Silliman's Journey of Over a Century
To most Americans in the late 1800, Dumaguete was a name their tongue was still to master. It was unfamiliar to them. Even the Philippines, which at that time was still recovering from the onslaught of the Spanish-American War, was not on the immediate list for a Presbyterian mission. But it took the vision and commitment of a man to turn this around.
The late Dr. Arthur Carson, third Silliman president, wrote in his book how a man's strong resolve to help shape up Philippine education paved the way for the establishment of Silliman University. The man was Dr. Horace B. Silliman, a retired businessman of the town of Cohoes in New York State.
In 1899, Dr. Silliman appeared at the office of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions with the conviction that the Filipino people would need a new kind of education. To support this, he contributed the initial sum of $10,000 toward the founding of an industrial school. Legend has it that the Board Secretary was surprised and explained that the Board had only begun to consider a mission in the Philippine islands. At that time, news was fresh on the naval victory of Admiral Dewey over the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. The Board Secretary thought it would be too early for a school.
But the visitor persisted. Something had caught his imagination about these islands, and the people whom he had never seen and whom he would never meet.
Dr. Silliman had long been an active supporter of schools and colleges. Among such institutions was Hampton Institute of Virginia, and his proposal to the Presbyterian Board was for an industrial school in the Philippines on the Hampton model.
The mission in the Philippines started with Dr. David Sutherland Hibbard and wife, Laura, who were commissioned to head it. Three areas were considered: Cebu, Zamboanga and Iloilo. While in Cebu, someone suggested for him to make a side trip to Dumaguete. Sailing from Cebu on a Saturday night, he came out early on deck the next morning and saw 'the unsurpassed drama of a Dumaguete morning from the sea.'
It was told that the friendly attitude of the people and the caliber of the local officials attracted him to Dumaguete, a 'place of health and beauty.'
On August 28, 1901, Silliman Institute was established. As Dr. Hibbard described the modest beginning of Silliman half a century later:
'There were fifteen boys that first morning. The equipment consisted of four desks about ten feet long, two tables and two chairs, a few McGuffey's Readers, a few geographies, arithmetics and ninth-grade grammars. I was President; Mrs. Hibbard was the faculty.'
Enrollment in the university grew gradually to include students from Asian countries. 1912 marked the admission into the university of the first female student, Pura Blanco.
Silliman was granted university status in 1938.
Developments on campus were interrupted by two significant events in Philippine history: World War II and martial law. But Silliman braved these historic events and left dents on the pages of Philippine history.
At the height of the war, Silliman faculty members and students evacuated to four localities in Negros Oriental, and continued rendering professional services whenever there was an opportunity. This led to the establishment of the Jungle University in the mountain of Malabo the first community school in the Philippines.
In 1972, when martial law was declared, Silliman was one of the first two universities closed. It was also one of the last universities allowed to resume operations after the closure. Despite the threat to life and democracy, martial law did not, however, stop students from gathering and keeping their patriotism aflame. At the basement of the Silliman Church, in a room named the Catacombs, the 'secret' campus rendezvous of students continued.
The rich contribution of Silliman to Philippine history has earned it the distinction of National Landmark from the National Historical Institute on June 19, 2002.
Growth of Silliman in the early period was greatly attributable to the support of the local community. Local families shared in the vision of Dr. Silliman and believed in the educational pursuits of Dr. and Mrs. Hibbard, and accordingly offered their properties through sale and donation to expand the campus. Later developments were characterized by more infrastructure development and initiation of student activities, ranging from journalism, public speaking, performing arts, and athletics.
Silliman continues to be nurtured under administrations headed by presidents of character and tested credentials. Its incumbent president, Dr. Ben S. Malayang III, is a notable environmentalist. He is a Silliman alumnus, and holds a PhD in Wildland Resource Science from the University of California Berkley, and graduate degrees in Philosophy of Science and in Ethics and in International Affairs and Economics from Ohio University.
Three American presidents and eight Filipino presidents have previously served as elected Silliman presidents: Dr. David Hibbard (1901-1930), Dr. Roy Brown (1932-1936), Dr. Arthur Carson (1939-1953); Dr. Leopoldo Ruiz (1953-1961); Dr. Cicero Calderon (1962-1971); Dr. Quintin Doromal (1973-1982); Justice Venacio Aldecoa (1983-1986); Dr. Pedro Flores (1987-1989); Dr. Angel Alcala (1991-1992); Dr. Mervyn Misajon (1994-1996); and Dr. Agustin Pulido (1996-2006).
All of the country's top universities would boast of offering quality education. Silliman is no different. But while it joins the ranks of prestigious Philippine universities, it is humbled by a gift of a location that bespeaks of the natural environment's complement to academic learning - one feature that sets Silliman apart from the rest.
