The University of the Philippines Board of Regents (BOR) is to convene on April 27 for its monthly meeting at Quezon Hall, the base of the university’s administrative offices and the scene of protests over the BOR’s selection on April 3 of Edgardo Carlo L. Vistan II as UP Diliman chancellor.
The meeting takes place amid demands for the BOR’s accountability and transparency in light of charges that its latest decision on university appointments smacked of “transactional politics.”
At a forum on campus on April 17, Dean Ma. Antonia Tanchuling of the UP College of Engineering took issue with Vistan’s selection as chancellor, saying it compromised the university’s longstanding tradition of choosing its leaders on the bases of academic and administrative qualifications as well as the support of the academic and non-academic community.
Lamenting that the credentials needed for an academic leader and the sentiments of the UP Diliman community were not given due consideration in the selection of chancellor, Tanchuling and the other forum speakers called on UP president Angelo Jimenez and the other regents to disclose how they voted.
The speakers also urged Jimenez to publicly release the report of the search committee that he had established to vet the nominees and solicit inputs from the faculty and other stakeholders.
Intellectual, academic excellence
University leadership positions are not simply managerial positions. The entire ethos of the university is based on the idea that intellectual and academic excellence, as well as a record of accomplishment, is necessary. Unlike corporations, universities rely substantially on processes of self-governance. Articles are peer-reviewed, departments vote on the tenure and promotion of colleagues. For these decisions to have authority, academic standing and intellectual leadership matter deeply. When the BOR ignores academic credentials and intellectual capability in the selection of leaders, it drains the very lifeblood of the academy.
That the BOR selection of the UP Diliman chancellor has raised issues of “democratic governance” and “meritocracy” is not surprising, however. Even before pandemonium broke out at Quezon Hall over the announcement of Vistan’s appointment, concerns had been raised over the growing centralization and secrecy of decision-making at the BOR in relation to appointments and infrastructure development.
As early as 2019, sectoral members of the BOR wrote a position paper that put into sharp focus the diminishing importance of the UP community’s inputs in the board’s selection of deans. Dr. Ramon Guillermo, Mylah Pedrano, and John Punzalan, then regents representing the faculty, staff, and students, respectively, cautioned: “In the past months, a spate of selections for Deanship seems to have been undertaken by the [BOR] with an apparent disregard for search committee reports and the recommendations of the chancellor.”
Among these appointments was that of the BOR selection of an outsider, a former Bureau of Internal Review commissioner, as dean of the Virata School of Business (VSB). The new dean ran against nominees who had PhDs and other academic credentials, real-world business experiences, and VSB support. Given the stiff competition, the appointee was not shortlisted by the search committee formed to vet the nominees,
The dispute between the VSB faculty and the BOR caught the attention of the national media, which reported on the issue of “political appointments” in the selection of UP officials.
A columnist writing on “cheap politics in UP” and noting the new appointee’s lack of a doctorate or “minimum qualifications” expected for a dean chided then UP president Danilo Concepcion and Commission for Higher Education head Prospero de Vera, BOR co-chair and chair, respectively, for prioritizing “personal ambition before the university.”
The VSB case raised questions on the manner and bases for the selection of top UP officials. It prompted calls for “democratic governance” that, as stated in the UP Charter (Republic Act No. 9500), is based on “collegiality, representation, accountability, transparency, and active participation of…[the]… constituents.”
But instead of making the selection process more transparent, the BOR opted for more secrecy. In January 2020, Guillermo, Pedrano, and Punzalan wrote the BOR an open letter, raising concerns over the increasingly arbitrary nature of the decision-making. They pointed out that it was during the Concepcion administration (2017-2023) that the BOR did away with “the practice of a written endorsement, with clear justifications, by the UP president of his or her recommended candidates.”
The three regents noted as well the frequency of executive sessions (when staff members are told to leave the room, and no minutes are taken) and secret balloting. They said that while there were executive sessions in the past, these were “invoked judiciously and selectively,” and that only under Concepcion was there a “blanket invocation” of executive sessions for “all deliberations on appointments of University officials such as Chancellors.”
Infrastructure and property development
This trend toward centralization and secrecy also extended to infrastructure and property development. At the start of his term in 2017, Concepcion issued Memorandum PDLC 17-03 that centralized to the BOR all decisions pertaining to the “disposition and use of the fixed assets, buildings, and structures of the University of the Philippines, wherever they are located.” This policy was reinforced with the issuance of Memorandum PDL 20-18 in 2020. Prior to this policy, infrastructure development largely rested on the campus administrations, led by chancellors.
Today, there are indicators of the emergence of an all-powerful BOR. It wields greater control not only over the appointments of the chancellors of the eight constituent universities and the deans of colleges in the UP System’s 17 campuses in the country but also over university property nationwide, and its development.
In this light, the BOR selection of the chancellors has serious implications on how the campuses will be run and on the quality of its output for the country.
In the April 17 public forum, professor emeritus Eduardo C. Tadem pointed out: “The BOR, as presently constituted, may have seriously damaged and compromised its credibility as a body that can make informed, impartial, and just decisions for the good of the university, its community and the Filipino people.”
The outcome for the current push for BOR transparency and accountability—twin pillars of democratic governance and meritocracy—will determine whether UP will be able to hold the line against vested interests bent on making the country’s premier national university no different from other state institutions that have become a base for influence-peddling and patronage.
The Movement for a Democratic Governance in UP is an umbrella group of concerned faculty members and professors emeriti of the University of the Philippines. —Ed.