves.


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