Qwertyman for January 30, 2023
TWO FRIDAYS from now, a change of leadership will take place at the University of the Philippines, when outgoing President Danilo L. Concepcion turns his office over to Atty. Angelo “Jijil” A. Jimenez. Elected by the Board of Regents last November after what was known to be a tightly contested three rounds of voting, Jimenez will serve for the next six years as UP’s 22nd president. (By tradition, the BOR’s formal announcement of the vote declares it to have been “unanimous” although, to the best of my knowledge, it never has been, at least in modern times.)
Jimenez is no stranger to UP’s political and academic culture. A sociology and law graduate from UP with a master’s in management from the National University of Singapore, Jimenez served twice on the Board of Regents as Student Regent in 1992 and as Regent from 2016 to 2021.
How he will win over the faculty is something else. It’s no secret that many professors emeriti and other faculty members—myself included—openly declared themselves in support of the candidacy of UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo, whom his supporters saw to have the best academic and administrative experience among all the six candidates for the position. That did not mean that no one else was qualified, and the BOR apparently saw something more in Jimenez that we did not, and so we will have to live with that decision.
The faculty’s chief concern may have been that Jimenez has never taught full-time in UP, raising fears that he might not appreciate or respect UP’s academic culture as strongly as a UP president should.
Academic culture is hard to explain to outsiders, but it is a way of life founded on intellectual meritocracy, on the idea that authority and respect are earned through hard-won knowledge, the currency of learning. And “intellectual” here doesn’t simply mean knowing something and being smart (and in some cases, insufferably arrogant), but actually doing something about it—through teaching, research, or some form of social action. Universities value people who contribute to our understanding of ourselves and to the improvement of human life. This is more than gaseous talk that nobody else can understand. It’s doing the deep thinking that nobody else will do, because they either have no interest or see no profit in it, or because they’re not trained to. A national university like UP, funded by our taxes, applies that thinking and learning to real-world problems and places its resources at the service of society. UP demonstrated this social commitment during the pandemic through the heroic sacrifices of its staff at the Philippine General Hospital and the research conducted by the Philippine Genome Center, among others.
Nonetheless, I can sense that despite their initial misgivings, many members of UP’s academic community are willing to give Jimenez a chance to prove himself as a protector and promoter of UP’s interests rather than someone imposed by the powers-that-be to bring the unruly natives to heel.
“Jijil knows UP’s academic culture, and he listens. He studies things carefully before making a decision,” a highly respected colleague who knows (and once taught) Jimenez assured me. I have to say that in the few times that I met and observed him when I served as Concepcion’s VP for Public Affairs, I was impressed by Jimenez’s grasp of the issues and his willingness to learn. And this will not be the first time that someone perceived to be an outsider was chosen to sit in Quezon Hall; the most notable and perhaps the most effective of such predecessors was Edgardo J. Angara in the 1980s, who had no qualms about using his powers to modernize and streamline UP’s aging bureaucracy, against stiff resistance from within.
Jimenez has led a colorful life that included being posted as labor attaché in war-torn Iraq and him and his wife adopting a baby girl who was left at their doorstep. As a labor lawyer, he will understand the plight of the disempowered, and know how to speak to power and, just as importantly, to negotiate with it as well.
Ultimately, it will be his character that will be on trial—how he will perform and decide under pressure from both left and right, what values lie at his moral core, and how he will steer the university and ensure its well-being under an indifferent if not hostile political regime.
PAAJ, as he will be known in UP (Concepcion was PDLC), will have to contend with the rabid red-taggers at UP’s gates (and some of them well within its campuses), who will expect him to deliver UP, and specifically Diliman, on a platter to Malacañang. Curiously, just before the voting, Jimenez—a Duterte appointee to the Board of Regents—was denounced by another newspaper’s resident canine as a communist, alongside Fidel Nemenzo. UP has never had a shortage of detractors rooting for nothing less than its closure, but expect the troll armies to work overtime the minute PAAJ asserts its academic freedom.
Internally, Jimenez will have to deal with the conditions and demands of a constituency just emerging from the temporary and unnatural constraints imposed by the pandemic and eager to spring back into normal academic life but with even more incentives to work and to teach. Some colleagues will berate me for this, but “serve the people” no longer seems to be reason enough to study and to teach in UP. The sense of entitlement afflicting society at large has also crept into UP’s culture, with students complaining about their grades, freshly hired instructors complaining why they haven’t been promoted, and professors complaining why their work wasn’t given more points in their evaluation. Economic issues are easy to understand in a time of rampant food prices (and gross profligacy on the part of public officials), but this goes beyond a bigger paycheck.
Given his two stints on the Board of Regents, Jimenez will be familiar with these issues down to their minutiae, as perhaps a lawyer can best comprehend. Appointing a capable executive staff will be key to his success, but again, they can only act on judgments emanating from the president’s fundamental sense of good and bad and right and wrong.
Arguably, the visible function of university presidents has changed in recent times, from being exemplars of scholarship and ideological firebrands to resource generators and managers. (Concepcion was particularly adept at the latter role.) How Angelo A. Jimenez will distinguish himself over the next six years will be a story entirely his to craft. I will be eager to read it, and wish him well.