The De La Salle storyBy Queena N. Lee-Chua
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A century ago, De La Salle University (DLSU) opened in a small house in Paco, Manila, with 125 boys. Today, it is a stellar university on Taft Avenue, with more than 15,000 students.
DLSU, run by the St. John Baptist de la Salle Brothers, was the first in the country to connect to the Net, to operate an “intelligent classroom” and, under Professor Emeritus Isagani “Gani” R. Cruz, to create a Literature Department.
In his book, “The DLSU Story,” playwright and critic Gani interweaves the university’s story with his own, giving us insight not only on his beloved school, but also Gani himself, who taught various courses and established several programs.
A University Fellow and Academic Publications executive director, Gani retired as DLSU’s highest-paid and highest-ranked full professor.
Gani started teaching under Br. Hyacinth Gabriel Connon, FSC. The American loved DLSU so much he became a Filipino citizen and ensured the school became a full-fledged university in 1975.
Then came Br. Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, whom Gani considered “not just a brother but a father”; Br. Rafael Donato, FSC, who “refocused attention” on teacher formation; Br. Rolando Dizon, who was awarded by the Jesuits for his social justice work.
When Br. Rolando became chair of the Commission on Higher Education in 2003, he was replaced by Carmelita Quebengco, a lay person who “manifested all the virtues of the Brothers.”
When Gani tried to get her to work for a higher world university ranking, she refused to “teach to the test,” considering it “mildly unethical.”
Because Gani retired in 2005, he ends with Br. Armin Luistro, FSC, a visionary who “was always looking at a decade after,” thus, “the perfect president to prepare DLSU for its centennial.”
Br. Armin, who was active in various groups (we were trustees of Immaculate Conception Academy), became secretary of the Department of Education in 2010.
DLSU also had excellent vice presidents, like Paulino Tan. I like and respect Paulino for his scientific expertise (he topped the chemical engineering board examinations), sound judgment, and kindness. Tales of his Solomonic wisdom alone are worth the price of the book.
Paulino once asked a professor if he was sexually harassing students. When the professor denied it, Paulino said, “Then you won’t mind my telling your wife about the rumors.”
When the professor balked, Paulino said, “I will if you don’t resign.” The professor resigned.
Br. Andrew Gonzalez
Throughout DLSU’s story, Br. Andrew stands tall. A linguist who topped the 1978 Professional Teacher Boards, he was a teacher who said “only the best and the brightest should teach.” A social scientist who promoted research, he was elevated to the National Academy of Science and Technology in 1996.
Br. Andrew, who passed away in 2006, struck a balance between DLSU as a school for the elite and the Brothers’ mission to help the poor. As an “academic Robin Hood [who] charged high tuition for the rich to use the money for the poor,” he opened free adult evening classes and preschool for street kids.
When Br. Andrew became education secretary in 1998, he provided scholarships to public school teachers to study for their master’s in top universities. I taught several of those scholars.
When I thanked Br. Andrew at their graduation, he said it was government’s task to strengthen competencies. Sadly, the program did not survive after Br. Andrew left DepEd in 2001, a victim of political machinations.
I met Gani for the first time in the 1990s. He was a University of the Philippines-Diliman physics major, an Ateneo graduate student in English, and a Jesuit scholastic—before he got married, went to the United States and Iran, and returned to devote his life to DLSU.
Gani tried to “pirate” me. The instant promotion and the pay increase were alluring. But I said Ateneo was not just my school, but also my home. Gani understood. We became fast friends.
Gani was unapologetic about being a “pirate.” He and Br. Andrew deemed it their duty to entice the best faculty to DLSU.
I am drawn to intellectuals who bridge disciplines, and Gani is one of them. He often sends me math trivia and, recently, we enthused about the discovery of the God particle. Not many Filipinos, professors or otherwise, would marvel over the Higgs boson.
However, Gani says, “All my life, I have found myself in the middle of controversies” and, with self-deprecation, he bares his soul in several juicy and illuminating passages. For example, in 2003, when Gani led an accreditation team to evaluate Ateneo, my colleagues complained that he asked “unanswerable” questions.
Hard questions were Gani’s trademark, I said; we shouldn’t worry. He is a friend, I reiterated—the year before, he had contributed to a science writing anthology I had put together, published by the Ateneo University Press.
I laughed out loud when I came across Gani’s retelling of this incident. He confessed to “asking questions that an Atenean debater would ask, questions impossible to answer without contradicting oneself.”
When Gani and I, with Nilo Rosas, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina president, became judges for this year’s Metrobank Outstanding Teachers award, Gani asked one semifinalist, tilapia researcher and basketball coach Tereso Abella of Central Luzon State University, “What does tilapia have to do with basketball?”
Abella answered the question with aplomb, citing health references. Afterwards, Gani said gleefully, “He answered my unanswerable question!”
Written with wit and candor, “The DLSU Story” provides a behind-the-scenes look into how a school continuously strives to grow, as told by one of its best educators.
“The De La Salle University Story” by Isagani R. Cruz is available in C & E Bookshop (9295088) and La Solidaridad Bookshop (5230870).
E-mail the author at email@example.com.
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- Do not forget the poor
- Everyone is blessed
- Exceeding expectations
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