Dotted with over 300 acacia trees, the Silliman campus is uniquely embraced in between views of the Cuernos de Negros mountains in its background and the Visayan sea at its frontage. The 62-hectare campus offers patches of greens on where personal relationships are nurtured, spiritual nourishment facilitated, and the concept of quality student life redefined.
Silliman University is a melting pot of cultures and religions. Of its overall population of more than 9,000, over 300 are international students from 23 different countries. Its affiliation with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines as a Protestant university has never been a hindrance to the exercise of religious freedom. Majority of Silliman students are Roman Catholics and a good number are Muslims from Mindanao.
The university is located in the charming city of Dumaguete, dubbed the 'City of Gentle People,' an hour away by plane from Manila and four hours away by boat from Cebu. Silliman thrives in a city where the strip of restaurants offering good food along the boulevard and where everything a student needs is just a stone's throw away. While offering the coveted 'retirement getaway' environment, the city is not left behind by progress. You can find infrastructure developments and businesses sprouting in support of the city's "University Town" concept.
Campus life revolves around the motto Via, Veritas, Vita (of Christ being the Way, the Truth, the Life). It is Silliman's mission to develop the whole person within the Christian context and in a sound environment. Students are expected to put their education to work in service to others - another mark that distinguishes Silliman from other institutions of higher learning.
It is also the conducive residential campus life that sets Silliman University apart from the other leading universities in the Philippines. The 12 regular and cooperative dormitories provide a home away from home for Silliman students who come from outside Dumaguete. In the dormitories, students belong to a family, a part of the bigger Silliman community. Corollary to this sense of community is the "Silliman Spirit" - an atmosphere of personal closeness, warmth, friendship and concern.
Silliman Education's 5Cs
Silliman's goal of building competence, character and faith anchored on the Gospel of Christ aims for the development of the whole person. It believes that success and fulfillment are achieved when one views himself or herself in relation to the larger community. Silliman therefore envisions genuine quality Christian education as a result of an interaction of experiences from at least five venues: the classroom, the Church, the cultural center, the (athletic) court, and the community.
The classroom is a major component of the "second home" of students. Teaching at Silliman is made to challenge students to question prevailing concepts and theories, and find meaning in them in their day to day activities. Important to Silliman University is a mentoring system that walks students through the learning process of life.
Christian faith is foundational to a Silliman education. Various activities for faith nurture, education, worship, fellowship, and service are in store for Silliman students all year round. These are activities that are receptive to the changing needs and preferences of students. Church activities are designed and organized in a way that does not discriminate students from other religious denominations.
The Cultural Center
Every semester, the Cultural Affairs Committee stages five shows that put value on the appreciation for the arts at what most consider as the "cultural center of the south": the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium. Silliman students get a taste of the works of nationally- and internationally-acclaimed literary, visual and performing artists throughout the school year. Season tickets at subsidized rates are made available to students.
The (Athletic) Court
Sports play an equally important part in the life of a Silliman student. The campus boasts of facilities for ball games, swimming, contact sports, and archery. In the field of archery, Mark Javier, the lone Filipino male archer in the Beijing Olympics, is a fresh addition to the list of Sillimanian Olympians: archers Jennifer Chan and Lisa Ygnalaga and long jumper Simeon Toribio.
Service-learning and volunteerism are vital components of all academic disciplines in the university. Students are challenged to test theories and principles through actual community work. With identified partner communities, Silliman students develop projects and programs, integrating expertise in business development, health care, legal management, and environmental advocacy. Sustaining this thrust on an international level, Silliman is active in an international service-learning program that aims for cultural understanding and a multi-sectoral approach to addressing social concerns.
Silliman is one of select higher education institutions in the country granted autonomous status by the Commission on Higher Education. The same government agency has also designated Silliman as a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education and Teacher Education and a Center of Development in Biology, Information Technology Education and Accountancy.
With support from the United States Agency for International Development, Silliman is a Center of Excellence in Coastal Resource Management. Its community-based coastal resource management program has inspired the recognition of Apo Island off the town of Dauin as one of the best diving spots in the world.
Just like other top universities, Silliman's academic programs undergo regular evaluation by any of three accrediting agencies: Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities, Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities-Accrediting Agency, Inc., and the Association of Theological Education in Southeast Asia.
It maintains links on collaborative research and faculty and student exchange with universities in the United States and Asia, on top of strong affiliations with the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia (UBCHEA) and international development organizations. Its longest running student exchange programs are with three Japanese universities: International Christian University, Ferris University and Shikoku Gakuin University.