Personal, Not Institutional

Personal, Not Institutional

Personal is Not Institutional
By Dr. Enrique G. Oracion, Director of Research

(This material was lifted from the column of Dr. Oracion in the community weekly Metropost.)

For the past week, I wrote two letters to the editors of community newspapers in Dumaguete City and Bacolod City to clarify matters related to the stand of Silliman University regarding the One Negros Island Region proposal. The ringside role of the University in the debate has seemingly taken a center role—it is making impact.

There were readers of a Dumaguete newspaper who thought that Silliman University is for the merger of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental because the findings of the studies of its researchers are interpreted to support the creation of one island region.

Partly, these studies were also cited as bases of the resolutions of political and business groups requesting for an Executive Order to realize the proposal.

Meanwhile, a Bacolod-based newspaper banners the title of an article stating that Silliman proposes the One-Negros Island RDC. This report was based on a radio interview where, along with Law Dean Mikhail Maxino, I expressed agreement to this concept when this was insistently brought out by the program host of an FM station in Dumaguete. We were invited as resource persons in our personal capacities.

A major political figure behind the One Negros Island Region initiative immediately reacted that this is unacceptable as an alternative. He must have thought it was really a Silliman proposal.

The presence of some Silliman researchers in consultative meetings and fora organized mostly by the pro-group, where they presented their findings, had also drawn negative comments from those against the proposal.

Moreso, the researchers, whose findings have shown more advantages or leanings toward the possibility of the creation of a one island region, have most likely contributed also to the wrong impression about the position or role of Silliman University in this debate.

But the independent study of Silliman University was not intended as a position paper, even if the findings appear to have “supported the creation of one island region.”

This quotation from a news report draws conflicting interpretation from different readers, and my attention was called for that. The compilation of studies shared to interest groups were actually aimed to contribute some ideas, materials, and studies for consideration by all stakeholders who are engaged in this discussion—in favor or against.

The pronouncement of any member of the research team is a personal matter, and does not carry the stand of Silliman University.

Although the administration could have taken an institutional stand, if it wanted to, it rather opted to be neutral so it can freely engage with all groups, and contribute to the promotion of well-informed decision-making in local governance.

It also gives freedom to its faculty, staff and students to support either position to the proposal after they have thoroughly examined available information.

Sociologically, anyone could be in a dilemma, either to leave a wrong impression as is, and let it pass, or to immediately correct it, when one’s personal opinion is misconstrued by the public as representing an institutional stand.

This is the experience of some people engaged with various publics either connected with the government or NGOs, and caught in between what they personally believed in, and what their institutional position expected them to demonstrate.

But the unclear divide between what is personal and institutional often results to role conflict and social tensions. It erodes trust and confidence that may draw people away from individuals or institutions whom they perceived to be bias. Reputational damage has to be prevented or controlled through a disclaimer, and an assumption of accountability whenever certain ideas and actions may have unintended consequences.

This allows the enjoyment of freedom of personal expression, and the maintenance of the desired reputation of the institution one is identified with.

For instance, I keep this MetroPost column as a personal engagement, distinct from my professional work in the University. Therefore, any opinion I share here is mine, and must not be assumed as the position of my institutional affiliation, unless specifically stated.

I also display my personal email address to symbolize what is mine from what is related to my work.

But when I wrote to the editors of both newspapers, I mentioned my work position, and indicated Silliman University as my address. I did those letters as my duty in behalf, and for the benefit of the University I work in.

In my sharing of views about the One Negros Island Region proposal in radio programs, civic organization discussions, and consultation meetings, I always start with a disclaimer that I do not carry the stand of Silliman University or any of its officials. I have no authority to do it.

But when I am introduced as a professor and Research director, the association between what I say or do and Silliman University is cognitively formed by the public — which cannot be easily avoided. This is particularly the case when the association involves controversies that excite more public reactions and opinions.

Thus, the lesson here is that anyone working in the public domain should be conscious and self-reflecting of what images or messages he is projecting because what is personal is oftentimes perceived by the unfamiliar as also institutional.