This year’s Diliman Arts Month — held every February to commemorate the establishment of a new flagship campus in 1949 — will be extra special, and hectic, first because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the First Quarter Storm of 1970, and second because the month will be a time of transition in the Office of the Chancellor.
I am finishing up my second term — six years with its trials and tribulations, especially the past few months when we were assaulted by political appointments of three deans and one director.
At the same time, the six years were fulfilling, a chance to make a difference by being different in our ways of thinking and of doing things.
I had always hoped the next chancellor would share my values around leadership, recognizing that the greatest strength is gentleness.
When our Vice Chancellor for Research and Development, Fidel Nemenzo, told me he was interested in running, I was thrilled, knowing how loved and respected he is by all who have worked with him. And indeed, when the official search started, the endorsements began to stream in, praising him for being a scholar, an educator, an administrator, everything needed for an academic leader. His CV is likewise impressive: a PhD, leadership in professional organizations, all kinds of quiet innovations that have boosted research and innovation in UP Diliman.
Because Fidel was a member of my team and a friend from many years back, I knew him, too, as a polymath — not just a mathematician but someone with interests in and knowledge of many other disciplines. Yes, a nerd who also plays the guitar and sings. (I haven’t seen him dance yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does.)
Credit some of his many talents to his father Dodong, a former UP president, and mother Princess, educator and feminist. Being Cebuano probably helped, too (Smile).
In a forum last month, he talked about loving UP, and no wonder, given that he grew up in the Diliman campus, studying in the UP Integrated School and later, for college, in UP. (His PhD is from Sophia University in Tokyo.)
Early in the search, disturbing smear campaigns began to appear on social media, mainly tagging him as an activist. Fidel’s response during the January forum: “If being an activist is siding with the oppressed, then I am an activist. If being an activist is working for change, then I am an activist. Red-tagging has no place in this university.”
The smear campaigns grew in viciousness and continued up to the eve of the Board of Regents meeting, where the regents would decide who the next chancellor would be.
The attacks backfired. Traditional print and broadcast media hardly picked up the misinformation and lies, while social media, where the fake news was mainly circulated, was filled with criticism against the other candidate and his handful of supporters. I was proud, too, that our constituents heeded my call in January to hold the moral high ground and not to stoop to the tactics of the other side.
Over the weekend, there were posts criticizing “rabble-rousers” and “administrators who do not respect the Board of Regents.” Almost as if in response, there was a multisectoral rally on the day of the BOR meeting, a way to show that we, in fact, trusted the regents to defend the integrity of the search process.
We were not to be disappointed. Fidel got nine votes. Two regents abstained. There were no votes for the opponent.As soon as the announcement of the regents’ selection was made, the crowds roared with approval and jubilation.
I thought, I’m ready now to be jubilado, the Spanish word for a retiree, emphasizing the joy of retiring.
I do want to clarify that I am retiring only in one sense—stepping down on March 1 as chancellor, joyful and confident in a successor who will defend the many institutions of our UP of excellence and honor, as well as practice democratic governance and compassion.
There will be joy in having more time to teach, research, and write. I am particularly inspired reading, in The Economist, that this will be the “Decade of the Young Old” or “yolds,” people aged 65 to 75 who can still do much more for society.Let us be jubilant for UP, and for the yolds of the country and the world!
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