The Virata factor
HONOLULU—Much has been said about the naming of the University of the Philippines College of Business Administration in Diliman after former Prime Minister Cesar E.A. Virata.
The purpose of this commentary is to look into the “best practices” on this issue in other institutions, particularly at the University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa where I spent 36 years of my life as a faculty member and academic administrator.
When I arrived in the early 1970s, there were demonstrations on campus protesting the renaming of the Social Science Building, which was then called Porteus Hall. According to the protesters, Stanley Porteus, an anthropologist who had researched and published on Pacific island cultures, was a “racist.” He had written books like “Race and Temperament,” which supposedly made derogatory observations about the “laziness” and other negative traits of native peoples in the Pacific.
The Ethnic Studies Program and other liberal forces on campus conducted “sit-ins” and “teach-ins” explaining why Porteus should not be rewarded by having a major building named after him in view of his prejudiced and “racist” views. I am not familiar with who or what group initiated the naming, but the Porteus family was prominent at the time, and Hebden Porteus, a son of Stanley Porteus, was a state legislator.
To cut a long story short, the UH board of regents revisited the issue and decided to rescind the previous resolution endorsing the naming of the Social Science Building after Porteus. More groups and the media weighed in, which must have given the board of regents more reason to consider dropping the Porteus name from the building.
The Social Science Building, where my home department was housed, remained nameless for a time. But when the genteel and scholarly political scientist and department chair Allan Saunders died, the same forces encouraged the board of regents to rename the building after him.
Nobody came forward to contest it. I gave a testimony to the board of regents supporting the proposal to rename the building as Saunders Hall—a name that it bears to this day some 36 years later.
What’s in a name? Plenty, but I will be unable to discuss everything in detail. Naming buildings, ships, programs, artifacts, rooms, and so on, takes into account the highest academic, professional, ethical, moral and human qualities of the persons after whom these institutions are named. They must not have even a taint of scandal or any misgiving that could cast a shadow on the integrity of the institution after it has been so named.
Coincidentally, the UH College of Business Administration, formerly just known as CBA, was named some years ago after an unknown UH alumnus, Jay Shidler. A real estate developer, Shidler donated $25 million of his hard-earned money to the CBA, which is now called Shidler College of Business. It now ranks among the first 25 best business schools in the United States.
Did Shidler in effect “buy” the building, which could be another issue altogether? He certainly did, following policies laid out by the university for naming a building, room, professorial chair, athletic field, and so on. Clarence Ching, another Honolulu philanthropist, donated $1 million to upgrade university athletic facilities.
Their donations are tax-deductible, which means once they’ve given the money, they have no more influence or control about its use, because it’s not theirs anymore. Otherwise, it would be conflict of interest, which is punishable.
Central to the issue at UP is Virata himself, and where he stands. He can choose to stay in it, in which case he may invite more scrutiny and protests about his role in the martial law regime.
Or he can opt out, which will certainly help the issue go forward and calm the waters.
As one observer puts it, Virata may have redeemed or reinvented himself after all these years, but the fact remains that he did serve willingly and consciously in the dictatorship—and there is a price to pay for that.
Belinda A. Aquino is a political scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii, where she was also the founding director of the Center for Philippine Studies. She was the vice president for public affairs at the University of the Philippines (1989-91) during the administration of president Jose V. Abueva.