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Choosing a university president

The country’s premier state university is on the search for a new president, and the problem is not that there are no candidates.  It is precisely the opposite: There are many qualified candidates with hardly any willing to concede the superiority of the others’ credentials. 

I am a ranking professor of the Cagayan State University, likewise a state university.  In the past, there has been a dismissive attitude towards state higher education institutions, but with a population of close to 40,000 and a faculty strength of close to one thousand in eight campuses throughout the province of Cagayan, it would be foolhardy on the part of any private college or university to shrug off the state university as a “minor player.”  It has, in fact, dominated most licensure examinations.

More than four years ago, I thought that I would give the presidency a try—and so I put in my bid for the presidency.  I knew I was qualified, and others thought so too.  The problem, however, was that I had written one article too many against what I perceived at that time to be the hypocrisy of the Yellow Regime, and I paid for it.  What is, in theory, a straightforward process for the selection of a state university president turned out to be a cloak-and-dagger operation with enough spies, turncoats, rumormongers and provocateurs to make for an engaging thriller.

Under the rules for the selection of a state university president, aside from the standard academic requirements and the favorable results of a psychological test, a candidate should submit a clearance particularly from the Office of the Ombudsman.  One of the candidates had pending cases and—contrary to all reason and good sense—the certification issued by the Office of the Ombudsman that attested to the pendency of cases against my rival for the position were taken as a “clearance.”  There were, to be sure, some members of the Board of Regents who objected that a certification of pending cases was by no means a clearance, but the CHED chair either did not get the import of the objection or chose to ignore it.

In fact, the very composition of the Board of Regents is problematic.  There are two prominent politicians who sit: the education chairpersons of both the Lower House and of the Senate.  But Their Honors hardly ever attend governing board meetings, and so they appoint proxies, and it is these whom candidates try to woo by means both foul and fair!  And politicians, being the subjects of applause and popular whim that they are, will be shrewd, not necessarily discerning!

The incumbent president can also scheme and plot to be assured that the succeeding administration will dig up no bones.  In my case, that took the form of “instructing” the faculty and student regents exactly whom to support.  As susceptible to importuning is the board member representing alumni.

At the time this piece is published, the process for the selection of the president of the Cagayan State University will be in its final phase, with a meeting of the Board of Regents to make the final choice.  And while we, who constitute the academy community, can only hope that whoever is chosen is possessed of a truly educated heart, a highly calibrated brain, sufficient gift of good sense and wit, and the charisma to lead and to inspire, we all know that politicians have made known their choices, and that CHED has its own maneuvers, and that the results are not necessarily the best for the university community.  And not even the University of the Philippines is spared the pitfalls of the process.

The late Miriam Defensor Santiago, when miffed by some obnoxious critic, challenged him: She and he would submit themselves to an IQ test and the results would be publicly bared—on broad sheets, national TV and—had it been there at  that time—social media.  I suggest a simpler solution for the selection of a university president. Submit all candidates to three tests: an IQ test, a psychological test and a skills test for administrators.  Let the results be published and whoever gets highest scores gets the presidency.  Should that not be simple enough?

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Topics: Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino , Choosing a university president , Cagayan State University
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