By ANTONIO J. LEDESMA, SJ
Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro
INDEED, a number of alumni have questioned the propriety of XU entering into a commercial transaction that would transform much of the downtown campus into a high-rise condominium complex and also establish a township beside the proposed Manresa campus. Has XU relegated its primary educational mission to commercial interests? If the university needs recurrent income for its operations, it has already disposed of its 100 hectares beyond Manresa in a partnership with Xavier Estates for this purpose.
Many universities in the country have experienced growth challenges by expanding on a second or even third campus beyond its downtown campus. The old buildings have been retained while new buildings are built up one at a time on the new campus. In fact, XU has already been doing this by relocating its high school and grade school departments to its Pueblo campus. Likewise, the Center for Industrial Technology is already located in Manresa, together with the recently-built dormitory for senior high school students. The model shown by San Carlos University in Cebu City is worth considering – retaining its downtown campus while setting up new buildings and departments on the more expansive Talamban campus. In fact, according to a former XU trustee, this was the approach being discussed with the previous XU President.
Several XU engineering alumni and current faculty have made a similar recommendation: “If there is a real need to decongest the main campus, study the possibility of making Manresa a technology center. It will be a cluster where CIT, College of Engineering, College of Agriculture, College of Science and Research Laboratories will be located.”
On its part, the College of Agriculture has signified its readiness to help develop the El Gaucho property (once the appeal to the Supreme Court decision is resolved). Its dean and faculty ask, however, for a designated area to be retained in Manresa for its continuing student field work. The Searsolin building can also be used for seminars and conferences as part of the outreach program of the university. In fact, there is a pending proposal from the coop institutions in the region to collaborate with XU to make Searsolin a training center for cooperatives in Mindanao – a central focus in Fr. Masterson’s original vision for a society founded on the principles of cooperativism.
For many alumni, the 64 hectares of Manresa should be retained for future expansion. The envisioned 20.6 hectares for a new campus may eventually be too limited for a growing student population. On the other side of the picture, the current enrollment figures of the XU colleges have shown a decline – perhaps due to the transition of the K to 12 grade levels, but also perhaps due to the increased competition from state colleges that offer tuition-free enrollment. It is this uncertainty that poses a major risk in adopting a drastic move at this time for building a campus presumably for 20,000 students or more. A key question remains: how large should Xavier University be?
Many of these observations should have been presented to the XU Board of Trustees before their decision for the transfer of the main campus was made last September 2018. Alumni and friends of XU have raised the question why consultations are being made only now (post-mortem) – after the board had already made its decision. Furthermore, these consultations seem to have been conducted on a selective basis, according to some alumni who felt that they were not included. The search for an incoming XU president by the next school year should also be taken into account. Will the next president be receptive to this proposal of demolishing the present buildings and moving to a new campus? Is he willing to undertake the herculean task of designing and constructing the new buildings over the next decade?
In summary, we find that the proposal for a new campus and a tie-up with a land developer at this time is not necessary; there is no urgent need for this and no serious study has been made. It is not beneficial and will incur many risks in terms of accessibility of the new campus and declining enrollments. And it is not practicable; why tear down the present buildings only to put up new ones on a campus that is only five kilometers away with a serious problem of accessibility?
The implied similarity with the experience of Ateneo de Manila University moving to a larger campus in Loyola Heights is not valid. The Padre Faura campus was totally destroyed after the war and there were no functional buildings left. The pre-war Ateneo was also not as strategically located as XU is in Cagayan de Oro. In the case of XU, it can easily manage a multi-campus development program where structures are already in place and only new ones need to be planned. The future of Xavier University lies in its present downtown campus with expansion possibilities in Manresa Heights.