This week starts the near month-long celebration of the 119th founding anniversary of Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental.

Established in 1901 as Silliman Institute by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, Silliman U gets the credit as the first American institution of higher learning in the Philippines and the entire Asian continent.

Silliman University campus (PHOTO BY BERNARD L. SUPETRAN)

The university is named after Dr. Horace Brinsmade Silliman, a retired businessman and philanthropist from Cohoes, New York, who gave the initial sum of $10,000 to start the school. 

Starting as an elementary school for boys, it expanded to become a college in 1910, acquiring university status in 1938. 

Silliman U was run and operated by the Americans for the first half of the 20th century. However, Filipinos began to assume administrative positions after the World War II. It appointed its first Filipino president in 1952. 

Silliman Archaeological Museum (PHOTO BY BERNARD L. SUPETRAN)

Here are things about Silliman U according to expat Norm Schriever (written in 2017 in his column at

  • The university’s namesake Dr. Horace Brinsmade Silliman was a principal donor who gave the $10,000 donation. But the university should have been named after Dr. David Sutherland Hibbard, an American who really came to the Philippines to scout for locations for a school and eventually chose Dumaguete “because of the beauty of Dumaguete and the friendliness of the people.” He also served as the school’s first president. 
  • Silliman University is recognized for academic excellence. The university’s Accountancy, Physical Therapy and Nursing programs have been consistently ranked #1 in the Philippines. The university was ranked 4th best in the country (following three University of Philippines schools), and in the top 150 universities in all of Asia.
  • The acacia-lined campus by the sea is a national historical landmark, and is listed as one of the 50 Most Beautiful College and University Campuses in the World.
  • Silliman University has multiple campuses, which includes a 29-hectare campus north of downtown, along Silliman Beach; Camp Lookout in Valencia overlooking Dumaguete, where they host the Silliman National Writers Workshop; and a 465-hectare ranch and farm on Ticao Island in the province of Masbate in the Bicol Region that was donated by the family of an alumnus.
  • The school takes up almost one-third of the total land area of downtown Dumaguete. With nearly 9,000 students from all over the Philippines and 30 countries abroad, Silliman U makes up approximately eight percent of the University Town’s total population.
  • The university was forced to shut down twice during its history. On May 26, 1942, the campus was occupied by Japanese forces, turning Channon Hall into the headquarters of their dreaded military police where they tortured and killed many Filipinos. It wasn’t until 1945 that American and Filipino forces liberated the country from the Japanese, allowing the university to reopen.
  • In 1972, Martial Law padlocked the university, with the Philippine Constabulary raiding offices, and rounding up and detaining student-activists and campus journalists.
  • The scenic campus, which boasts of a view of the mountain and the sea, is home to about 300 acacia trees. One particular tree near the Gymnasium is perfectly symmetrical because it was on this tree that the Japanese hanged their prisoners during World War II. Apparently, the weight of the dangling bodies shaped the branches of the acacia.
  • By 2010, Silliman became the first school in the Philippines to offer co-ed boxing in its Physical Education program. Taught by world famous coaches, Fred and Hedi Block and Joe Clough, the two-credit P.E.21 was called Introduction to World Boxing. 
  • Robert & Metta Silliman Library houses over 250,000 books, and is considered one of the biggest collections in all of Southeast Asia.
  • Katipunan Hall was originally the Silliman Mission Hospital in the 1960s (now called the SU Medical Center in a compound of its own across the Silliman Ballfied) where many Dumagueteños now in their ’50s were born. KH is now home to some departments of the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Education, and the School of Public Affairs & Governance.
  • Psychology students annually convert it into a Horror Chamber, one of the most-awaited go-to events on Founders Week.

On August 9, a Sunday Service opened the 119th founding anniversary celebration of the university. 

Silliman University Church (PHOTO BY BERNARD L. SUPETRAN)

In her message, Dr. Betty Cernol McCann, Silliman U president, said: “Invoking God’s guidance and wisdom, we take courage to avoid the path towards panic and fear that can lead us to inaction, to a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness.”

McCann added: “Instead, following God’s leading we take the road towards informed decision making, banking on factual information and pooling together human resources to stay on course, to be adequate in our response, to think beyond the crisis we now face, and to imagine what higher education would be like––how Silliman University should position itself as we are catapulted into a 21st century learning environment that, whether we like it or not, is now heavily leaning on the internet world and digital technology.”