Dr. Manuel Agulto, director of the Institute of Ophthalmology, was elected by the UP Board of Regents as 8th chancellor of UP Manila at its meeting on 29 September 2011. He will succeed Chancellor Ramon Arcadio whose term will end on 31 October 2011.
Widely-perceived as a dark horse, the announcement came as a surprise to members of the UP Manila community. Dr. Agulto bested two other nominees to the post, Dean Alberto Roxas of the UP Manila College of Medicine and Prof. Roland Simbulan of the UPM College of Arts and Sciences and former UPM Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development.
Dr. Agulto ran on a platform of research as the engine of the entrepreneural approach he is envisioning for the University that would entail public private partnership. In an interview with the UP Manila Bagumbayan, he stated that his decision to seek the chancellorship was made at the last minute upon the prodding of people who saw in him the qualities and traits necessary for the position.
A practising Methodist and God-fearing man as described by Dr. Joselito Jamir, UP Manila’s incoming academic and administrative leader admitted to praying hard and seeking Divine Providence in his final decision to run and most especially now that he is faced with, in his words, a “daunting job.”
To introduce him to the members of the UP Manila community and share his thoughts and insights on the chancellorship and his initial plans, here are excerpts from the interview with the new chancellor:
Q: Why did it take you some time to finally decide to run for chancellor?
A: At first, I was not fully convinced I was the right man for the job. I've been hearing some people say I can be a good chancellor. In fact, the University Secretary, when she was not yet the University Secretary was telling me “we want to see you occupy the top position in this university.” So this belief and trust planted seeds in my psyche that I should run for chancellor. I saw problems when I was working here and I thought I could solve some of them. In other words, I have something to contribute despite my limitations.
I prayed hard. I asked the Lord, is this something I have to do for my work and my growth as a Christian? Slowly, the answers came. The people who asked me to run for the position felt that I can do something . They say that the kind of person that I am is fit for the kind of job that is the chancellorship. No single person pushed me to it even if they implored or asked me to pursue the candidacy.
Q: How would you describe your management style?
A: I consider the chancellorship as a gift or challenge from God. My management style is not to be unprepared. I am a straight forward type of leader. What you see is what you get. I know who I am. I know my limitations. I cannot crack the whip and make everybody toe the line. As a leader, I am my own man. Nobody can push me around. The only thing that will push me around is truth. Everything that I will do will be subsumed under love for God and for fellowmen. I will always seek God and Divine Providence.
Q; What specific problems you mentioned earlier did you see?
A: Let me put it this way. I told the UP President that the Sentro Oftalmologico Jose Rizal was my biggest accomplishment but the more difficult part was getting the right people to run it. And I’m very happy to report that the Institute of Ophthalmology would be the body that would run it. We have the right people, clinicians, specialists, etc – all specialties covered. Top of the line people, most of our consultants are heads of national subspecialty organizations. I was first president of the Philippine Glaucoma Society, of course I didn't realize until I was asked by the committee. Dr. Geminiano de Ocampo was president of the first Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology and was party to the group that established the SEA Glaucoma Interest Group. He was the 2nd president and 1st Filipino president. I am the first Filipino ophthalmologist elected to the first regional society. I have the qualities of a chancellor to be and I am willing to share my time, talent, and treasures and it is consistent with my life in the University, a life of service. I will sacrifice my resources so that I can help UP Manila.
Q: You mentioned sacrificing your resources, how will it affect your private practice?
A: Practice will be secondary. The primary role will be as head of this University. I fully realize the implications of the job, a daunting job, thankless job even, but I am prepared for it physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Q: What influences you towards service? Family, religion, or everything?
A: Everything but my being a doctor is also an accident of fate. I was not on top of my class. I pray hard whenever I’m at a crucial junction, at a decision point in my life. I love service, I see patients until the clinic ends. My wife was telling me, where do you get the energy? My answer is from my desire to serve them well. I treat anybody. I make it a point to give my best. My service is measured by the question “If he were my father, brother or relative, would I treat him or operate on him the same way?”
Q: Will this also be your guidepost in choosing your management team?
A. No question about that. I will be shortchanging the University if I didn't get the best and the brightest that UPM can offer.
Q: By this time, do you already have choices for the members of your Management Team?
