Constitutional Law, Political Law

Ateneo de Manila University v. Capulong G.R. No. 99327 May 27, 1993 Academic Freedom

FACTS:

As a requisite to membership, the Aquila Legis, a fraternity organized in the Ateneo Law School, held its initiation rites on February 8, 9 and 10, 1991, for students interested in joining its ranks. As a result of such initiation rites, Leonardo “Lennie” H. Villa, a first year student of petitioner university, died of serious physical injuries, while another freshman was hospitalized for acute renal failure.

Petitioner Dean Cynthia del Castillo created a Joint Administration-Faculty-Student Investigating Committee, tasked to investigate and submit a report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Lennie Villa. Respondent students were required to submit their written statements but failed to file a reply. 

The Committee, after receiving the written statements and hearing the testimonies of several witnesses, found a prima facie case against respondent students for violation of Rule 3 of the Law School Catalogue entitled “Discipline.”

Petitioner Dean created a Disciplinary Board to hear the charges against respondent students.

The Board found respondent students guilty of violating Rule No. 3 of the Ateneo Law School Rules on Discipline which prohibits participation in hazing activities. 

Ultimately, petitioner Fr. Bernas, as President of the Ateneo de Manila University, imposed the penalty of dismissal on all respondent students.

Respondent students filed with the RTC, a petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus with prayer for TRO and preliminary injunction alleging that unless a temporary restraining order is issued, they would be prevented from taking their examinations. 

On the same day, Judge Madayag issued a TRO enjoining petitioners from dismissing respondent students and stopping the former from conducting hearings relative to the hazing incident and ordered petitioners to reinstate respondent students.

Respondent judge likewise issued the writ of preliminary injunction upon posting by respondents of a bond.

Hence, this special civil action of certiorari under Rule 65 with prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order enjoining the enforcement of the May 17, 1991 order of respondent judge.

ISSUE:

Whether a school is within its rights in expelling students from its academic community pursuant to its disciplinary rules and moral standards.

RULING:

We grant the petition and reverse the order of respondent judge ordering readmission of respondent students. Respondent judge committed grave abuse of discretion when he ruled that respondent students had been denied due process in the investigation of the charges against them.

It is the threshold argument of respondent students that the decision of petitioner Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S. J., then President of the Ateneo de Manila University, to expel them was arrived at without affording them their right to procedural due process. We are constrained to disagree as we find no indication that such right has been violated. On the contrary, respondent students’ rights in a school disciplinary proceeding have been meticulously respected by petitioners in the various investigative proceedings held before they were expelled.

Granting that they were denied such opportunity, the same may not be said to detract from the observance of due process, for disciplinary cases involving students need not necessarily include the right to cross examination. An administrative proceeding conducted to investigate students’ participation in a hazing activity need not be clothed with the attributes of a judicial proceeding. 

Respondent students argue that we erred in issuing a TRO since petitioners do not stand to suffer irreparable damage in the event that private respondents are allowed to re-enroll. 

[T]he immediate reinstatement of respondent students who have been investigated and found by the Disciplinary Board to have violated petitioner university’s disciplinary rules and standards will certainly undermine the authority of the administration of the school. 

More importantly, it will seriously impair petitioner university’s academic freedom which has been enshrined in the 1935, 1973 and the present 1987 Constitutions.

To recall, the essential freedoms subsumed by Justice Felix Frankfurter in the term “academic freedom” cited in the case of Sweezy v. New Hampshire, are: 

(1) who may teach: 

(2) what may be taught; 

(3) how it shall be taught; and 

(4) who may be admitted to study.

As corporate entities, educational institutions of higher learning are inherently endowed with the right to establish their policies, academic and otherwise, unhampered by external controls or pressure. In the Frankfurter formulation, this is articulated in the areas of: (1) what shall be taught, e.g., the curriculum and (2) who may be admitted to study.

Since Garcia v. Loyola School of Theology, we have consistently upheld the salutary proposition that admission to an institution of higher learning is discretionary upon a school, the same being a privilege on the part of the student rather than a right.

For private schools have the right to establish reasonable rules and regulations for the admission, discipline and promotion of students. 

Such rules are “incident to the very object of incorporation and indispensable to the successful management of the college. The rules may include those governing student discipline.”

We, therefore, affirm petitioners’ imposition of the penalty of dismissal upon respondent students.

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