Message of the Dean

Maria Luz C. Vilches


One lasting feature of the more than 150-year history and tradition of Ateneo de Manila University is its Humanistic Jesuit education. The humanities are an expression of a society’s vision of itself.  During the Renaissance, education in the humanities formed leaders and public servants into full human beings – reflective and articulate, insightful and imaginative, and good at making correct judgments.

Celebrating Humanistic Education

In 2011, Ateneo commemorated the 150th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal foremost Ateneo alumnus.  With it was also a celebration of the triumph of humanistic Ateneo education that helped produce a Renaissance man, a man of letters, a national hero, deeply dedicated to the service of forging a Filipino nation.  In 1877 Rizal obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Ateneo with a mark of Sobresaliente (Excellent) in Latin, Greek, Spanish, History, Geography, Rhetoric, Poetry.

Humanistic Jesuit education also bore fruit in many more Filipinos, the likes of Juan Luna and Gregorio del Pilar.  In later times, statesmen – men with passion for justice and truth – like Claro M. Recto, Francisco Soc Rodrigo, Raul S. Manglapus. Ateneo’s humanistic education has also produced so far, two National Artists that guard and continue to build tradition:  Lamberto V. Avellana (first National Artist of the Philippines for Film) and Salvador S. Bernal (National Artist for Theater Design).  In addition, a host of creative writers and scholars from whom the young generation of writers take inspiration:  Gregorio Brillantes, Eric Torres, Jose Lacaba, Leon Ma. Guerrero, Horacio de la Costa, S.J., Alfredo Salanga, Reynaldo Ileto, and many more.

Today, many humanities graduates are successful professionals or leaders in their own fields:  Jesuits and school administrators among them; professors that continue to mold the minds and hearts of the youth for excellence and service; entrepreneurs, lawyers in private practice, government, and NGO work; artists in the film, media, music, theater, creatives industries, and exhibit curating; creative writers and literature majors in investment companies, editing work, communication industry, advertising.

The Ateneans of today will constantly be reminded that they stand on the shoulders of great people – heroes like Rizal as well as men and women Ateneans educated in the humanities who have done very well in their fields and in the service of the nation. 

The Humanities in Today’s World

Today, when society has shifted greater interest to science and technology as well as to business and the industry, a university education is seen primarily as a means for getting high-paying jobs and an aid to social mobility. This line of thinking can often side-track other values that a university education is supposed to inculcate – the development of a person’s moral fiber.  The Philippine Daily Inquirer Editorial of 8 April 2008 articulates this perspective more concretely as follows:

What is often forgotten is that a university education should also help students develop emotional intelligence, a broad cultural outlook the right moral perspective….a university education should develop a mind open to truth and a heart which loves the truth….Students may amass a lot of knowledge of facts, theories and techniques; they may acquire cognitive skills, but if they have no moral and ethical perspective, they will not be good members of society.”

As Rizal puts it:  “Without virtue, there is no liberty.”

I have met a lot of parents who tend to discourage their children from pursuing the latter’s passion for creativity, from cultivating the life of the mind and the fervor of the heart.  It is because these endeavors are often perceived as too far away from acquiring the ready cash that brings home the daily bread.  The view from humanities alumni who are leaders in business and the industry, however, is different. They report that in considering applicants to their companies, they pay closer attention not much to business and management training because these skills could be learned on the job.  Rather, they look at background in philosophy, literature, the arts – a broad humanities background that forms the person’s ability to think out of the box, a long term indicator of success.  Professionals formed in the humanities have a greater capacity to solve problems creatively from ground zero.

Facing the Crisis Proactively

In the wake of what is termed as a worldwide crisis in the humanities, how do we, particularly in the School of Humanities, address this challenge today?  How do we face the crimes against the humanities and prevent these from escalating?

First, we maintain our mission of building character – to help students know more deeply who they are so that they will know better  what they can do and equip them with what Marshall McLuhan calls a ‘crap detector’ – to make them more savvy in differentiating fact from fiction, good from better, glitter from gold,  ghosts that haunt from the Ghost that is Holy – the true spirit of wisdom.

The importance of the humanities in Ateneo education can be shown more graphically in the core curriculum, where the courses in the humanities occupy more than 50% of the total core, shared by ALL the students in ALL fields of concentration.

All Ateneans are students in the humanities. It is their training in the humanities that makes successful Atenean social entrepreneurs, Atenean businessmen, or Atenean scientists different from any other professionals in the workplace.

a)    Formation Through the Core Courses

The School of Humanities has a complement of over 200 faculty members, among the best teachers on campus: four Metrobank Most Outstanding Teacher awardees in philosophy, theater arts, and literature and eighteen Most Outstanding Teachers as honored by the Ateneo Schools Parents Council.  These teachers help students befriend what David Brooks refers to as the Big Shaggy – “the inner beast in us, the seat of passions, drives, yearnings, fears but also the source of the upheavals of thought that are represented in story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech.”

