Yellow Pad

The University of the Philippines (UP), particularly Diliman, is abuzz. The process of selecting the next UP Diliman Chancellor has aroused the UP community, including the alumni.

Although it is the Board of Regents (BoR) that appoints the Chancellor or for that matter the UP President, it has been a tradition, for good reason, to involve all stakeholders in the decision.

The excitement and the enthusiasm of stakeholders are most marked in the real digital world. On Facebook, I have seen the supporters of the two nominees — Prof. Ferdinand Manegdeg and Prof. Fidel Nemenzo — go all out for their candidate.

To be transparent, the feed that I receive mainly comes from those who support Prof. Nemenzo, a result of self-selection since I am a friend of Fidel.

My friendship with Fidel is based on our core values — upholding decency, standing for truth and fairness, serving the public good, supporting progressive causes, and practicing tolerance. But friendship does not mean an avoidance of disagreements. Fidel and I have contrasting views on different things. But we — precisely because we value tolerance — learn to dissociate differences (say in politics, business, and religion) from our friendship.

When some of Fidel’s supporters requested me to sign a petition letter in support of his candidacy, I opted to beg off. It is better, I thought, to have many statements of support that offer different reasons and perspectives. Hence, this piece serves as my contribution.

I also quibbled over the statement’s premise that UP Diliman is the “flagship” of the UP System. This is debatable, for the other constituents of the UP system are on a par with Diliman. It is the synergy of the constituent universities that define UP as the national university, as the country’s premiere university. UP Los Baños is the national academic center for agriculture. UP Manila is the national health and science academic center. In fact, the recent rise in the UP’s global academic reputation can be attributed to the large number of published journal articles and citations that come from the faculty of UP Manila.

That said, UP Diliman inherently shapes the present and future of UP education and the country’s higher education. Thus, selecting its leader merits the scrutiny not only of the UP Diliman community but also of the whole UP System and the larger society.

Here, I cite a few reasons why Fidel is the better choice, the excellent choice, to become the next UP Diliman Chancellor.

First, the mission of any great university is to serve the country through education, learning and research. Even as UP has to be primarily responsive to the specific development objectives and needs of our country, it must pursue a standard of excellence at the highest international level. Given his national and global stature as an academic, as a scientist and as a public intellectual, Fidel fits the mold of wedding the university to the national and global communities.

Fidel articulates well this challenge in his paper titled “Re-Imagining UP Diliman as an Academic Center of Excellence.” He states that “ internationalization requires an appreciation of our own culture and history because this will serve as our anchor in the globalized world.” In the same breath, he says: “In UP, our internalization policy should also be firmly grounded on the recognition of our duty to our own nation.”

Second, given the weaknesses in our education system and the skills demanded by a country that aspires to become a higher-income country, the university also has a lot of catching up to do with respect to the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In this respect, it is welcome that the two candidates for the Chancellorship have sciences as their field of discipline.

Nevertheless, STEM, although necessary, is insufficient for students to learn the real world and to become good citizens, for applied research to be robust, and for practical public policies to endure. The role of liberal arts education cannot be diminished.

Here, Fidel shows his superiority. Unlike Prof. Manegdeg who simply enumerates programs and activities to fulfill UP’s inter-disciplinary character, Fidel provides the deeper rationale, even the underlying philosophical foundation, behind an inter-disciplinary mission. Says Fidel: “We will strengthen our General Education program, alongside the specializations, so that our graduates are equipped with the necessary skills of critical thinking, communication, and collaboration, imbued with necessary cultural and ethical moorings in this age of globalization and new technologies.”

Third, the UP, like other great universities, is fiercely vigilant of its academic freedom. It is a bastion of freedom of thought and expression. It protects its constituents from all kinds of discrimination, including political discrimination.

This institutional value or culture constrains UP leaders, regardless of their political leaning. Like it or not, the UP leader, the President or Chancellor, has to be jealous of academic freedom. His or her ideological leaning or political affiliation becomes exogenous with regard to the defense of academic freedom. Thus even during the period of dictatorship, UP presidents — OD Corpuz, Emanuel Soriano, and Edgardo Angara — tried to protect academic freedom, even though activists perceived them as instruments of the dictatorship.

In this regard, the behavior of some of Prof. Manegdeg’s supporters who accuse Fidel of being communist or Red is most uncalled for. It is irrelevant. In the first place, Fidel himself is quite critical of the Reds. But because Fidel values academic freedom, freedom of thought and expression, and freedom from discrimination, he welcomes a multiplicity of colors to flourish and to contend.

Fidel himself wears many colors. He is indeed Red for being a socialist. He is Yellow for his strong belief in liberal values like individual rights, tolerance, and pluralism. He is Purple because his wife trained him to become sensitive to gender and feminism. He is Gold and Blue because he is a member of the Pan Xenia fraternity. And he also wears the colors of the Dutertards because he can relate with them in having a strong and decisive leadership for nation-building.

But yes, Fidel is mainly Red because that is the underlying color of UP — UP Maroon. Fidel represents the best qualities of the UP Maroon.


Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.