Western Mindanao State U’s New President DR. GRACE J. REBOLLOS


“A New Springtime of the Human Spirit”

“I WANT Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) to be known as a great school,” says its new president, Dr. Grace J. Rebollos. And if there are two words that will be her mantra to make that lofty yet imperative vision come true, these would be reaffirmation and rationalization in the 100-year old institution in the months and, indeed, immediate years ahead.

By some historical phenomenon, there has always been something extraordinary about fin de siecle change in leadership for any organization big or small. But that Dr. Rebollos’s presidency comes at the fulcrum not just of a century but a millennium as well makes her job singularly challenging. Nowadays, more than most agencies WMSU is increasingly looked upon by an impoverished and war-weary population to provide important answers – mainly through the power of knowledge – to their urgent problems.

Solving or just attempting to provide academic answers to such social, economic and to a substantial extent political problems has never been easy even to the world’s best minds and committed souls. Yet Dr.Rebollos’ many years of hands-on involvement in these tough, life and death issues – she has served in East Timor as a United Nations counselor, organized local urban poor groups and helped them become homeowners and micro-enterpreneurs, researched on youth’s peace-building alternatives, among a host of other social and professional ventures – gives her a special advantage to hit the ground running.

In a way then, the 9-1 votes mandate she received from the university’s Board of Regents is where her and her administration’s reaffirmation begins. She was a clear favorite even before the search had formally started for a replacement of the former president, Dr. Eldigario Gonzales, who had anointed her, too, when he vacated the office to run for a Congressional seat in last May’s elections.

“The presidency to me is a sacred trust”, she told PeaceWorks in an exclusive interview (she is also vice-president and a founder of Peace Advocates Zamboanga). “I find it a daunting task but I am happy for the fact that there is overwhelming support from inside (the institution)”, says the mother of three school-age children and wife to San Jose Cawa-Cawa Barangay Chairman Jaime Rebollos.

“I am proudly a product of WMSU”, she said in her acceptance speech at the turnover of the office last September 14. “My heart resonates with the expectations of the many who have built it from the initial visions and actions at the turn of the 20th century, 103 years ago”, she said, thus framing her personal avowal and historical rationale for educational leadership and excellence. Her intellectual credential dates back to 1972, when she graduated as the first summa cum laude of the Zamboanga State College – as WMSU was called before becoming a university – in a course in education, major in mathematics.

She apparently aims to concretize such high standards of educational attainments through her administration’s three-pronged agenda (see side story). It starts with a target to “improve on the current quality of institutional offerings and move the university toward a culture of excellence” through activities like “periodic and credible attitude surveys on performance satisfaction in management and operations”. Her benchmarks will include the employees’ personal values as helpfulness, knowledge, quality of service and professional conduct. WMSU would reciprocate such reaffirmations of the thousand-strong personnel with a system of “meritocracy, welfare and morale” incentives as well as continuing faculty and staff development program.

WMSU’s approximately 20,000 students – a population that grows yearly – can also look forward to a “streamlining of administrative and academic services and programs along student welfare and development”, a slate of alumni opportunities, and more scholarships.

To fund and sustain such big programs, Dr. Rebollos has placed the rationalization of resources and corporate income-generation right on top of her concerns. She will want to see the wise and economical use of logistics, even to establish a Materials Recovery Facility to recycle paper, bottles, etc. She will maximize the university’s corporate charter by “pursuing fiscal autonomy by embarking on or sustaining current resource- and income-generating activities in support of institutional functions” through such activities as joint ventures with private business, sourcing of funds from foundations, and in-house entrepreneurships.

But above all, Dr. Rebollos will rely on “a new springtime of the human spirit” that she likes to see flourish during her presidency to propel the institution forward. “Ultimately, the marks of WMSU must have most meaning is in its corporate social responsibility of purveying knowledge that prepares people for deeper, more extensive involvement and participation in the affairs of the community,” she said.

“Let us dream,” she quoted South American novelist Paul Coelho, “and dreams mean work”. There will be lots of both in her long and exciting journey ahead. . .

[More about Dr. Rebollos: She was WMSU’s Vice-President for Research and Extension prior to her new appointment as its chief executive. She was ranked first among four candidates, all of whom are holding positions in institution, in the evaluation by the search committee organized to screen applications for the position. The new president has also been holding the position of vice-president in WMSU’s plantilla since 1992.

She completed postdoctoral studies in moral education and education in 1990 in the University of Minnesota as a scholar of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She also took up doctoral and masters studies majoring in social sciences in the University of the Philippines (Diliman) in 1983 and 1978, respectively.

In WMSU, she has held the positions of Director for Center for Peace and Development (since 1997 to present); Vice-President for Administrative Affairs (1992-1997); Dean of Graduate School (1987-1991) and Dean of Research Center 1984-1987).

Her community development engagements have included work for the urban poor housing and livelihood, women, conflict transformation and peace-building, migrants, civil society, and farmers, among others. She has been twice named outstanding alumna by the Universidad de Zamboanga, formerly ZamboangaA.E. Colleges.

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