“TO WHOM are we beholden?”
Every year, new leaders are appointed in the executive boards of the Ateneo’s 49 accredited student organizations. Life in the student organizations is vibrant in the school; many in the Loyola School’s 8,000-strong population are members of an org or two. Every year, elected officers strive to uphold their orgs’ vision and mission, a challenge that culminates with an evaluation for performance and accreditation—not by the orgs themselves, but by an arm of the school administration, the Office of Student Activities (OSA).
OSA’s Perfomance Management System (PMS) is a tool used to evaluate orgs’ performance based on set criteria. If an org fails to get a good grade, its status as an officially recognized and supported Ateneo student group may be revoked.
But some student leaders are questioning this system, saying that orgs should be given autonomy in the achievement of their goals. Others see it as an added burden, a requirement hanging over their heads, asking to be accomplished—sometimes, at the cost of focusing on the org’s own development.
The quantitative nature of the PMS has elicited polarized responses from the presidents of different student organizations.
The Assembly President Steffi Sales says that the PMS has gone beyond its initial purpose of providing guidance, explaining that it has been “increasing its hold on the organizations too much.”
“We don’t like the PMS. We really think it’s too controlling. It has been totalitarian over the years and takes out the democratic process completely,” she says.
“It’s too restrictive; it takes away the creativity of each organization. It stops in its goal of really proving itself to be a support for the organizations. Instead, we are subjected to the PMS, not that the PMS is in support of us,” she adds.
On the other hand, Ateneo Catechetical Instruction League President Kitkat Narciso finds the PMS very useful.
“I don’t see it as any type of thing [that would make me say], ‘Oh, they’re giving us a harder time.’ Yes, it involves paper work, it involves a lot of collaboration and coordination with OSA, but ultimately, I think their goal is to help us,” she says. “And for me, it’s been helping ACIL.”
“We always go back to it anyway… As a student, you have a lot of things to worry about, so [with] something as concrete as [PMS] in terms of having your goals set, having it written down for you, it’s a lot easier. You have that thing to look back to, to base progress on.”
PMS for young orgs
But for Ateneo Debate Society member Peterson Poon, the PMS is too demanding on orgs, and its success indicators are simply “tokenistic.”
“There is no incentive for people to not achieve goals,” he says. “At best, [satisfying the PMS requirements] is additional work for everyone that doesn’t improve performance.”
Because the org has to manage fulfilling requirements for the PMS alongside handling internal procedures, it becomes problematic during the goal-setting and implementation phase of the organization, says Poon.
The org can either set a low goal, so it can achieve PMS requirements, or it can set a high goal, but risk getting penalized for not failing to live up to such an aim.
Poon believes that organizations will be more successful if given the autonomy. He does, however, still see some value to the PMS—but only for young, fledgling organizations.
“I understand the school’s stand because we use the Ateneo name,” he says. “I just don’t think [the PMS] works, except maybe for young organizations which do not really know yet their identity.”
With the PMS asking for specific details about the orgs’ mission, vision, and planned projects, young organizations will then be “pressured… to figure out their identity.”
“But for established orgs, it’s clear to us what we want to do,” he says.
For former Issue and Policy Analysis (IPA) cluster member Mark Davis Pablo, there is a need to restructure PMS, not totally abolish it. But he emphasizes the need to have student leaders present during the negotiations and consultations for the system.
“The PMS is needed in so far as it can help orgs have a clear structure and direction,” he says. “But it must not come to a point that the yearend report or the projects become an end in itself.”
He adds that sometimes, the quality of an org’s projects are compromised because of the more pressing need to fulfill PMS requirements. Satisfactory PMS requirements mean the continued accreditation of the org.
Org officers also face an overlapping of functions whenever OSA activities are scheduled along with org projects. This is particularly evident during the annual evaluation seminars that orgs hold every semestral break. Orgs use this time to evaluate themselves and charter new courses of action for the remaining months of the school year.
The problem, however, is that OSA also requires org representatives to an evaluation seminar organized by the office. Sometimes, this means that one of the officers must be present in the OSA seminar but absent in his or her org’s own.
“Para kanino ba talaga designed ang org (Who is the org really designed for)?” Pablo asks. “To whom are we beholden? If it’s to the administration rather than the members, then there is no point in coming up with a vision and mission for the org.”
The blurred lines between the org’s autonomy and OSA’s intervention are problematic, he says.
“Each org deserves to be self-governing. [The Council of Organizations of the Ateneo] OSA are better off as consultative bodies rather than administrative institutions.”
But even with these, Pablo acknowledges the potential value of the PMS. He, however, emphasizes the need to investigate what brand of PMS will work for each particular org.
“It must be tailor-fit, not one-size-fits-all,” he says. “We are imposing a different kind of measuring which does not really reflect the nature and orientation of participating orgs.”
He says that the current system is a priori biased to management orgs, what with terms like “success indicators” and “core competencies.”
Although OSA Director Chris Castillo said in an earlier interview that over-customizing the PMS may remove any standard for comparison, Pablo reiterates that a tailor-fit PMS would be better for the varying nature of organizations.
“Why compare? Is there a need to compare organizations?” he asks, asserting that the different student organizations have their own sets of standards.