As XU faces the paradigm shift brought about by the current pandemic, the University also opened the new academic year with a new leader.
Photo by James Patrick Pabonita
When the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic struck, the once bustling hallways of the University had suddenly become lifeless and empty. Chatter and laughter had disappeared from what once were lively spots of the school, and classroom seats have remained unoccupied for months. But one seat remains inhabited—the biggest seat in the University, upon which resides its new successor.
As XU faces the paradigm shift brought about by the current pandemic, the University also opened the new academic year with a new leader. Both an environmentalist and a Jesuit priest, former XU McKeough Marine Center (XU-MMC) Director Fr. Mars P. Tan, S.J. assumed office as the new President of XU on Aug 1, making him the institution’s 15th president. Tan holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Notre Dame Australia, a master’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, a master’s degree in Theology from Ateneo de Manila (AdMU) Loyola School of Theology, and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU).
13 years in service
Tan has been in service to XU for 13 years now—two years as a regent teaching at the XU High School (XUHS) from 1992 to 1994, and 11 years since his second return to XU in 2009. From 2009 to 2020, Tan was a Biology and Environmental Science professor and the director and researcher of the XU-MMC. In these same 10 years, he was also the rector of the Jesuits of CDO. Prior to his return to XU in 2009, Tan was a research associate and consultant in AdMU, specializing in environmental and marine resources.
“The first advocacy that is close to my heart is care and protection of the environment because of my exposure to environmental issues and problems and my professional training in that area,” Tan shares. This advocacy was also born from being a member of the Society of Jesus, which values “care for creation” as one of its four universal apostolic preferences. In line with being a Jesuit, Tan’s other advocacy is faith and leadership of young people. “I always believe that our future as a country depends so much on the kind of young people, the students, that will become leaders in the future.” His third advocacy is the use of technology to alleviate poverty, prompting the question of how we should use “the right application of technology to serve the needs of those most deprived in our society.”
A change in perspectives
A few months into the academic year as the University community adjusts its safety measures to combat the current health crisis, Tan assures that the administration is in the process of making sure XU is ready for the needed adjustments and innovations.
“It’s the academic aspect that needs focus this time,” says Tan. “Due to its being new and never been tried before (online learning), […] I see the need to keep on monitoring, evaluating, and enhancing our mode of online learning.”
XU began its take on Flexible Learning in July, bringing a major revamp in the learning arrangements as the first semester of AY 2020-2021 ran fully online. With this major change, Tan considers it urgent to primarily shift its focus on the academic aspect of the University at this time. “I believe we can still improve on the lesson contents, its delivery in the virtual classroom, the connectivity technology, the preparation and class performances of our students, and the support from the parents and other family members.”
Other things to look into
As the current health crisis alters the current learning scenario, Tan emphasizes that it is not only the academic aspect of the University that is greatly affected by this sudden change, but services such as the Finance sector as well. “One big challenge is the University’s financial condition which relies heavily on the enrollment numbers every year,” expresses Tan. “We are not that financially bad this semester but there are continuing threats like a delayed collection of fees, a decline of enrollment numbers in the second semester due to the long stretch of economic downturn, and the possible online fatigue of students,” he adds.
Apart from the threats faced by University’s finances, Tan also addresses that there are obvious challenges in the areas of doing research, conducting formation programs, and engaging in social involvement activities. However, the University President is keen on maintaining stability within the systems despite the transitions. “I take it as a big challenge to do a balancing act between keeping all our employees and ensuring the sustainability of school operations during home-based learning. Lastly, keeping our employees safe is another big challenge given the rising COVID-19 cases,” says Tan.
From here on out
“Fr. Bobby Yap, my immediate predecessor, and his team have put in place the home-based mode of learning and the challenge for me now is how to improve it even better and better, which consists of regular monitoring and assessment of both the inputs and the outputs of learning and making adjustments and improvements as needed,” Tan discloses. His next plan involves preparing the University for the new normal. “After the pandemic, things will not be the same as before the COVID-19 crisis, and we need to make sure Xavier University is ready for the needed adjustments.”
Tan plans to continue the work set forth by his predecessors, Fr. Jett Villarin, S.J. and Yap, who had laid down and started actualizing the University Development Goals, which captured the key areas of the University mission to ensure quality holistic Jesuit education for the students. These include: discerning communities of students and personnel, a more academically competitive culture on campuses, better equipped faculty, a vibrant student life geared towards leadership and mission, stronger partnership with schools abroad especially in Asia, and more institutional engagements to care for the environment, among many others. “All these can be done if we are one and constantly focused on the mission,” Tan affirms.
Anchored to his mission
With the pandemic posing a greater challenge than usual during Tan’s succession, he emphasizes that staying true to our identity as Xavier Ateneans and aligning ourselves to the Atenean values is the most important thing to bear in mind during these trying times.
“My guide is still the Xavier University vision, which is to produce graduates with competence, conscience, and commitment despite the limitations imposed by the pandemic.”
“I hope that the challenges brought about by the crisis would even toughen our students to become competent, committed, and God-fearing,” he added.
As he takes the seat that presides over all, Tan addresses the XU community with a reminder: “First is that we keep the faith […] in God and in ourselves that we will be able to overcome this pandemic. Second, that we continue to strive for excellence, meaning to just keep on doing the best that we can given all the limitations and restrictions imposed by this pandemic.”
Although the onset of his term opened with an unprecedented challenge, Tan is hopeful that the pandemic will meet its end sooner or later. “We should not allow it to scare us and more so paralyze us so that we cannot study and work anymore. So, we keep the faith and continue doing our best to succeed in our studies,” he reiterates. “In times of crisis, we ask the Lord to increase our faith and remain persevering through hardship. We will overcome this crisis!”