When Foundation University says it means business, this is not just empty rhetoric. Figures over a 15-year period show that the University walks the talk.
From a mere investment of P105,761 for the upgrading of school facilities in school year 1994-1995, the University had been steadily plowing back millions of pesos into improving the campus buildings and grounds, buying land and equipment, which reached P22,041, 131.18 in school year 2008-2009 alone.
“We’re a non-stock, non-profit and non-sectarian University so whatever financial margin we make goes back into improving the campus,” said Victor Vicente G. Sinco, vice president for finance and administration.
The goal of the entire makeover, he said, was to create an academic environment. “It is supposed to be transformative to a point that you think about something but not to the point of being annoying,” he said.
Sinco, who spends half his time as an architect based in Hawaii, has also been responsible for redesigning the entire campus starting in 1996 when he started visiting his father, Leandro, who came two years earlier to be university president.
“I came three times in 1996 and in 1997 did some sketches. The library was the first building to have minor renovation. The second one was the social garden, which used to be the volleyball court. The grade school was the third project, followed by the College of Law,” Sinco recalled.
The grade school joined the High School at the North Campus, where all sports activities were also based. “We had to get rid of all the sports here and transferred to the north campus to create a real academic environment on this side,” Sinco said.
As the University couldn’t afford to cool all the buildings with air conditioners, Sinco brought back tropical designs and provided better ventilation. He made larger windows, larger eaves and put fans in every classroom.
“In the 60s, the buildings were nice. But in the 70s and 80s, some changes were introduced and some buildings became ugly. So I just removed the changes and brought them back to the original design and then some,” Sinco said.
The university also acquired 3000 square meters of land by the North Campus to convert what was the College of Agriculture’s demonstration farm into a ballfield.
The University gymnasium was added in 1998.
As the improvements could not interfere with classes, work had to be perfectly timed, which was a surprise for many students and faculty alike. Dr. Lilian Sumagaysay, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and acting dean of student affairs, could hardly believe her eyes. “I was shocked by what I saw–in a semester’s time, the Arts building was transformed from a one storey building into a three-storey building!”
But working with whatever money was available left much to be desired. “When my father was alive (the elder Sinco passed away in 2003) we had one major improvement every year,” Sinco said. “With the introduction of the development fee, we could come up with two or three improvements because the money was available.”
The convocation hall was renovated out of borrowed money and the mini-gym beside it was transformed to the IT Center in 2004.
For Dr. Eva Melon, the university vice-president for academic affairs, the campus of today is a different one she first saw in 1975. “We didn’t have what we have today. Our parade grounds then were very brown. Now they’re green.”
As an administrator, Melon also saw the improvement in the university’s communications system. “There were only two phones back in 1975. We had to stand outside a building to speak on a phone that was passed through a window. With the introduction of the IT phone system in 2005, we suddenly had one phone in each department. We even have four Voice-over Internet Protocol (VOIP) lines and a 1-800 number!”
The fully internet-connected and WiFi campus made inter-personal communication a lot easier. Paperless communication became the norm with email. Enrolment procedures have also been simplified with the online kiosks.
Now, the university is using information technology to harness their students’ potential from grade school to graduate school.
In my class, I ask my students if they prefer the traditional method of teaching or if they prefer to meet online, said Dr. Julhusin Jalisan, dean of the College of Business Administration and faculty of the Graduate School.
“If they prefer to do online classes, all they need to do is to log in within the week,” he said.
The push for IT, Sinco said, is inspired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) system, which not only has their courses online but also their reading assignments.
In some areas, Sinco said FU is at par with US universities, though may be behind in some areas. “But we’re not different from other universities in the Philippines.”
Sinco said FU is building its physical plant on the digital side to expand its borders. “It would probably be cheaper for the students who are far from the university because they could save on transportation costs.”
“We are looking at online education but we just have to find a way to identify the users,” Sinco said.
The Foundation University Renaissance, as the improvements initially introduced by the late Pres. Leandro Sinco are called, is indeed changing many ways of doing things on campus.
Multimedia classrooms are in place. “These are more than audio-visual rooms,” Sumagaysay said, “there are digital overhead projectors so teachers don’t need acetates–they just put the books under the camera and the image is flashed on screen. There are three multimedia classrooms in the AS plus two more at the James Herring multi-media center.
“The traditional way of teaching before was everything was in a classroom, lecture and lab. Before the only labs we had were the science labs. Because we created more labs, we ran out of classrooms so we had to move out of the buildings,” Sinco said.
He said that at the rate the University is adding more laboratories, it won’t be long before they run out of classrooms.
The university also takes pride in its spanking clean and odorless restrooms, which have convinced not a few students to make Foundation University their school of choice.
The restrooms used to smell so bad, Sinco recalled. “We tried all sorts of things. We came out with water saver devices and flushers for the urinals and it helped. But part of the problem that we couldn’t fix was the vandalism–we were finding sandwiches in the toilet tanks and napkins were placed wherever there was a hole.”
One day, Sinco thought of having the restrooms painted. He showed Hersley-Ven Casero, a talented student who now teaches at the Department of Fine Arts, of the work done by a Hawaiian artist and he tried it.
The result was expected — vandalism had been reduced to a minimum level. “If people know that Hersley has a personal hand in the restrooms, there’s no vandalism,” Sinco said.
Each restroom has a different theme and to ensure that it’s kept clean with a continuous supply of soap, water, toilet paper and is adequately ventilated, students pay a subsidy of two pesos for the posting of a working student outside the restroom.
For the moment, the University uses an RF id system which requires students to swipe in and out. But Sinco says he is still on the lookout for WiFi RF ids that will enable the school to locate people on campus.
“The ID card,” Sinco explained, “is supposed to be a smart card. The parents may load it with money which the students may use to transact at the cafeteria or the business office, but we haven’t done it yet. We don’t have to change the program anymore. We just add to it.”
IN THE PIPELINE ARE MORE BUILDINGS IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS TO ACCOMMODATE MORE LABORATORIES AND CLASSROOMS. SINCO EVEN HAS A DREAM OF ESTABLISHING A 20-HECTARE CAMPUS IN THE TOWN OF VALENCIA. “IT’S DOABLE. WE JUST HAVE TO DO IT IN SMALL BITES AT A TIME.”