Inside the towering and grandiose façade of Quezon Hall, every discussion and decision of the 11-member UP Board of Regents (BOR) determines the fate of the entire UP System. A renewed call for transparency in the decision-making inside the board has surfaced following the selection of Angelo Jimenez to become the next UP president amid the lack of support from the sectors.
Every six years, the BOR, as the highest decision-making body of the university, is mandated by law to select the next UP president “following a process of democratic consultation with the university community.”
But details on the board’s internal process and the justification of the regents behind their votes remain hidden from the public, casting doubts on the transparency and democracy of the selection process for university officials, especially since four UP chancellors are up for grabs in 2023.
Not a Single Word from Above
On December 9, the special board meeting to select the 22nd UP president started at 10 a.m. At the foot of Quezon Hall, different sectors have called on the board to heed the demands of the UP community. However, not one board member has gone down to acknowledge the community’s demands. After hours of deliberation, Student Regent Siegfred Severino announced that the board selected Jimenez to be the next UP president.
Prior to the announcement of Jimenez’s selection, not a single piece of information from the boardroom has been made known, except for the general flow in which the meeting has proceeded.
As Prospero De Vera, chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education and the BOR, was about to leave Quezon Hall, he was asked about the justifications behind the selection of Jimenez as the UP president. “Siguro mas maganda ang kanyang sagot, siguro mas maganda ang kanyang plataporma,” he said.
De Vera’s tight-lipped and obscure reply has only aggravated the doubts surrounding the board’s true intentions in the selection process.
Different members of the UP community have been pressing the BOR to listen to their calls as only UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo–and no other presidential nominee–has received public endorsements across various UP sectors. Yet, in the end, Jimenez emerged as the victor.
Following the BOR’s move to select Jimenez, it seemed that the selection process had not considered what the UP community had demanded.
But the issue of seemingly arbitrary and opaque selection of UP officials is not new to the BOR.
In 2019, the board chose Joel Tan-Torres, who was neither a UP faculty nor a doctorate degree holder, to become the dean of the College of Business Administration. Tan-Torres's selection sparked protests from the university community, especially the faculty who saw the decision as an affront to the value of democratic governance in UP.
“[Magiging] malaking pinsala ito sa unibersidad [kung mangyayari ‘yun sa chancellor selection],” Florian Alburo, an economics professor who protested the anomalous dean selection process, said in a 2019 interview with the Collegian, referring to the possibility of the anomalous process to reoccur in the 2020 UPD chancellor selection. “Para sa akin, prinsipyo yan … This is a university—academic freedom ang importante rito.”
Tan-Torres was not granted a teaching position by his colleagues in CBA, preventing him from fully exercising his duties as the BOR-selected dean. The appointment of a person as a dean does not come with a faculty position as it is the senior faculty of the college who decide whether to recommend tenure to an applicant.
Deans administer only one college, while the UP president leads the entire UP System. If an anomaly in the deanship has already drawn flak, then there is much more at stake on matters of the UP presidency. Conversely, an anomaly in the UP presidency selection will also cast doubt on the appointment of other UP officials.
The Rise and Dangers of Executive Sessions
Because the portion in which the BOR appoints officials is done under executive sessions, there are no records of the discussions that transpire inside the boardroom. Even the UP Gazette, the official journal of BOR meetings, simply indicates at the start of each appointment that “[at] this point, the Board went into executive session,” and proceeds to list the appointments that the board has made. Even the proponent of the executive session is not disclosed.
The board might go under executive session when taking up the appointments of top university officials, a practice that has taken place as far back as the 1970s under the term of former UP President Salvador P. Lopez. All UP president selections since 1975 were done under executive sessions.
The manner of selection, however, has differed through time. In 1981, the presidential selection was done by consensus. Succeeding selections were done by secret ballot and majority vote. In some cases, the BOR chair would be excluded in the voting process, except to break a tie.
