Scientia
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Scientia

Who’s it gonna be? The search for the next CS dean…

Part one of a series

More than a month has passed since the nominations were out. UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan is expected to have passed his recommendations last week. But it is the Board of Regents who will have the final say. In a series of articles, Scientia will feature the three nominees vying for the post that dean Joey Balmaceda has been holding for the past six years.

Potential Dean №1: Ronald S. Banzon, 56, National Institute of Physics

By Paul Christian Yang-ed

Dr. Ronald S. Banzon (Public Image from National Institute of Physics website)

When I came to visit him at his faculty room at the Institute of Physics, he was in the middle of checking a removal exam while listening to classical music. But here he was, still being very accomodating despite his own errands, as he welcomed me in his office, and we talked for over two hours.

This is the same soft-spoken Ronald Banzon who was formerly UP Diliman’s Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs from 2011 to 2014. The latter position is mostly known especially among dismissed students from the College of Science since his is the last signature needed for the readmission slip. A no-nonsense person, he has held Academic Affairs positions in his local institute and in the College of Science from 1997 to 2011, spanning over fourteen (14) years. He completed his BS and PhD in Physics in 1983 and 1997 respectively, earning both degrees here in UP Diliman.

Lab fee hike ‘inevitable’; root out the ‘undeserving’

When I asked him about the impending lab fee hike at the Institute of Chemistry, he told me that the only resolution was to reduce the number of students in the long run, retaining only those students who are “deserving” of the people’s money. “[The lab fee hike situation] is difficult…the chemicals are imported, expensive. We cannot prevent that hike. We have been accommodating more students with no proportionate increase in [faculty] personnel. So we have to reduce the [number of] students,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

This thinking of his is reflected in an excerpt from his Plan of Action:

“There is no advantage in producing greater number of graduates of questionable competence. A program to assess degree program offerings will have to be developed to guide future sponsors of academic programs. In this effort, proficiency measures may be devised for each degree program offered by the College.”

The solution, from what Banzon was implying, is to only invest in the best and the brightest few and root out the weak and undeserving:

“We hope to see students able to pursue an appropriate academic degree program as soon as possible. A mechanism of student advising at the level of the [institute that offers a particular] degree program should be able to assess the suitability of the student for their current academic program every term,”

He justified his plans, stating,:

We are a poor country. We cannot afford students sponsored by the government to pursue a degree program that is not appropriate to them. With increasing cost per student and effectively dwindling resources, since no corresponding increase in academic personnel has been realized, a time is coming when we have to cut our admission quotas if we intend to offer programs at par with what we have today.”

Despite his “eliminate by attrition” approach, he considers implementing an extension program to train high school teachers so that more qualified students may get to enter CS programs in the future.

When I prodded him on free tuition and free education, he told me that the approximately P9 Billion amount allocated by the government is really small and insufficient. “Guaranteed. Di siya [free education] feasible na iimplement,” he quipped. Apparently, he was unaware of the study made by the local science advocates group Agham Youth which says otherwise.

Students’ Center and Students’ Mental Health

Banzon clarified to me that the future Student Building is not intended as merely a tambayan complex, but rather a “Student Union Building” run by an organization of students separate from the CS Student Council. The said building, he says, will be patterned after the Student Union buildings in the United States, where the operation, expenses, and finances of the whole building will be handled by that said independent organization of students. “They may rent out spaces to concessionaires [i.e., food kiosks] as a source of funds for maintaining the building,” he told me in Filipino. When I asked him if the Council of Organization Leaders (COOL) should be the “independent organization” who can run the student building, apparently he was unaware of the existence of the said students’ group.

He conceded to me that the project will not happen overnight, as the “higher admin” has to be convinced of the feasibility of the project, as well as the long-standing issues and conflicts with the university’s land and space use plan. A past Scientia issue indicated that the project has been considered as early as 2007 but has not moved beyond the drawing board for a decade since. He told me that he also has some qualms on the students’ ability to handle to administrative and bureaucratic processes which will entail the operation of the said building, stressing that it will be difficult for them.

He also told me that since he had not been involved in the affairs of CS students’ affairs for so long, he was surprised to find out that there was no allotted space for the use of student organizations, including this publication. He mentioned the Physics Association holed up at the NIP basement as an example. “The challenge is what space should be allocated [for these organizations]. I hope to find some space,” he said. He also told me that as part of stop-gap measures, he can suggest to each institute to assign a formal space for recognized organizations. At least four (4) CS-based organizations do not have their own tambayans as of this writing.

Concerning students’ mental health, he told me that a program for students’ mental-health and well-being will be best placed within the Associate Dean for Student and Public Affairs (ADSPA), as he expressed that the latter office is underutilized by students, aside from applying for “Certificate of Good Moral Character” or assisting college events. “Maganda katabi yang Guidance Counselor nung ADSPA…We lose at least 1/5 of our freshmen. Pwedeng magawan ng survey [tie-up with CRS] para sa monitoring,” he said.

Plans on R&D

Banzon is aware that the country has no national industries to speak of. “There’s no steel, no petrochemicals,” he said. He added that investors have no confidence and see innovation as a risky venture, owing to the volatile political landscape of the country. He told me that as a consequence of the latter, investors have a narrow perspective on innovation, looking only within the time spans of each presidential administration which is six years. For innovation ventures, returns on investment may take decades, and for these investors, a volatile political situation is not worth the risk.

Thus, a major part of his Plan of Action is to “shield” the university from “political” and “economic” forces, as what an excerpt from his written plans says:

“ The College hopes to promote a supportive environment for knowledge creation. We will work for the creation of a regular fund for research of all tenured faculty members that would have no constraint on its topic for investigation. This will enable faculty members to pursue their research interests relatively shielded from market forces. It is this environment that makes an academic institution dynamic.”

In our interview, he told me that this will be concretized by separating R&D (Research and Development) funds coming from the government and the private sector so that the professors and researchers may still have the creative leeway instead of being forced to cater to what the private sector and even what a given administration or government agency prefers. His R&D plans however, will still hinge considerably on private support, notwithstanding possible conflicts of interest.

In addition to State-sponsored programs as a source of peripheral resources, the College hopes to encourage local private industries to support the development of processes and technologies that require basic science to invest in a project or two with the College or any of its constituent institutes, in whatever manner they deem advantageous and appropriate,” he wrote.

(To be continued…)

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