Cheap politics at UP?

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - October 25, 2019 - 12:00am

Being a government institution, the intrusion of politics into the affairs of the country’s premier state university is a given. Malacanang always had this itch to influence the management of UP because after all, UP has always been every president’s pain in the neck.

Even the saintly Cory Aquino tried to influence the selection of the UP president during her time. But the university community resisted mightily and she didn’t persist.

The attempt, however, left Kiko Pangilinan expelled from his fraternity. Kiko was an ex-officio member of the UP Board of Regents as chairman of the Student Council. He supported the UP academic community when it was time to vote.

That’s when Kiko first showed he was made of the right stuff. University before fraternity!

Unfortunately, the current UP president is so political, he has no respect for university traditions and sentiments. His first mistake was inviting Imee to the campus and caused such an uproar he had to backtrack and sort of apologize.

Indeed, the toughest test of the UP academic community’s tenacity in defending UP’s autonomy was Imee’s case back in the days when it could be fatal to oppose the Marcoses.

Imee was admitted to the College of Law based on her word that she had a bachelor’s degree. Graduation time came and she couldn’t prove she did. No amount of pressure from Malacañang could make UP budge. Imee had her own private graduation ceremony, but remains officially a non-UP graduate.

Why is it necessary to keep UP’s independence from the usual everyday dirty politics of this country? Our lives in a democratic society depends on it. Let me explain.

If the theoretical guarantees of our Constitution work according to the intention of its framers, we have three branches of government working to check and balance each other. Today, all three branches are under the thumb of Rodrigo Duterte.

So that leaves us with just mass media and the academic community, which is in reality largely UP.

Press freedom is under threat. That makes an independent UP indispensable. Who will dare expose the emperor if UP is politically co-opted?

This is why the intrusion of cheap politics in the appointments of deans of key colleges is of national concern. Beholden to their patrons, they are expected to pay back.

There is a time-honored process of selecting deans of UP colleges by selection committees of their peers to protect academic independence. Normally, those selected to become college deans have years of experience as professors and a respectable academic reputation. Normally, the dean is a PhD.

But the current UP president and the chairman of CHED, as UP Board of Regents Chair, are being accused of disregarding the short list of vetted nominees and naming deans without the minimum qualification normally expected.

Take the example of the College of Business Administration. Its faculty is very unhappy that a complete outsider without the academic credentials was named Dean.

Joel Tan-Torres, who was appointed, is not a total nobody. He was BIR commissioner for a couple of years, worked in SGV. He has a good reputation in the business community.

But Joel was not on the short list of the search committee. Normally, the short list is respected. Joel does not have a doctorate. His resume claims he is a doctoral candidate at the College of Public Administration, but that was way back in 1989 and that has effectively lapsed.

When the Board of Regents voted, Regina Lizares who was in the faculty short list received five votes to Joel’s six. But a comparison of their resume can only lead to one conclusion: Ms Lizares was more academically qualified than Joel, who was essentially just in taxation and accounting.

Not only does Ms Lizares have a PhD from UP, she also has three masters degrees in business from UP, University of Reading (England), and at IESE University of Navarra in Spain. She has also worked at McKinsey, UBS Securities, ABS-CBN, Paribas, Phinma and San Miguel, giving her real world business exposure.

It is being argued that the College of Business Administration can be better served by someone like Joel who is well connected with big business. He can muster corporate money to support college projects.

Unfortunately for Joel, he comes in as a political appointee. His top backer is reportedly Manny Villar. Manny and his wife Sen. Cynthia are the best known alumni of the college.

The argument is also being advanced that professional schools (Business Administration, Journalism, Law, Medicine) don’t need academics to lead them.

For example, Shiela Coronel was named dean of Columbia University’s School of Journalism on the basis of her record as an outstanding journalist.

The UP College of Mass Communication, on the other hand, never had a dean who has spent time working in a newsroom and beating daily deadlines. They were academics.

Anyway, the Colleges of Business Ad, Engineering and Public Administration got new deans who are not respected by the faculty and who see them as political intrusions.

The faculty is also accusing the Board of Regents of violating a provision of the UP Charter (RA 9500) that says deans should be elected by the board upon the nomination of the UP president and the recommendation of the chancellor following consultation with constituents of the college.

The faculty is also citing Section 27 of the UP Charter that states: “Any case of doubt in the interpretation of any of the provisions of this charter shall be resolved in favor of the academic freedom and fiscal autonomy of the University of the Philippines.”

I can understand Danny Concepcion not having the UP spirit ingrained in him, given that his undergrad degree is from Araneta University. But Popoy de Vera should know better than to put the UP academic community’s sentiment aside.

It is suspected that both have political ambitions beyond UP. Both sought the support of the Marcoses when they were competing to be UP President.

Ambition before the university. It has come to that. Sad.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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