THE SELECTION of a new rector has always been one of the most awaited events throughout the University’s history. However, beyond the pomp and gaiety of welcoming UST’s chief executive is a long and carefully organized process of nominating candidates, which has evolved along with the University’s 397 years of existence.
The process depends on the institutions that were added or removed during the course of history.
According to Fr. Fidel Villarroel, O.P. the University archivist, the process of selecting a new rector during the early years of the University occurred during the elective chapters meetings composed by the different superiors of the Dominican houses in the Philippines. These meetings are convened every two years. On the other hand, provincial chapters are convened every four years in order to discuss internal matters among the Dominicans including the selection of the members of the elective chapters.
In an interview with the Varsitarian, Villarroel explained that during the selective process, the heads of the Dominican convents nominate three candidates from among themselves. This list of three candidates is called a ternia, the archivist explained.
“The ternia is the list of names that we elected. It’s an election of three candidates,” he said.
Once the provincial chapter has come up with the list of nominees, it then transmits the results to the Master General in Rome for his approval.
The archivist also explained that the qualifications needed for a potential candidate for the rectorship have remained the same throughout the history of the University.
“(Like today), a candidate for the rectorship during the Spanish times must be a Dominican. Second, he must be a doctor in canon law. He must be a doctor, a Dominican and a professor,” Villarroel explained.
During the 1700s, the rector administered the University using statutes that were almost similar to that being used at the University of Mexico that time, Villarroel added.
Father Villarroel also revealed that the University statutes were first made in 1619. However, it was only 1785 when the statues were computed by Fr. Juan Amador, O.P. as stated in In Transition: The University of Santo Tomas During the Colonial Period by Faculty of Arts and Letters Prof. Jose Victor Torres. The latest revision was made in 1999 under the term of then Rector Fr. Tamerlane Lana, O.P.
Great powers, big responsibilities
Historian and Artlets professor Rogelio Obusan for his past explained that the office of the rector is not only an administrative position but also a spiritual one. This is in contrast with the practice of other universities to have separate powers for the president and for the rector, Obusan, said.
“Usually the president manages the administrative matters of the University, while the rector tended its spiritual matters. However, here in UST, the rector is also the president at the same time,” he said.
He added that during the Spanish period, the academic power of the rector was not limited to the University, because the diplomas of graduates from other universities and colleges have to be signed by the rector in order to be considered valid. This, Obusan explained, was the reason why the University was considered as the “Department of Education” during the late 19th century.
“No student would have graduated at that time without the signature of the rector on his diploma,” Obusan said.
Villarroel also added that during the 17th century, the offices of the Rector and the Chancellor alternated in the conferment of degrees to the graduates.
“From 1611 to 1645, there was a rector here called to lead. There was a rector who gave the degrees … Other times, the one granting the degree was the grand chancellor. So there was always the rector and the chancellor granting the degrees,” he elaborated.
The practice of electing rectors at the University level was only observed in the 1900’s, when UST was designated as a “Pontifical University,” by Pope Leo XIII, Villarroel said. To be exact, it was in 1923, when Fr. Manuel Arellano, O.P. was elected rector of the University.
At present, the election process begins in the St. Thomas Aquinas priory, where the three candidates for the rectorship would be selected through a secret balloting among its members. The priory would then inform the Vice-Grand Chancellor – who is also the prior of the Philippine Dominicans – of the list of nominees which the group had selected. In turn, the Vice-Grand Chancellor would send the list to the Academic Senate and the Board of Trustees, which would then determine the candidates’ order by preference through a secret ballot.
After assessing the credentials of the candidates, the Board of Trustees would then give its decision and recommendations to the Vice Chancellor for transmission to the Dominican Curia in Rome, headed by the Master General. After the Master General has chosen a candidate, he will then endorse it to the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education in the Vatican for the council’s final approval.
At mace’s length
According to the statutes of the University, the rector’s term lasts for four years and he is eligible for re-election for two more terms. However, it has not been the case in many instances in the course of the University’s history, the Varsitarian learned.
The rector who served the longest term, but not necessarily consecutively, was also the first rector of the then Colegio de Santo Rosario, Fr. Domingo Gonzalez, O.P. He served for four terms, for a total of 15 years.
Meanwhile, it was Fr. Francisco Ayala, O.P. who served the longest consecutive term, his rectorship having lasted for 12 years, from 1829 to 1841.
On the other hand, there were four rectors whose tenure in office did not last a year. They were Fr. Francisco Genoves, O.P. (1825-1826), Fr. Francisco de Sales Mora, O.P. (1828-1829); Fr. Pedro Marcos, O.P. (1880-1881) and Fr. Ernesto Arceo, O.P. (2006-2007).
Records from the UST archives also showed that a rector’s terms during the first two centuries of the University lasted, on the average, two years.
The 20th century was the dawn of the Filipino rectorship in the University. It was in 1970 during the height of the students’ clamor for the Filipinization of the University, when the last Spanish rector, Fr. Jesús Diaz, O.P., stepped down and was replaced by the first Filipino rector, Fr. Leonardo Legaspi, O.P.. Legaspi, who hails from Meycauayan, Bulacan, served as rector for two consecutive terms from 1971 to 1977. (Legaspi was later made auxiliary bishop to Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal sin and is now archbishop of Nueva Caceres in Bicol.)
However, in 1978 the rectorship was once again given to another foreigner, Fr. Frederick Fermin, O.P., who had hailed from Nijmegen, the Netherlands, but later came to the Philippines and became a naturalized Filipino. The rectorship returned to Filipino hands in 1982 when Fr. Norberto Castillo, O.P., a Chemistry board topnotcher and former Varsitarian managing editor, assumed the University’s top executive post. Castillo came from Tacloban City, Leyte and served two consecutive terms from 1982 to 1990.
He was followed by Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, O.P. who was born in Manila but whose parents hailed from the Ilocos and Bicol. A former Varsitarian Witness editor, De la Rosa also served for two consecutive terms, from 1990 to 1998. Fr. Tamerlane Lana, O.P. of Legazpi City, who replaced, De la Rosa, held the mantle from 1998 to 2006.
Fr. Ernesto Arceo, O.P. succeeded Lana in 2006, but resigned the following year after being involved in the disputed hospital expansion project of the University.
Father De la Rosa then took over Arceo’s place as acting rector and was recently reappointed as the new rector by the Vatican, which granted him a fresh four-year term route en route to becoming the Quadricentennial rector for 2011.