Glenn C Kharkongor speaks to Nawaz Yasin Islam on the evolution of Martin Luther Christian University under his leadership
Martin Luther Christian University (MLCU) has established itself on the country’s higher education map in seven years of existence. Outgoing Vice-Chancellor Glenn C Kharkongor, set to be the university’s Pro Chancellor, has seen MCLU evolve into an institution of excellence on ethical, social and environmental issues.
A man who leads from the front, lays stress on life skills and upholds a high degree of professionalism for himself and the faculty, Kharkongor is of the firm belief that “educational institutions should be more about social outcomes than conventional outcomes”. In a tête-à-tête, he tells Canvas about his strengths and plans.
Why was the institute named after reformist Martin Luther?
The name was created by the sponsors of the university who were two Christian organisations, the Presbyterian Church (Meghalaya) together with Lutheran Church, represented by their health and medical board, and they felt that the name of the first Protestant reformer would be a suitable name for a Christian University.
What made you take up the challenge of building an institution in a new place and new environment?
I have worked all my life outside Meghalaya but being from Shillong, there was this emotional chord that it would be nice to return and when this opportunity came to be a part of this University, I immediately resigned from my earlier job and within 30 days, I am here! As far as being satisfied, this couldn’t have been better.
How has MLCU evolved in the seven years of its existence?
When we started MLCU, the sponsors, the initial people involved in envisioning the University dreamt of making this a University with a difference, catering to the needs of youth in obtaining higher education while remaining connected with the community. It should not be an ivory tower. Over the last few years, our endeavour was to provide real life skills and knowledge that are relevant so that graduates are able to seamlessly enter the field of work and that projects and teaching methods employed should all be connected with the community. With the dedicated staff and facilities available, I can see MLCU carving a niche for itself in this society while etching towards its goal.
So does that make MCLU different from others in Meghalaya?
Well, the first difference is that we are called a development university. Whereas most universities stand for the propagation of knowledge, we feel that the development of the community should be our priority. Secondly, we offer courses that are job-oriented, leading to entrepreneurship. We didn’t want MLCU to add to the woes of unemployment and in fact work to stem the tide of rural urban migration.
What were the challenges you were looking at when you assumed charges?
A lot of challenges, I would like to say, were ‘imagined’ challenges. Many people highlighted on the need to acquire faculty from other parts of India fearing unqualified staff teaching in the University but after selecting people from the State, I am happy to say that seven years down the line, we have well qualified professionals. The biggest challenge, I would say, was in acquiring infrastructure, in terms of classrooms, laboratories, well stocked libraries but again, there is always that period of growth and development that a university must go through.
What gives you the push to walk the extra mile?
There are two strengths that you can talk about when it comes to motivating me. Personal strength, which one draws from one’s experience and having worked with good role models which in my case was the community at large. The other strength that we can speak of, is the strength you derive from the University faculty who is young, energetic and most importantly, idealistic. This has been the single most important ingredient of strength, both to me and the university.
You have handed over charges to RG Lyngdoh and said MLCU is in safe hands. How do you say so?
In the seven years of its existence, I believe that we have stabilized quite well in terms of our vision and mission. We have gained a good level of acceptance in the community. At this important milestone when we seek to grow and consolidate further, I believe that administration charges handed over to RG Lyngdoh could only be the best decision.
You are known to be an avid bird watcher.
Avid is probably a mild word as my wife and I travelled across the State on bird chasing adventures, climbing hills for several hours on end.
What is your take on the diversity of avian species in Meghalaya? Are we looking at some documentation from your end?
Meghalaya is a very bird-rich area. There are nine important bird areas in the State declared as such by Bird Life International. The richness of biodiversity is tremendous. I have already had an article come out last year in the Bombay National History Society journal and we did a project in Balpakram to give ourselves a scientific baseline data. Similar ideas are in store. I am also interested in Indigenous Knowledge and would love to go deeper into this area. The mine of information, if unearthed, will change the perspective of a lot of things.
Are we going to find Dr Glenn lead a happy retired life?
I only hope that the new boss will allow me to have a semi-retired life and won’t give me too much work but really speaking, this is just another phase in life where I seek to indulge in various other activities. I would like to add, the judgement process of the value of a university. There are various ranking done by magazines etc but all look at the same criteria of research, number of faculty but I think that in a developing region such as ours, one should look at social outcomes in the form of rural development, documentation of culture, our contribution in providing livelihood to the people.