Details on the selection process are hidden as the meetings are primarily done behind closed doors. Even the balloting process itself is arbitrary. In selecting chancellors and deans, regents are generally asked to explain their vote. In a presidential selection, however, only a paper ballot is given, and the regents can simply tick the name of their favored candidate. In the process, the public cannot know who the members of the BOR voted for.
“Kailangan magkaroon ng pag-upo ang BOR para magkaroon ng guidelines [na] magbibigay ng mas malaking importansya sa transparency. Hindi yung normal na process na ginagawa ang pagpili under executive sessions,” said Ramon Guillermo, former faculty regent and a professor at the UP Center for International Studies.
There has been an increase in the executive sessions invoked in the appointment of university officials in recent years. President Danilo Concepcion’s predecessors only had an annual average of two executive sessions. However, under his term, the annual average has risen to six executive sessions–including dean appointments–which heightened calls for transparency and accountability, even from inside the BOR.
Guillermo added that the BOR needs to be transparent to the community especially in terms of choosing high-ranking officials in the university. Instead of the current off-the-record procedure, he suggests that the selection should allow regents to openly state who they are voting for, give justification for their nominee of choice, and disclose such information to the public.
Currently, it is only through the sectoral regents’ report that the public is informed about the discussions in the BOR meetings.
“Kinakailangan natin sa ngayon na sikapin na iparating sa loob ng BOR ang panawagan ng mga sektor. That’s why we have statements, manifestations, we express the positions of our sectors in the BOR and try to have them recorded as much as possible,” Guillermo said. “But it’s always an uphill battle.”
Challenges On Structure and Democracy
The BOR is composed of the CHED chairperson, the UP president, the chairperson of the Committee on Higher, Technical, and Vocational Education of the Senate, the chairperson of the Committee on Higher and Technical Education of the House of Representatives, the president of the UP Alumni Association, three Malacañang appointees, the faculty regent, the student regent, and the staff regent.
Ideally, each member of the board should carry out the interests and benefits of the institution or sector they represent. However, in some instances, even in such significant positions as the UP presidency, personal affiliations come into play.
“The board is secretive because there are individual players in there that have interests that we know of because we’ve unpacked them or we don’t know of because they’re keeping their cards very close to their hearts,” former Student Regent Renee Co told the Collegian.
Sen. Francis Escudero is affiliated with Jimenez as both are part of the Alpha Phi Beta fraternity. Concepcion and Alumni Regent Reynaldo Laserna are members of the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity, while Regent Gladys Tiongco is part of Sigma Delta Phi, a sorority with close ties to Upsilon. Rep. Mark Go is part of the House leadership of Speaker Martin Romualdez, an Upsilonian. Regents Raul Pagdanganan and Dr. Gregorio Pastorfide are colleagues at Cardinal Santos Medical Center. And the board chair, De Vera, openly supported President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte during the campaign.
“[The BOR sees] the UP presidency as a means to ensure that whatever interests they have are upheld. And they’re not all the time relevant to the direct constituent base of UP or the general public. What I see as undemocratic is how the assigned representatives act. Ine-ensure dapat natin yung mga ina-appoint nating mga tao ay credible and they are committed to their role,” said Co.
The board, being composed mainly of entrepreneurs and politicians except for the three sectoral regents, has an obvious flaw regarding representation. After all, the university is mandated by law to promote democratic governance “based on collegiality, representation, accountability, transparency and active participation of its constituents.”
“Bilang student regent, I have been a recipient of messages saying na [I should take down my social media posts] because it violates the privileged communication [in executive sessions],” said Co. She added that the sectoral regents are only doing their duty to report back to their constituent base, and such bans violate the transparency that the sectors are entitled to.
This 2023, as four positions of chancellorship–Diliman, Manila, Los Baños, and Visayas–are up for grabs, stakes are higher if issues on transparency remain unresolved.
“Skewing the composition to favor the number of sectoral regents would greatly benefit the board. Kailangan [din] mag-end yung practice ng pag-enter into executive sessions. Lahat ng decisions natin should be accessible to the public whenever they want,” Co said. “Let the minutes speak for themselves.” ●
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