Here are some excerpts from Fr. Fidel Villaroel’s study:
Myth: Rizal complained about his grades in UST and was discriminated and treated shabbily by the Dominicans.
Fact: 1. Rizal entered the UST in 1877, enrolling in the Pre-Law Course, which was made up of philosophical subjects. The course was commonly called metaphysics. He passed the course brilliantly with the highest grades in spite of his initial indifference to philosophy and his youthful distractions through the year. Then he opted for the career of medicine. And in 1878-1879 he took simultaneously the Pre-Medical Course and the First Year of Medicine; this was against the rules, but Rizal was favored with a dispensation. The Pre-Medicine Course was also called Ampliacion, because the student, having taken already Physics, Chemistry and Natural History in the high school, now took an advanced course on the same subjects (Rizal did not take in Santo Tomas the “class of physics” described in El Fili but rather in Ateneo).
In his courses of medicine, Rizal was a good student, above-average, though not excellent; but none of his classmates were excellent either. Summing up, in the 21 subjects taken in UST, Rizal obtained one aprobado (passing grade), eight bueno (good), six notable (very good) and six sobresaliente (excellent). Majority of students in Rizal’s time, or in any time, would have been satisfied with the above grades. It is possible that Rizal was not, but it is a fact that he never complained about his grades, there is not a single word in his works showing displeasure at the unfairness of UST.
Yet many of his biographers are angry, unreasonably angry (including anti-ust pexers?) at the treatment given to the national hero by his alma mater. How could Rizal, after a perfect record of “Excellent” in the high school (Ateneo) now receive such “low” grades at UST? The critics had to look for an explanation, and since they did not find fault in Rizal, then they had to blame the Dominicans and UST. And from Retana to Austin Craig, from Frank Lauback to Austin Coates and to quite a long line of Filipino biographers (with some exceptions), we only hear the same repeated lamentation that every school child must now learn in the textbooks: that Rizal was “below his usual standards”, and for the extremely serious charge that the “Dominican professors were hostile to him” and “the Filipino students were racially discriminated” (Zaide), and that there was “excessive harping on the alleged intellectual superiority of the Spanish (because he was white) to the Filipino, a brown man, and Indio (JM Hernandez), and so on. An objective historian must squarely face and honestly answer these grave statements, which sound like accusations.
Was Rizal “far below his usual standards”? What standards, in the first place? If by usual standards we mean the grades of his Ateneo high school studies, the comparison is unfair. Nobody places elementary or high school standards against college or University standards. They belong to different levels. At Ateneo municipal, Rizal was excellent, though not the only excellent student. At the UST, none of his classmates ever got near to keeping a straight record of Excellent. And this was because Medicine was a different kind of stuff altogether.
Therefore, if we are to arrive at a just appreciation of Rizal’s performance at the UST, we should compare, not his grades in the high school with those in the university, but Rizal’s grades in Medicine against those of his classmates. In the first year of medicine, Rizal’s class was made up of 24 students, but due to academic failures, seventeen of them were left by the roadside before they reached the fourth year, when only seven took the final examinations. And in this fourth (and for Rizal last) year, he landed in second place behind Cornelio Mapa. A persecuted Rizal would have probably ended by the same roadside as the...