Student welfare at the forefront of policymaking, assures OPRES

Policymaking for the OPRES will always be for the voice of the students.

Following the usual turnover of University Student Government (USG) officers every academic year (AY), Giorgina Escoto now leads student leaders of the many subunits as the USG president. With changes to the policymaking of the Office of the President (OPRES), strategies to better cater to student needs in the online learning setup are being put in place. 

However, methodologies in accomplishing such a task remain constant, with the welfare of the Lasallian student body always at the forefront.

Standardizing passages

In the context of the USG, policymaking involves pinpointing major issues within the University that need to be addressed parallel to a review of existing policies. However, strategies to accomplish these goals may differ depending on who is at the helm of such an endeavor.

For Escoto, such a process always starts with listening to students’ sentiments, “The very first step is to reach out to all sectors of the student body through various means.” 

Once these concerns are determined, OPRES holds consultation meetings with various administrative offices such as the Office of Student Affairs, as well as with the USG Judiciary and the Legislative Assembly. Justifying the need for such consultations, Escoto comments, “This is how we make sure that in both content and form, we compose policies that will truly create impact.” 

Additionally, OPRES Chief Policy Advisor Nikhil Santwani emphasizes the importance of observing the student body and maintaining good connection among college units, batch units, the University administration, and other sectors of De La Salle. 

Santwani explains that even the smallest discrepancies—such as the current grading system being disadvantageous to students in certain colleges, the inadequacy of online platforms, students’ discomfort toward personal information being viewable online, among others—are always well-accounted for in their office’s policy making process. 

“It’s not just us solving things…it’s actually everyone—all of us in the University contribute,” Santwani asserts. 

Comparing OPRES’ current policymaking to what it was like during his term, former USG President Lance Dela Cruz agrees that continuous dialogue between the USG and the University’s different sectors is important to achieve “decent” policy changes. 

Dela Cruz further distinguishes policies created by the OPRES as either reactive or proactive. He explains that proactive policies are related to the advocacies the candidates promulgate even before entering the office  such as lobbying to keep the tuition fee increases minimal, to make academic policies fairer, and to improve aspects of student life.  

Meanwhile, reactive policies, he says, are usually crafted in response to issues that arise during officers’ term of office. “The best example of this is the numerous proposals we forwarded as we were trying to get through the first few months of the pandemic,” Dela Cruz cites.

Dela Cruz and his office experienced the rough transition from having face-to-face classes to learning online. Among the considerations in policies were the reevaluation of resource and manpower allocation to address the uncertainties and difficulties brought upon by the first few months of the pandemic. The impact of this transition is still felt until now, where contacting students is proving difficult despite previous presidents’ efforts to also coordinate with other USG officers to survey students’ welfare and dispositions. 

Many other concerns encountered by Dela Cruz and his office remain prevalent under Escoto’s leadership. Especially after the onslaught of natural calamities like after Typhoon Odette hit different areas of the country, unstable internet connectivity plagued households. Unpredictable  COVID-19 surges, too, have greatly affected a great portion of the student population. But while there are similarities, response greatly varied, depending on the effectiveness of communicating these concerns to the University administration and to the student body.

On matters of reason and need

Apart from efforts of OPRES, policies cannot be ratified without the aid of the Vice Chancellor for Academics (VCA) and the Academics Council (AC).

Escoto clarifies that these University offices are “very much involved in the process in the sense that they also serve as advisors to us in improving the policies.” In terms of how these offices work with the USG, VCA Dr. Robert Roleda shares that the AC coordinates with the USG by discussing the finished proposal. “Normally, they would send me a proposal. Depending on the situation, we would invite the USG to present it to the council,” Roleda explains.

He also recounts the process the AC follows during the deliberation of policies, stating that it usually starts by reading the proposal and reviewing the data collected by the USG. He adds that the AC would then deliberate on these propositions through the assessment of the Dean of Student Affairs on behalf of the members of the USG.

“In the end, it’s all about whether the proposal is reasonable or not,” Roleda emphasizes. 

But over the course of the two-year online setup, the number of policies from the USG have only increased. Many of these involved the call for academic easing or breaks prior to, during, and after natural calamities, and COVID-19 surges—both occurrences greatly affecting the well-being of students and people in their households. 

Despite pressure from the USG and the student body, a number of these policies were rejected upon the discretion of the AC. Among these was the excused absence policy due to natural calamities or COVID-19-related matters, which Roleda explains to be already in place and that the USG’s proposal no longer provided new arguments. 

Despite these, however, there are also times wherein the AC and the VCA would find the necessity in these calls. Cases that can be recalled are during the Delta variant surge and the Omicron variant surge wherein excused absences and suspension of classes, respectively, were granted after seeing the data collected from the health survey. Roleda shares that the survey showed that “only about half of the students will be able to focus on their classes,” hence the decision. 

Submitting policies to the administration is not limited to the USG only. Roleda mentions that it also encompasses other sectors of the University and stresses that proposals are not always accepted as is and undergo modifications first before their implementation. 

In coordination with the AC, the DLSU administration, and the USG, OPRES’ policymaking processes must ensure that there is continued provision of quality service to the students even after the transition from one administration to another.

Jhustin Dipasupil

By Jhustin Dipasupil

Michele Gelvoleo

By Michele Gelvoleo

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