PAGTITIBAY: Chancellor Michael Lim Tan

Written by Mary Racelis on .

PAGTITIBAY: Chancellor Michael Lim Tan, University of the Philippines, October 17, 2014

PAGPAPAKILALA sa Ika-10 Tsanselor ng Unibersidad ng Pilipinas Diliman

Mary A. Racelis1

MA Sociology 1960

University of the Philippines

 

This Pagtitibay, or investiture, of an anthropologist to the elevated status of Chancellor of the University of the Philippines marks a special day for us all. Allow me to start off by being true to our academic calling. In the best scholarly tradition of historical investigation I believe this important rite of passage (rites of passage being a favorite topic of anthropologists) requires an examination of our Chancellor’s evolutionary path to leadership. The research question today is: How did the exotic field of anthropology, which to the public only studies stones, bones, Neolithic adzes and the strange customs of people living outside of the Diliman ethnic commune, yield a distinguished Tribal Elder like Michael Lim Tan?

 

Datu Tan (an appropriate honorific title especially favored by anthropologists doing research in Mindanao) belongs to the tribe called Indigenous Manilenyos, having been born and raised in San Juan, Rizal. What is less known is that his ethnic socialization, influenced by his Filipino-Chinese heritage, was supervised by the elders of another esoteric tribe known as “Jesuits.” His enculturation into their traditional lore took place at Xavier School and later – a little-known secret – at that Other University at the sosyal end of Katipunan/C-5, where he majored in biology. Soon realizing the folly of his ways, he transferred to the University of San Francisco in California. There, under the tutelage of American Jesuits related through kinship and a patriarchal descent system to his former tribal elders at Loyola Heights, he completed his undergraduate studies as a biology major.

 

But the excitement of scientific research could not compete with his overwhelming interest in animal life as it is lived outside of the laboratory. Returning to the Philippines, he found his way once again through the jungles of Quezon City to Katipunan/C-5 – at the masa end this time. In 1977 the University of the Philippines rewarded him for this exemplary tracking expertise by conferring on him the Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine.

Becoming a practicing veterinarian also brought a brief teaching stint at De La Salle Araneta University. (Given the demands of his ancient Ateneo and De la Salle tribal roots and the loyalty demands of their alumni/ae, we can appreciate all the more his demonstrated dedication in 2014 to promoting and cheering on UP athletes at their ritual games.)

Following the track of human evolution, Datu Tan decided in the early 1980s to shift away from the veterinarian’s animal world to connect with people. Unlike his furry, feathered and slithery friends, people in all their diversity talked back. Dialogue, not one-sided conversations, was what he was all about – asking, listening, and communicating. He thus ventured into Anthropology, “the Study of Man” – and Women (my students learn early on they had better be gender sensitive or else) — obtaining the Master of Arts in Anthropology from Texas A&M University in 1982.

His discipline-crossing talent came to full fruition with the PhD in Anthropology in 1996, specializing in Medical Anthropology at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. Sixteen years later in the Philippines the National Academy of Science and Technology elected him to its membership citing his:

sustained outstanding scientific research, teaching, advocacy and development work [and] consistent efforts to revitalize scientific research on and in the use of traditional medicine, develop rational drug policies, and understand the social and behavioral dimensions of HIV/AIDS prevention and of reproductive health promotion.

Who better, then, for UP than a leader like Datu Tan to take over the Diliman Caliphate? He is steeped in the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities – the last through his explorations of culture not only in his numerous academic publications (Scopus peer-reviewed of course) but in his popular Philippine Daily Inquirer column, Pinoy Kasi.

 

Impressive as his academic credentials are, another side of him has flourished that is more familiar to civil society circles outside the university than in it. He is well-known and admired in the NGO world of activists working with diverse groups of marginalized people to enable those voices to be heard and their contributions to society recognized. In carrying out activities directly with people’s organizations, these energetic young women and men relied on their activist and unassuming friend, Mike Tan, to link them with field and policy research on sexuality, gender, health, HIV-AIDS, pharmaceuticals, family planning, public health and more. His many contacts and consultancies in United Nations agencies and international civil society foundations established him as a lynchpin in multiple networks involving NGOs and academics. Together they worked out a more holistic understanding of and appreciation for the people they served.

 

Today’s theme, Building Bridges, Creating Networks, fits our Alma Mater’s new top leadership to a T (T for Tan of course). For Datu Tan is a connector who spans various divides between the University and the public mind outside but also groupings within our multi-faceted and often fractious Diliman community. To deal with the strengths and problems of diversity on this campus, he brings his long experience in academic administration as Chair of the Department of Anthropology, then as Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, and now as Chancellor. (Actually my only lament in all this is that ever since he began taking on administrative roles, I no longer run into him at conferences abroad since he now opts to stay home and mind the store.)

How many leaders possess the experiential credibility to exhort the university community as he did earlier this year to strengthen UP’s roleas:

a national university, a place to nurture not just brightness but diversity. UP Diliman … [should] show the way in transdisciplinary initiatives in teaching, our graduates grounded in the liberal arts, able to see and appreciate the poetry in mathematics, as well as the mathematics in poetry.... a UP [with] a shared culture of academic citizenship built on collegiality, a sense of justice and fairness, and ethics.

He calls on us further to “think out of the box and critically on social issues,” to reach out to other institutions (including that Other one on Katipunan/C-5) and other UPs throughout the system, to civil society groups, to government, the private sector and the world outside the Philippines – engaging with them as network partners. He insists that together we can create a society ready to face as well as challenge and transform for the greatest good the emerging patterns and complex structures of our 21st century global society.

Dr. Maria Cynthia Rose Banzon Bautista and I, together with the many communities (whether entitled or not to sing UP Naming Mahal as members of his tribe) hail our leader and friend, Datu Michael Lim Tan, as the 10th Chancellor of the University of the Philippines, Diliman.

1 Dr. Mary A. Racelis is Senior Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines, Diliman, and Research Scientist at the Institute of Philippine Culture, School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University. This Pagpapakilala message was developed in partnership with Dr. Maria Cynthia Rose Banzon Bautista, Commissioner, Commission on Higher Education.