Strengthening the University Ecosystem
“One big lesson I took away from my experience as a United Board Fellow is that a university is an ecosystem,” Anne Candelaria, the associate dean for graduate programs at Ateneo de Manila University said in a recent interview. “That was my ‘aha!’ moment.” A healthy ecosystem has interconnected parts – for example, teaching, research, student life – that work in harmony with each other. At many Asian colleges and universities, however, the pressure of internationalization, particularly the globalization of rankings, causes the ecosystem to fall out of balance.
As Dr. Candelaria points out, rankings tend to privilege certain types of higher education institutions, research, and language. This dynamic can cause a shift in the ecosystem, as colleges and universities turn their attention away from teaching, holistic mentoring, and service. It can distort recruitment processes and pathways to promotion. It also can limit the perceived value of community-related research unless faculty are willing to convert their policy-relevant research into an academic publication.
In this type of environment, Dr. Candelaria finds, leaders and faculty need to remind themselves of their college or university’s mission. “Why does our university exist? What does it mean to be in higher education in the Philippines or in Asia? How can we restore balance in our university ecosystem?” These are the types of questions she often reflects upon, and at the Fellows Program’s Summer Institute she discovered that many other Fellows had similar questions. “I had many kitchen conversations with Fellows about these questions,” she recalled.
Students should be at the heart of higher education, and Dr. Candelaria’s placement at the University of Melbourne gave her ideas on how to help Ateneo students feel more connected with each other. “The University of Melbourne is a big university, but students had ways to interact with each other,” she said. When she returned from Melbourne, she developed plans for a two-day Graduate Research Festival. The 2019 festival gave students and faculty a platform to share their research, across programs and disciplines, and place it in the context of the global south; its workshops on non-academic topics opened pathways for students to know each other better. The festival was such a success that a second one was held February 14-15, 2020, with sessions on design thinking, mindfulness, and spirituality as well as research, and faculty now lead cross-department talks with students on a monthly basis.
Dr. Candelaria initially hesitated to apply for the Fellows Program, as she was new in her role as associate dean of graduate programs. But connecting with other educators gave her a fresh perspective on ways to strengthen the Ateneo ecosystem. “Faculty and leaders can be too rooted in their own institutions and miss chances for new experiences and ideas,” she said. “The Fellows Program not only allowed me to expand my world view, it also gave me the courage to speak out about the harsh realities of globalization and how the commodification of knowledge production affects us all in the Global South.”
Dr. Candelaria was named the 2018-2019 Elisabeth Luce Moore United Board Fellow. This recognition is based on her commitment to learning new approaches to leadership and teaching, willingness to make constructive changes at her home institution, and potential for leadership within and beyond her home institution.