Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Another farewell to a teacher

He was supposed to be a terror teacher. At least that was what a lot of people were saying prior to our enlisting under him for our first taste of Structural Engineering back when we were university students in the early 1990s. We really had no choice at the time as there was only one section for CE 150, which focused on the design of steel structures. Dr. Ernesto Tabujara had just returned from a sabbatical after serving as Chancellor of UP Diliman and, according to those who appeared to be in the know at the time, devoting time to a leading consulting firm that he had established with his friends and colleagues. 

I have fond memories of Dr. Tabujara or "Tabu" as he is referred to by students during my time at the university. He had a lot of stories to tell and did so as he discussed design principles to our class. I remember that we were both awed and afraid of him whenever we were in the classroom. Awed because we have heard a lot about him and his accomplishments. Afraid because of his reputation as a terror professor that preceded even our enlistment in his class. He was very sharp and didn't need notes or textbooks to guide him in his lectures though he usually brought with him our text book that he usually opened only to give problems for our homework. He never returned any of the problem sets we submitted to him that semester nor did he give any long exams. He did give us a take home final exam that included instructions to state that we did the exam by ourselves and without help from other people. We did so but come enlistment for the second semester, he still had not given us our grades so we couldn't enlist in the next subject (CE 151) because we needed to hurdle its CE 150 prerequisite.

Desperate to complete our enlistment for the semester, we hatched an idea to find him and ask him about our grades. We knew that he played tennis every morning at the courts near Melchor Hall and so we bravely went there and short of pleaded for our grades. He didn't get angry with us and told us to see him at his home at the campus later. We did go to his house afterwards and again waited for him. After making some small talk (I remember he seemed amused at us and our persistence for our grades.) he told us to go back to the Department office and to wait for him there. Back at the office, he arrived some minutes after and proceeded to joke with another professor, the late Dean Marino Mena, that it seems that they were now becoming kinder professors and not the terrors they "used to be." We got our grades then and these were high marks that we were very happy about given Tabu's reputation.

Later, during my graduating semester at UP, I would always take time to arrive early for my Physical Education classes at the UP tennis court (Yes, I reserved the last semester for this so I could get the much in-demand tennis as a PE. Graduating students were priority in registration and this included enlistment in PE.) just to watch him play. I was happy that he remembered me from his class. Modesty aside but I did well under him so I had nothing to be shy about as he was surprisingly approachable for a terror teacher. He would always greet us after his doubles matches and asked us if we were improving our game. No academic talk here, only light talk about tennis. I think I was always conscious when we played as I was aware that he might be watching us to see if we hit the ball correctly.

I would eventually return to UP as a faculty member at what is now the Institute of Civil Engineering. He once expressed his appreciation to us that we decided to join the faculty. He did say that the Department needed young blood and told us in his usual tone that we should do our best to continue the tradition of excellence of UP civil engineering. The last time I saw him was last year when he was speaker at the Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series (DALS) of the College of Engineering. He was obviously older and weaker (they had to assist him to the stage), likely due to health issues he had battled a while back. These same health issues have stopped him from playing his beloved sport of tennis and prevented him from taking the long walks around the campus that had substituted for tennis.

Last Friday, June 20, we learned of his passing due to heart failure at the Philippine Heart Center. He was 85 and lived a full life. He will be remembered as a good teacher (terror or not) and a good colleague at the old Department. Thank you Dr. Tabujara for the knowledge you shared with us and the stories that also enriched our understanding of civil engineering - and life in general.


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