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Get Real

Unworthy of UP

/ 09:16 PM September 23, 2011

This is a follow-up on my column last week about the shameful dismissal of Dean Enrique Avila of UP Cebu and the banishment of retired professor Ernesto Pineda from the University of the Philippines. The reader may remember that I quoted from a Cebu Daily News column of Raymund Fernandez, who is also a member of the UP Cebu faculty. In particular, I adverted to Fernandez expressing his sense of betrayal because three former UP presidents, all part of the UP Cebu Advisory Council (together with other prominent Cebuanos), had “remained silent so far” about the issue although, he said, Avila was the council’s loyal lieutenant, doing everything they advised toward securing autonomy for UP Cebu and preparing it to be a constituent university.

Well, I bring glad tidings to Fernandez (though perhaps he knows already, since keeping secrets is not one of UP’s strong points). There is no longer any reason for him to feel betrayed, because the three former UP presidents he was referring to—Emerlinda Roman, Francis Nemenzo and Jose Abueva—have broken their silence on the matter.

In a letter addressed to the chair and members of the UP Board of Regents (BOR), a copy of which I was able to obtain, they expressed their “concern” over the case. They attested that throughout the six-year period during which they worked with Avila (as members of the UP Cebu Advisory Council), they found him to be “an able administrator who succeeded in moving forward many initiatives, including the reorganization of the College, the review and modernization of its curricula, the recruitment of new faculty and the mobilization of alumni support to obtain grants of land and financial endowments for UP Cebu.”

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High praise indeed for Avila from persons who obviously have UP’s interest, and not personal ones, in mind. And who have very close ties to UP Cebu, particularly Dodong Nemenzo, whose father served as dean of UP Cebu and who himself had served as chancellor of UP Visayas (which used to oversee UP Cebu before it became autonomous last year) before becoming UP president. It was Nemenzo who appointed Avila to his first term as dean, and Roman appointed him to his second and third terms. Surely, if there had been the slightest doubt about Avila’s integrity and competence, he would not have lasted so long (particularly since he seemed to have the habit of stepping on so many toes).

The three UP ex-presidents added that they were “not privy to the details of the charges against Dean Avila.” Neither did they want to prejudge his case, but they noted that “some members of the UP faculty have raised serious questions in the media about the impartiality of the investigation of the charges and the severity of the penalty” (they must be referring to Fernandez, who wrote at least three other columns about it since March, and me, although I am a Johnny-come-lately). And in the politest of terms, they asked the BOR to “exercise the greatest circumspection and fairness” in reviewing the case, saying “it involves a long-serving UP academic who was appointed to three successive terms as Dean in an academic unit which required serious, and sometimes very unpopular reforms to reverse decades of drift to mediocrity and whose unfair treatment may send the wrong signal to all reform-minded academics throughout our University.”

In all my years of association with the university (40 as faculty, four as student), this is the first time I have heard of a past UP president writing the BOR after his term in connection with any issue involving the university. One does not want to rain on the parade of one’s successor, or to be perceived as unable to let go, or accused of undue interference. So when three of them do it together, one has to assume that they have considered all the pros and cons, and have concluded that the situation calls for it. They are putting their reputations on the line here. The move is a deliberate one—no blind signing of statements simply because of peer pressure or pakikisama.

As far as I am concerned, the structural message of the Abueva, Nemenzo and Roman letter was that their successor, incumbent president Alfredo E. Pascual, did not exercise the required circumspection and fairness, thus their letter to the BOR. Nemenzo’s position is particularly significant because he served as Roman’s program development adviser on Cebu, and the new president kept him in that post.  The bombshell is that he just recently resigned from it (per the UP grapevine), presumably prior to signing the letter. One bombshell after another—at least for the UP community.

Did Pascual exercise circumspection and fairness? My previous column noted that he approved the Administrative Disciplinary Tribunal’s (the ADT) recommendation of dismissal from service on the same day that he received it (Aug. 26). The letter to Avila announcing his summary dismissal was sent on the same day.

What I have subsequently learned is that Avila was doomed from the beginning, because almost as soon as Pascual took over as president last March, he offered the post of officer in charge of UP Cebu (with the implied promise of the deanship after Avila was removed, and even the future chancellorship) to at least four people, none of whom accepted the offer. This, even before Avila was given a 90-day suspension, and way before the ADT submitted its decision/recommendation.

Neither circumspect nor fair. Certainly unworthy of UP Beloved.

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TAGS: dean Enrique avila, dismissal cases, featured columns, opinion, University of the Philippines
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