A: I have rough ideas. This also tells you that I didn't really want the job. I will be crossing traditional lines, doctoral alliances. We are in the process of getting all of these. By next week, I will announce. I don’t follow any algorithmn. Rest assured that I am not going to jeopardize the interests of the University with this haphazard way of doing things. For the vice chancellors, already talked to two persons and they are willing to serve as my VCs.
Q: What about research?
A: Research is part of service. Research has been part and parcel of my life. If you harp back at the Subic workshop, ”UP as a Research University” was the battlecry and now it's different, “UP as a Great University, “ as the President had said,. In my vision paper, its “UP as an Entrepreneurial University.” An entrepreneurial university partakes of public-private partnership enunciated by the president and I subscribe to that for the practical reason that I don't think that money will be flowing from the national government to us.
Q: There is fear from the Union that this approach will sacrifice the service nature of the University and raise education expenses?
A: It's OK, as long as they know where I am heading. Everything will improve if there are additional resources. Before I set off on my journey of about 1,095 days, everyday will have to have an accounting. I will have my macro and micro. I have the large picture and small picture. I know my forest and my trees. And the UP President enunciated all of these in his Master Plan. The first thing he will do is audit and improve the infrastructure to leap frog into the 21st century. Hindi natin magagawa yan kung kulelat tayo. Napapaiyak ako everytime I go -abroad and compete with international groups, We came up with the Asia-Pacific Glaucoma guidelines. I had the privilege of working with world expats and I think I made a good accounting of myself so much so that they made me president.
Q: Which of the initiatives of the outgoing administration will you continue?
A: I will make use of the concept of “emphasizing your strengths and downplaying your weaknesses.” I will support programs where we excel. I will continue the programs that are costeffective and cost-efficient. I’m going to get a good Management Team even if they have to come from outside UP Manila or outside UP. Even if I have to spend my own money, I will do it. I know I am not a Management person, I am a clinician, but I solve problems the way I think, as a surgeon. What is the disease, how did this come about? What are my treatment options, is this medical, surgical? According to the problem at hand with everything that I have to give it an earlier resolution and early cure, early diagnosis, better prognosis. I will apply tools that I have learned for 40 years.
Q: For specific programs like the Return Sservice Agreement, what is your take?
A: That’s a good program. It allows for a complete understanding of those that have been trained that they have a debt of gratitude to the country. Hindi porke marunong ka, magaling ka sa isang posisyon abroad, kakalimutan mo na ang bansa. Kaya dapat manatili rito. But we also need influence and training from experts abroad to prevent inbreeding. But the question is do these people go back? There is a saying that “from the brain drain, we will have a brain gain.” One of my chief residents just came back from Harvard.
Q: Do you have plans for programs that provide direct service, like Pahinungod, GNI, etc?
A: I like that (GNI). I will pursue that and bring it to a higher level. I wish to see Ermita, of which UPM is part of, to improve its basic services. For example, why do garbage collectors collect at 11 am when everybody is in the streets? In other countries, it’s 5 am. Like me, I am responsible for everything that happens. Cut off my head, I will cut off the head of those under me. You cannot be a good manager if you cannot delegate responsibilities. You cannot do it by your lonesome.
Q: What do you think of the suggestion for a VC for Service to coordinate all such activities?
A: As long as plans are good, don't be afraid to suggest. I will observe collegiality but when implementation comes, the buck stops here, I will pursue it to its bitter or sweet end. Based on the nature of the perceived problems, I will appoint the right people.
Q: First 100 days, what do you plan to do?
A: To understand fully the relevant problems that will push UPM to be the university that Pascual envisions. The systems audit will have to be done quickly. It doesn't have to be too detailed. There should be broad strokes first before the fine strokes. Give me your top three projects, one per year, the real impact projects, it will be a dream that I would like the University to espouse. It will be an example for all the others. I will not go into the micro aspect but if I see mistake, I will take note of it
Q: Some people say you are a snob?
A; Because they don't know me. My ideas shout but not my words. I shout to high heavens na pagpalain ang mga taong ito. If I want results, I probably shout but not literally. Sometimes, I say things that can hurt people in my eagerness to achieve. I may be combative because I fight for what is right and that is not bad.
Q: Do you plan to continue “Health Update-Manila” launched recently as a research dissemination strategy?
A: Give me more of the same. Innovative programs like this should be continued. My battle cry now is “Itaas ang UP, Isulong ang UP.” I'm very happy that we have competent staff at IPPAO as shown by the two of you. That article at UPM Newsletter showed how well you can present facts objectively and it was written following journalistic principles.