Who will be president of the Diliman republic? | Inquirer Opinion
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Who will be president of the Diliman republic?

The way the professors emeritus, national scientists, and national artists of the University of the Philippines (UP) describe in their manifesto who they think should be the university’s next president, one would think they were voting for another appointed son of God.

First, they say that the next UP president should be “a leader with a vision that will uphold UP’s strong commitment to knowledge generation and public service.” If this was too general, they come up with specific requirements: “UP’s president must be an exemplary scholar with a lengthy teaching experience, a deep-thinking intellectual, a competent administrator and committed public servant.” Then hasten to add they have a narrow specialist in mind by saying they require that he must “possess a broad and multidisciplinary approach to higher education, research, and public management.”

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This may not be impossible to fulfill, as arguably all the six candidates who spelled out their visions—in 10-minute presentations in a recent forum for the university community—believe they fit the bill. And so these eminent professors, national scientists, and artists, the crème de la crème of the sciences, arts, and humanities in this country, add this additional requirement: “The UP president must appreciate and treasure the intellectual and sociopolitical responsibilities of defending UP’s singular status as a safe haven and secure refuge for the pursuit of an empowering truth and the nurturing of critical thinking.”

I think this last requirement is intended for the president in Malacañang, who is perceived to be partial to the election of a president of the University of the Philippines who is “friendly” to the administration. As far as the residents (faculty, students, and nonteaching staff) are concerned, they worry that their choice, Fidel Nemenzo who is currently the chancellor of Diliman, sticks out like a sore “unfriendly” thumb in this contest.

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When one looks at the cards in this game, this suspicion can be well-founded, at least in the ability of President Marcos Jr. to get what he wants. The outsider votes of the 11 to be cast by the Board of Regents are seven, while only four are resident votes of the regents of the student, faculty, nonteaching staff, and the outgoing president.

The president of the university is elected for a nonrenewable term of six years, like the president of the Philippines. Unlike the president of the Philippines, however, the president of the University of the Philippines will have to live within the circle of trust and confidence that the faculty and students provide. The power of the president of the university is directly proportional to the trust and confidence that the resident stakeholders in the university community hold for him. Officious orders that are not clothed with truth, reasoned judgment, intellectual rigor, and appeal to love of country will attract a swarm of bees.

All these romantic notions that a UP president can singularly represent the essence of the university as the bastion of critical thinking and action when the whole nation has succumbed to presidential blandishments or coercion may not be understandable to millennials and Gen Zs. They will need to google Salvador P. Lopez and how he held the university together against the attacks of the forces of the Marcos Sr. state in the prelude to martial law in 1972.

Indeed, a UP president like S.P. Lopez that stands for the autonomy of the university and the gumption to take principled stands on national issues, is the dream president of the university community. Without that claim to fame, how different would UP be from other state colleges and universities?

Incidentally, during the presidency of S.P. Lopez, the vice president for development and public affairs was Dr. Alejandro M. Fernandez. The vice president for academic affairs was Dr. Abelardo Samonte. The vice president for administration was Dr. Ramon Portugal. The secretary of the university was Dr. Oscar Alfonso. Perhaps it was more than happenstance that all of these top five officers of the administration were fellows of the Upsilon Sigma Phi.

And what a coincidence! The last two presidents of the University of the Philippines, Alfredo Pascual and Danilo Concepcion, are also Upsilonians! In the present contest, will fortune favor the Upsilon magic or the venerable professors emeritus, national scientists, and national artists, faculty, students, and nonteaching staff of the Diliman republic?

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