Pro-student, pro-people: Who is incoming UP Diliman chancellor Fidel Nemenzo?
MANILA, Philippines – Mathematics professor Fidel Nemenzo was appointed chancellor of the University of the Philippines Diliman on Monday, February 3.
UP President Danilo Concepcion announced the Board of Regents' decision before a sea of students, faculty, staff, and alumni who trooped to Diliman's Quezon Hall to show their support for Nemenzo.
The appointment comes after weeks of tense deliberation and campaign between nominees Nemenzo and College of Engineering Dean Ferdinand Manegdeg. (READ: Who should next UP Diliman chancellor be?)
Nemenzo is set to succeed chancellor Michael Tan, who served from 2014 to 2020.
Long career in the academe
Fidel Nemenzo is the incumbent vice chancellor for Research and Development of UP Diliman.
A well known and acclaimed professor of Mathematics since the 1990s, Nemenzo’s areas of expertise include number theory, elliptic curves, and coding theory.
Nemenzo graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from UP in 1985 and obtained his master's and doctorate degrees in Mathematics from Sophia University in Tokyo in 1992 and 1998, respectively.
Nemenzo serves as the convenor of the Data Science for Public Policy Program of the Center for Integrative Development Studies. He was also elected to the Governing Board of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) in 2019, currently heading the NRCP's Mathematics Division.
From 2004 to 2012, Nemenzo headed the Mathematical Society of the Philippines and the Southeast Asian Mathematical Society from 2010 to 2012.
He has also held research and teaching posts in Singapore, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Munich, and Phnom Penh.
For his significant contribution in the field of academe and research, Nemenzo received several awards, including the Achievement Award in Mathematics from the NRCP in 2013, and the UP Diliman Gawad Chancellor Para sa Pinakamahusay na Guro in 2005, among others.
Nemenzo is the son of former UP president and professor Francisco Nemenzo Jr.
A progressive professor supported by many
Nemenzo entered UP during the politically repressive Martial Law era, and eventually became involved in student activism.
He is known for his progressive stance on various issues both in and out of the UP Diliman campus, often encouraging students to voice out their concerns on pressing issues that plague the country.
In his piece Mathematics and the Liberal Arts published in 2015, Nemenzo said that UP does not teach students to be neutral.
"They should look at all sides of an issue but must take a stand when the situation requires a stand," he wrote. "UP should offer choices but has to guide students as well and remind them of the ideals of excellence and of service to our people and our nation."
During a forum for Chancellor nominees on January 16, Nemenzo reiterated his devotion to UP.
“Mahal ko ang UP (I love UP),” he said. "I have devoted my entire life to this university."
In a speech in 2014, Nemenzo described his early years: “Needless to say, I acquired my education from both inside and outside the classrooms of UP.”
Nemenzo's progressive stance, however, was the subject of smear campaigning during the chancellor race, amid attacks against UP and students who criticized the government’s anti-people policies, including militarization and the violent war on drugs, among others.
He defended activism, saying that there is nothing wrong with fighting for the rights of citizens and that red-tagging has no place in UP.
“If being an activist is siding with the oppressed, then I am an activist. If being an activist is working for change, then I am an activist. Red-tagging has no place in this university,” Nemenzo said during the January 16 forum.
Nemenzo's run for UP chancellor was widely supported by groups from several sectors, including student organizations, faculty, alumni associations, and labor groups inside Diliman.
In a letter of support, UP Diliman faculty said that they were rallying behind Nemenzo because “his record of academic excellence and public service inspires trust, confidence, and discipline.”
UP Diliman's Student Council also publicly endorsed Nemenzo, saying that he "proved to us that more than being a leader, he is capable of being a follower that values democracy, dialogue, and the masses."
Vision for UP
As chancellor, Nemenzo is now expected to lead the UP Diliman community as it faces challenges under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Nemenzo hopes to make UP a “modern research university with a public mission.” In a summary of his vision for Diliman, he emphasized that mobilizing the diverse UP community is key in achieving this goal.
The incoming chancellor, during the presentation of nominees' vision in January, said that the diversity can be seen in UP Diliman’s “dynamism and strength” as an academic institution, leading to the production of leaders and key figures in several fields.
“This is the ground that is fertile for the flourishing of interdisciplinary perspectives and scholarship, so necessary for understanding this complex world and finding solutions to its problems,” he said.
Under his leadership, Nemenzo vowed to create a nurturing and enabling community for stakeholders, to promote and defend academic freedom as “an important prerequisite for academic excellence,” and to “encourage an atmosphere of inclusivity and openness based on respect for and appreciation of diversity,” among others.
“The vibrancy of campus life provides our graduates a virtual training ground – helping them to excel in their chosen vocations and become productive and responsible citizens, attuned to and ready to respond to real-world challenges confronting their respective communities, our country and the region,” Nemenzo said. – with reports from Pauline Macaraeg/Rappler.com