Unopposed CMC dean nominee bares “caring community” plan for Maskom

Sole nominee for UP College of Mass Communication (CMC) dean Fernando Paragas presented his three-year “Caring Community of Communicators” plan for Maskom in a public forum on Jan. 31.

Under this plan, communication research professor Paragas envisions a collaborative and responsive college towards stakeholders’ mental health and remote learning woes.

“Kailangan [muna] arugain ang ating kasama,” Paragas said. “Kailangan malakas muna tayo para malakas ang ating pagtulong sa bayan at lipunan.”

READ: Unseen Enemies: Lonely Battles in Distance Learning

Paragas’ presentation in the public forum is part of the dean appointment process, following a call for nominations that began on Jan. 14. His plans will help the selection committee decide whether they would recommend Paragas’ appointment to the Board of Regents (BOR).

If appointed, Paragas would become the 10th CMC dean, replacing incumbent Arminda Santiago.

To improve CMC’s mental health services, Paragas plans to partner with UP PsycServ, along with the university’s counseling and teaching advancement offices. He said he would strengthen college welfare committees, anti-harassment policies and reporting mechanisms.

Under his term, Paragas said staff and faculty would receive mentoring to improve their well-being. He added that students should receive proactive advising for degree programs, especially amid the challenging remote learning setup.

Paragas voiced support for the UP community’s call to postpone the resumption of the university’s second full year under remote learning, resounding the CMC’s previous statement in support of the plea.

This is after UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo pushed through with the Feb. 7 opening of the second semester of A.Y. 2021-2022, only two weeks after the previous one ended. 

“Pagka-submit ng grades [in the first semester], registration na agad, hindi siya marapat. Kailangan balanse ang staff, student and faculty welfare,” he said. “Lahat tayo napapagod, kailangan ng break.”

On the return to in-person classes, Paragas said consultations among the college’s stakeholders are needed to decide on how to execute blended learning.

He described different possibilities for this system. One setup is where some students attend in-person while the rest attend online. Another is where students go to campus every other week.

“Pwede [i-review] ‘yung curriculum kung alin nga ba ‘yung pwede natin i-deliver through blended modes. Alin ‘yung kailangan bumalik na, ano ‘yung ‘di naman kailangan bumalik,” said Paragas.

Improving CMC programs, processes

For CMC employees, Paragas would review application and promotion metrics and take stock of plantilla positions that remain unfilled.

Paragas also said he would expand the college’s degree programs, particularly at the graduate level. However, the nominee could not promise financial support for graduate students who want to pursue opportunities outside UP, citing scarce college funds.

“Wala talagang pera ang college para dito. Kailangan mag-wishlist tayo, consolidate. Titingnan dapat ilang estudyante ang humihingi ng grant? Magkano ang binibigay natin?” Paragas added.

When asked about CMC freshie, shiftees and transferees’ difficulty in acquiring units during enrolment, Paragas said the solution is beyond the dean’s capacity since the college follows the university’s calendar.

“Mahirap naman talaga ang pacing pero ‘pag nag-stabilize na … Maganda sana ‘yung pacing na na-process na ‘yung shiftees and transferees bago ‘yung registration. The academic calendar is not within the purview of the dean,” he said. 

Paragas’ plans for the college are amid intensified state-sponsored attacks that target UP, such as the red-tagging of student organizations and colleges, including CMC itself.

In May 2020, the nation’s anti-communist task force accused CMC-based organization Union of Journalists of the Philippines of “exploiting the ABS-CBN shutdown to uphold communist ideals.”

Tinig ng Plaridel (TNP), the college’s student publication, also received a message containing red-tagging and death threats from an anonymous Facebook account in March 2021.

Several CMC alumni such as journalist Lady Ann Salem and Bakwit school teacher Lorena Sigua also faced trumped-up charges for their community work.

READ: Progressive groups condemn ‘trumped-up’ charges against CMC alum

When asked about his participation in protecting CMC from state attacks, Paragas says he supports the college through his “institutional activism.” He proposes the creation of a team of legal experts that would assist the Maskom community with these threats.

“Paano ba natin gagawing refuge ang Maskom? Para ‘pag may kasapi tayo na na-red-tag, ano bang tulong [ang] magagawa natin? [Institutional] ‘yung klase ng aking activism, kung paano ba natin i-institutionalize ang mga response,” said Paragas.

Org concerns 

During the open forum, Paragas also said that the registration process of organizations in CMC needs to be reviewed. 

Previous guidelines under the now-defunct Faculty Student Relations Committee (FSRC) manual have constricted the operations of student formations in the college since its establishment in 2001.

READ: Medyo mapagpalaya: A “lesson” on hypocrisy and assertion

In 2019, the college replaced the FSRC manual with a revised version called the Sub-Committee On College Registration of Student Organizations but its implementation was halted by the pandemic.

“We need [to revisit] what it means to be registered within the college. Clean slate. And then dialogue,” he said. 

Paragas said he could not guarantee spaces for CMC organizations when students return to in-person classes.

“Kapag may space planning call, please participate,” he told student organization representatives in the public forum. “Kasama kayo sa usapan. Tulungan niyo ako mag-isip.”

On the recognition of TNP as CMC’s official student publication, Paragas said TNP would have to pitch why it should be the official student publication of the college.

“As dean, I would never speak unilaterally. I’m very consultative. Pag-usapan natin ito kung paano ba ‘yung dapat mangyari towards being the official publication,” said Paragas.

TNP has been operating for over 40 years, beginning in 1978 at the height of Martial Law. Existing even before CMC was a college, TNP’s operations have always been marred by unstable funding, relying only on the donations of students and alumni.

READ: STAND UP CMC journ rep candidate claimed TNP is a college-recognized org. This is inaccurate.

Paragas promised to strengthen the college administration’s coordination with the CMC student council by implementing quarterly meetings “at the minimum.”

In his vision statement, Paragas says he is a “true-blooded product” of UP, beginning as a student in CMC in 1991. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1996 from the Department of Communication Research, which he eventually chaired from 2006 to 2007. He also headed CMC’s Graduate Studies Department from 2015 to 2019. 

The CMC dean search committee is led by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Loujaye Sonido alongside representatives from other colleges: Galileo Zafra from College of Arts and Letters, Lilian Rodriguez from College of Science, Toym Imao from College of Fine Arts and Board of Regents (BOR) Secretary Robert Lara.

Under the UP Diliman Faculty Manual, the search committee will recommend a nominee to Nemenzo and UP President Danilo Concepcion. The BOR—the highest decision-making body in the university—would appoint the recommended nominee.

The search committee will submit its report to Nemenzo on Feb. 8.