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Xavier University main campus – whither?

By Antonio J. Ledesma SJ
Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro

First part

Over the past two months in Cagayan de Oro City, a public discussion has arisen over the proposed sale of four hectares of the 6.3 hectares of the downtown main campus of Xavier University along with another 14.3 hectares of its 64-ha campus in Manresa Heights. Cebu Landmasters Inc. has offered an initial P3.5 billion PH pesos plus another P1.5 billion pesos for this transaction over a ten-year period. This will enable XU to erect new buildings and transfer to a 21-ha campus in Manresa.

The proposal was approved by the XU Board of Trustees last September 2018, but it is only now since July 2019 that the XU community – alumni, faculty, students, and local government officials – have been informed and given some over-all picture. (The more detailed plans are still said to be worked out; the maps of the proposed changes in the old and new campus have been flashed on the screen but copies have not been released for further scrutiny by concerned parties.)

The final decision, we are told, will come from the Superior-General of the Society of Jesus in Rome. However he has prudently withheld the decision until all quarters have been consulted. It is in this light that we are presenting these observations.

I. LOCATION AND ACCESSIBILITY

The greatest “asset” of the university is its present downtown location, at the Divisoria area, the original university town of Cagayan de Oro. Many jeepney routes coming from all points of the city pass in front of XU, making it accessible to most students who commute by public transport.

On the other hand, the proposed main campus in Manresa located on the western upland area of the city, would not be easily accessible for students coming from the eastern, northern and southern parts of the city. Many would have to take an additional jeepney ride. Furthermore, the main road going up to Manresa around Pryce Hotel has choke points allowing only a two-lane traffic. Present commuters coming from Manresa, Xavier Estates, Xavier Heights, Pueblo subdivisions, and Lumbia complain about long traffic lines lasting a half hour or more. How much more when 10,000 students are asked to travel that way every day! The Manresa site itself is now associated with the upscale housing section of the city, especially after Typhoon Sendong; this may compromise XU’s mission of reaching out to ordinary students. (See city map.)

The main reason proposed for the transfer to a new campus is the congestion and noise surrounding the present XU campus. Has there been a serious study made on this to warrant such a radical move to transfer practically the entire campus to Manresa? The remarks that have been given are merely anecdotal – e.g., the noise from the football field or the covered court or the gym disturbing classes at times. But can this not be minimized by simply regulating the hours of use of these facilities?  Or if really necessary, it is these facilities that could be transferred to Manresa, not the classroom buildings.

Likewise, it is alleged that the vehicular traffic outside disturbs the tranquillity of the campus. But there are no classrooms fronting the Divisoria road network; and many first floor offices are air-conditioned. In fact, much of the commercial traffic has already transferred to the mall area along Recto Avenue. What is left is the regular flow of jeepneys advantageous for student commuters. Moreover, there is neither marked congestion inside the classroom nor along the corridors. Students have learned to move around in an orderly manner. The proximity of the buildings within a compact 6-hectare campus can actually be conducive for students as they move easily from one building to another.

II. THE PRESENT MAIN CAMPUS

Many visitors to Xavier University have noted its well-planned campus with a central driveway flanked by mahogany trees and three main buildings (the Science Center and the old and new library buildings). The driveway leads to the university chapel at the center of the campus. The buildings at the rear of the chapel are also well laid out with a football field flanked by the Social Science and Commerce buildings on one side and the Jesuit residence and Haggerty Hall on the other side. Three more imposing buildings form another quadrangle at the rear end of the campus: the Nursing (formerly CIT), Engineering and Medicine buildings. On the left side of the campus, we have the covered courts, gymnasium-auditorium and the Agriculture building. Other structures include the Student Center, Museo de Oro, a convento for the Religious of the Assumption sisters, and the pre-war Lucas Hall building. In the proposed deal with the land developer, only the chapel, Lucas Hall and the Jesuit residence will be left standing. (See XU campus map.)

Lately, the multi-story Commerce building underwent a major retrofitting of its structure to make it sturdier against earthquakes. A portion of the football field had an underground catch basin built to better control flooding. All the buildings are solidly built and fully functional. The additional requirements for fire prevention measures and enlargement of some laboratories can be adequately addressed without tearing down whole structures.

Moreover, a number of these solidly-built edifices have been constructed with the help of generous donors: the old library building with the help of Ford Foundation; the Science Center from Misereor through the solicitation of Fr. William Masterson SJ; the Engineering building from USAID through Fr. Ernesto Javier SJ; the Social Science Center from Misereor through Fr. Francis Madigan SJ; the former CIT building in collaboration with Meralco Foundation; the Medical and former hospital building from the German Doctors; and the Museo de Oro from various donors through Fr. Francisco Demetrio SJ. How would the donors react if their donated buildings are now scrapped?

In the proposed plan to sell 14 hectares in Manresa for a township site, the landmark Misereor-funded SEARSOLIN building along William Masterson Avenue will also be demolished. Even the Jesuit cemetery will have to be relocated. The COCOFED dorms  and retreat center with its newly-constructed covered court, it seems, will also be replaced.

Many alumni and friends of XU upon hearing about the proposed transfer of the main campus to Manresa have repeatedly raised the question, “What for?”. Is it really necessary? Is it beneficial, considering the demolition of at least 16 major structures? At current prices, a number of these solidly-built edifices can cost a lot of money (considering that the recently-inaugurated XU Sports Center alone at Pueblo had cost P300 million). There are still serious doubts about the adequacy of P5 billion to replace the loss of these buildings. Rising prices over the next decade also have to be factored in.

The priceless legacy left behind by the earlier Jesuit pioneers, faculty and alumni are memorialized in the way the XU main campus has been built up over the past 86 years. XU has indeed grown with the city and has in fact become the end-point of the Divisoria as the historical and cultural center of the city. The historian and anthropologist Dr. Antonio “Nono” Montalvan II has commented that selling out the main campus along Corrales Avenue and Hayes Street is equivalent to selling the university’s “crown jewels”.

Records also show that the land for the main campus was turned over in 1939 to the Society of Jesus by then Bishop James Hayes SJ, with the stated purpose for “the education of as many as possible, especially those of lack of means.” Hence, the university is at the service of the archdiocese. (All the major institutions started by Archbishop Hayes are located along what is now called Santiago Hayes Street: Lourdes College, XU, Maria Reyna Xavier University Hospital, the Carmelite Convent and San Jose de Mindanao Seminary.) Many concerned alumni have expressed their sentiments after the initial consultations arranged by university officials that XU is giving up much more than what could be gained from this transaction.

The proposal has Xavier University selling four hectares of its present Divisoria main campus and 14.3 hectares of its Manresa campus for P5 billion to enable the re-building of the University at Manresa campus for a student body of twenty thousand over the next ten years. (Xavier University is selling land to Cebu Landmasters as if it was selling raw land inasmuch as the very functional buildings will be demolished for the new commercial and condo complex.) In ten years Xavier University will have a new campus on 21 hectares of Manresa. It will rebuild what it now has in Divisoria at the Manresa campus with a serious problem of accessibility for students, faculty and staff. Financially, XU is giving up so much to relocate at Manresa. Is this financial cost for XU worth it? We feel strongly it is not.

Is it good for the University to double its tertiary level student population? Is such growth feasible, especially in the light of the questionable accessibility of Manresa campus, free education at state colleges and universities and the competition from other schools more accessible in Cagayan de Oro City? How much higher would tuition and other school fees be at the new campus? Agriculture students will also be greatly affected and inconvenienced with farm laboratories transferred to El Gaucho property. (to be continued)

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