The study of literature improves students’ ability to read and write, familiarizes them with the language of emotions and people’s motivations, trains them to think and articulate their ideas better in terms of analogies.

Formation of students also means grounding them in Philippine culture, an essential context of self-identity, making them more acutely aware and appreciate the richness and uniqueness of Philippine literary and cultural traditions.  Ang Kagawaran ng Filipino ay nagtuturo ng panitikan, kultura at wikang Filipino.  Karamihan sa mga guro dito ay mga batikang manunulat, makata, kwentista,  director,  artista sa entablado at iba pa. [The Department of Filipino teaches literature and Filipino language.  Most of its faculty members are well-known poets, fictionists, directors, stage actors, and many more.]

The Department of English has expertise in teaching composition and literature.  Among its faculty members are creative writers who have won awards in poetry, fiction, and the essay; also scholars who have engaged the international public. The English classes train the students’ eye in critical reading of works from a multicultural perspective and curing them of the anaemia of boringly nice clichés by making them encounter fresh and sharp insights couched in a language that awaken interest and imagination.

In the tradition of wisdom and eloquence, the study of literature is in tandem with the study of languages as fostered by the Department of Modern Languages.

In philosophy, students are helped to address fundamental questions about what it means to be human.  They develop habits of philosophical reflection, expressed in English and in Filipino.  In theology, students develop a thinking faith that leads them to respond to the call for moral transformation and spiritual renewal. 

b)    The Degree and Minors Programs

Aside from teaching the core courses, the School of Humanities also offers major M.A. and AB programs in literature (English and Filipino) as well as in Philosophy.  Theology offers an MA program for religious educators; in collaboration with the Loyola School of Theology, it also offers a PhD program. The departments of English and Philosophy have each got a doctoral program as well. The Modern Languages Department offers minors programs in French, German, and Hispanic studies.

The Department of Interdisciplinary Studies has a unique place in the School.  It provides an opportunity for students to pursue their interests in a combination of tracks.  I.S. courses show the breadth of field and the freedom of choice in view of future jobs. With two degree programs and a minor in Music Literature, I.S. enables the students to synthesize insights from varied perspectives.

The Fine Arts Program has a multi-track BFA degree programs, fostering the Ateneo tradition of creative writing, theater arts, art appreciation and management, and the visual arts.  What currently attracts a lot of students is the major in Information Design.  I.D. has exciting projects, some of which are in coordination with the Ateneo Innovation Center. Students in the Fine Arts program are trained not just to do art but to have an eye for art and to have the insight that informs what they perceive.  It is philosophy that propels the kindling of the artistic passion – a mindset that also informs how life is lived. Of course the Ateneo wouldn’t be the Ateneo without theater performances.   The theater arts program formalizes this tradition in its course offerings.

c)    International Educational Programs

Formation of students’ character doesn’t stop with school activities. It also involves intercultural exchanges and international educational exposures for students.  Through the School of Humanities Junior Term Abroad Program in which students gain additional experience in their major fields, an Information Design student, for example, who went to Kansai Gaidai in Osaka took up workshops in Ceramic Art; a Literature student who went to La Trobe University in Melbourne did classical Greek; Philosophy students who went to the Institute of Philosophy in Louvain read works of philosophers that are not ordinarily taken up here.

The School of Humanities also does a yearly 3-week European Summer Study Tours to Spain, Germany, France, organized by the Department of Modern Languages.  Students learn language and experience culture and earn 6 units credit towards their minors program requirements. In Asia, there is the 2-week Beijing Immersion Program organized by Peking University.  Students learn calligraphy, Mandarin, Tai Chi, Chinese culture and history; they visit cultural and historical places in Beijing.  They get a 3-unit credit for an elective course in Chinese Language and Culture.

The Lasting Impact

Now, we might ask, at the end of their study, what do all Ateneans really remember of their days in the Ateneo?

It’s their philosophy, their theology, their literature courses.  A Creative Writing 2004 graduate said in a survey that these courses gave her “a sense of self – knowing my limits, knowing my capabilities, discovering things about myself that have strengthened my idea of who I am and what I am.” Such kind of experiences have helped Atenenas tame the Big Shaggy in their lives, giving them education of the heart.

Let’s go back to Rizal, our Atenean Renaissance man, walking calmly to his execution in Bagumbayan on the morning of 30 December 1896.  Catching sight of the spires of San Ignacio church, he asked, “Is that the Ateneo?” The Jesuits who accompanied him confirmed that yes it was, indeed, the Ateneo.  Rizal then retorted: “I spent seven years there.  "Everything that the Jesuits taught me was good and holy..." 

What Rizal said can make us think that, at the end of the day, what is lasting is that which fills the need of the human spirit, borne out of a meaningful struggle for growth with grace and faith.