Law dean Edgardo Carlo Vistan was invested on Friday afternoon as the 12th chancellor of UP Diliman (UPD), capping off a remarkable—but controversial—ascent through the academia. In just eight years, Vistan leaped from being a faculty member of the UP College of Law to helming UP System’s flagship campus.
Vistan, whose three-year term began in April, was formally handed over the responsibilities of UPD in a solemn ceremony held at the University Theater. He succeeded mathematician Fidel Nemenzo who unsuccessfully ran for a second term.
While Vistan’s installation was, in all sense ritualistic and ceremonial, still, he accepted the university mace and the chancellor’s medallion flanked by his wife and three children, in front of guests and officials, including Commission on Higher Education Chairman J. Prospero De Vera and UP President Angelo Jimenez.
The formal transfer of power cemented Vistan to the chancellorship, which some members of the Diliman community, including a handful of deans and the UPD University Student Council (USC), have protested following his opaque selection by the UP Board of Regents (BOR).
In many aspects, Vistan’s accession to the chancellorship marked a stark departure from the unwritten rules of seniority and wait-until-your-turn scheme in the academe. He is only the second chancellor to hold the office sans a doctorate degree. The first was Edgardo Angara, who was simultaneously the UP president and UPD chancellor. Vistan is also the first chancellor who didn’t hold a rank of a full professor, post-Angara.
The announcement of his selection on April 3 as chancellor was instantly met with indignation by students who flocked to Quezon Hall, and demanded the regents to reveal their votes and the reason behind Vistan’s selection. Various student councils and sectoral groups in UPD endorsed Nemenzo for a second term. Vistan got the backing of the UP Law Student Government.
And when those pleas fell on deaf ears, some UPD colleges draped their buildings in black, most notably College of Engineering’s Melchor Hall and College of Education’s Benitez Hall, to protest the BOR’s anomalous and secretive appointment process.
His investiture provided an opportunity for Vistan to expand his vision for UPD in the next three years. And while he has given speeches and messages to various events, his investiture speech was, so far, his most detailed oration on what he plans to do as chancellor.
“The needs and concerns of our times seem endless, more complex and ever-changing,” Vistan stressed in his 15-minute speech. “Still, we must respond, and I believe that we should be working towards ensuring that UPD will be able to capably respond and serve in whatever situation.”
Vistan stressed three agenda for his administration: mainstreaming a culture of honor and excellence, pursuing sustainable development more aggressively, and developing UPD as a cultural haven. In his first point, the chancellor said his term will pursue “curricular innovations” to make UPD academic programs more attuned to the country’s needs.
He was also determined to flex UPD’s activist roots in his remarks, saying, “Our open and beautiful campus is also a safe haven for activism and free expression.” But, in a stunning parallelism with his selection in April, UPD security units quickly dispersed the students who staged a lighting rally toward the end of the investiture.
Sean Latorre, the USC vice chairperson-elect, blasted the extravagant investiture, before being cut off when the UP Symphony Orchestra started playing “UP Naming Mahal.” Shortly before the recessional, USC Chairperson-elect Shine Reyes was able to express the students’ demands regarding the lack of student spaces.
An assistant professor of law, Vistan was selected by a bitterly divided BOR, which is already under fire for what some observers call an emergence of voting blocs dictated by fraternities. Vistan is a member of the controversial Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity, and became law dean during the presidency of Danilo Concepcion, also an Upsilonian. That time, the BOR selected him despite having the least number of years as a faculty in the college among the four nominees.
He is the first UPD chancellor from UP Law. Prior to being chancellor, he was appointed to become the dean of UP Law until February 2024. He is also the director of the UP Office of Legal Aid, and executive director of the UP Bonifacio Global City (BGC) Campus. As the head of the UP BGC Campus, he is a member of the President’s Advisory Council, effectively making him part of the UP president’s inner circle.
As chancellor, he presides over the University Council (UC), UPD’s highest academic body, consisting of all faculty members ranked assistant professors and above. This role, however, has proven to be an awkward one.
In May, the UC—already then led by Vistan—handed four demands to the BOR, including the disclosure of the regents’ rationale for voting for a certain nominee and publication of the search committee report. The board merely noted the UC’s statement, with Jimenez defending the secretive processes, arguing that it “safeguards [the regents] from various political pressures.”
On Wednesday, the UC repudiated the BOR, issuing another statement that demanded more concrete response from the body regarding their demands set in the May UC statement. “Ang sikretong deliberasyon ay maaaring magbunga ng politikang trapo, sektaryanismo at salungatan ng interes (conflict of interest),” the UC said.
Vistan’s investiture speech didn’t directly address the controversy surrounding his selection. Nonetheless, he offered a conciliatory and uniting message to the academic community.
“I see the chancellor as someone who should empower his constituents. A chancellor should listen and support the consensus reached,” he said. “I believe this is the best way we can cultivate our culture of public service here in UP Diliman.”
Whether or not his offering of an olive branch will satisfy those critical of his leadership remains to be seen. Regardless, it remains an important project for the chancellor to temper the clash between his own UC and his superiors at Quezon Hall—especially the BOR, if he wants to snatch a second term.
Vistan’s ability to balance the interests of his own constituents and the regents might be the metric of how much he could achieve in his three years as chancellor. In his vision paper, Vistan envisioned a UPD that “leads in the holistic formation of individuals and communities through quality and accessible education, relevant research, and engagement with others.”
Aiding his ability to implement his program of governance, and assist in the day-to-day running of UPD, are his vice chancellors, who were sworn in during the investiture. Three of the six vice chancellors were retained or appointed by the Nemenzo administration. Adeline Pacia and Raquel Florendo were reappointed as vice chancellor for administration and vice chancellor for planning and development, respectively.
He promoted as vice chancellor for academic affairs the former university registrar, Maria Vanessa Lusung-Oyzon. Jerwin Agpaoa, meanwhile, made a comeback as vice chancellor for student affairs—a post which he previously held during the second term of former Chancellor Michael Tan.
The two newcomers in his executive staff, meanwhile, were Vice Chancellor for Research and Development Carl Michael Odulio, and Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs Roehl Jamon.
“I believe that I express a shared vision for UPD when I describe our institution as a dynamic university that actively engages in sustainable community and nation-building through education, research, and public service,” Vistan said.
Vistan graduated with honors from the Philippine Science High School Main Campus, and entered UPD as an Oblation Scholar in 1994 under the microbiology and biotechnology program of the College of Science. He entered UP Law in 1998 and graduated as the class valedictorian in 2003. He finished as cum laude for both his undergraduate and law degrees.
Shortly after joining the UP Law faculty, he earned his master of law degree from Yale University where he is currently finishing his doctor of the science of law since 2017. ●
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