Meet the new MSU-IIT Chancellor Sukarno D. Tanggol: Pride & Prejudice, and a State University

by Rex Godinez Ortega

ILIGAN CITY—When news broke out last May of the election of Dr. Sukarno D. Tanggol as the next Chancellor of the Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT), it was met with silence and forlorn looks.

Chancellor
 Sukarno D. Tanggol

“Muslim na pud ang Chancellor,” a sad voice could be heard saying.

“Mag smile na lang ta ani [Let’s just smile, anyway…]” suggested another.

In a campus that just saw the exit of its very first Christian Chancellor in four decades, Dr. Marcelo P. Salazar, its constituents seemed uncertain about having a Muslim again at the helm.

MSU-IIT is a top-performing, autonomous unit of the seven-campus MSU system that spans the length and breadth of the island of Mindanao. It is located here in Iligan, which is a multi-cultural city that has lumad and moro settlers, but is still predominantly Christian (90%).

As part of the MSU system, MSU-IIT’s primary mission was to help provide education to minorities, in particular, the Muslim Maranaos of Lanao del Norte.

Through the years, however, this mandate had become continuously challenged as MSU-IIT developed into a holistic educational institution that saw more and more Christian enrolees and employees.

By the turn of the century, the campus had asserted itself to the Board of Regents, making it clear that it wanted a Christian leader.

During the search period for the next IIT Chancellor, the paranoia of the IIT community was also stoked by fears that a Muslim Chancellor would oppose their efforts to separate from the MSU System.

Just a week or two before the BOR voted, debate on House Bill no. 1111 that would create the Iligan National University for Science and Technology (INUST) was heating up, and when Tanggol’s name came up as one of the two strongest contenders for Chancellor, people just went into panic mode.

Although IITians were correct to believe that Tanggol will take a different stand on the separation issue, the new Chancellor—who calls the move “unnecessary”—has said that he will not block attempts to continue debates on the topic.

“If anyone wants to discuss separation, then let us discuss it. If you can convince me, then I will be for separation,” Tanggol said. “I am not dogmatic about my ideas.”

The debates on separation, however, are not Tanggol’s priority for the moment as he said his administration was bent on continuing the march towards fulfilling the Institute’s vision of becoming a world-class institution that excels in science and technology while remaining committed to the holistic development of the individual and society.

He emphasized on “continuing the march,” as he admitted that the goal of achieving the Institute vision would definitely take more than his five-year term if one was to consider “world-class” seriously.

Chancellor
 Sukarno
 D. Tanggol

A seemingly more immediate achievement for Tanggol, though, would be the fulfilment of his desire to bring balance to IIT’s three-pronged approach in achieving its vision, particularly on the social sciences and extension aspects.

Two Chancellors past have seen IIT focusing more and more on science and technology with great success, and which earned for the Institute citations for centers of excellence and centers of development in many of its programs from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Science & Technology (DOST).

However, Tanggol, in his concept paper for Chancellorship, warned that, “Science and technology, if not working for the holistic development of man and society, can become a monster – a mechanical entity bereft of humanity.”

“What use is excellence in science and technology if people are consumed in parochialism, cultural insensitivity, and biased stereotyping?” Tanggol asked.

“The social sciences should not be far behind in our scheme of priorities,” Tanggol concluded.

The statements are understandable from a man who refers to himself as a social scientist and student of history.

Sukarno D.
 Tanggol

Tanggol earned his undergraduate degree and masters on public administration from MSU-Marawi where he also taught from 1985 up to early 2011. He earned his doctorate in public administration from UP-Dilliman in 1993.

His stint as college professor at MSU-Marawi was interrupted for a while when he was appointed Ambassador to the State of Kuwait where he served as Chief of Mission for the Philippine Embassy from 1998-2002.

Many IITians may not know it, but Tanggol’s first teaching job was actually in IIT’s School of Arts & Humanities (now known as the College of Arts & Social Sciences) where he was an assistant instructor from 1981-1984.

Tanggol is also a prolific writer and researcher who has had extensive training in federalism and conflict resolutions, and has seriously taken on the Muslim Autonomy and Self-determination in his various speaking engagements and fellowships here and abroad.

His book, Muslim Autonomy in the Philippines: Rhetoric and Reality was published by MSU-Marawi in 1993.

Tanggol has widened his perspectives of the old and modern worlds through his many travels to Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Today, apart from his busy schedule as Chancellor of the MSU-IIT, and being a family man with six children, he is putting the final touches to his second book, Regional Autonomy and Federalism: Concepts and Lessons for the Bangsamoro Government —- the result of a fellowship at the Institute of Federalism, University of Fribourg, Switzerland in 2009-2010.

The recent return of “power” to a Muslim Chancellor in IIT, unfortunately, is equated by some as a return to some controversial practices.

In fact, during Tanggol’s first dialog with IIT administrators, he was asked point blank: “Are you going to bring along your relatives?”

This in-your-face question was perhaps the most unforgettable ever encountered by Tanggol, a Maranao Muslim born in Marawi but living in Iligan City since 1981, as he stepped into the MSU-IIT campus.

Tanggol probably had to draw on all his experience and training as a diplomat to keep from reacting negatively to such an insensitive, but, completely understandable (if- you- are- from- IIT) question.

The query came from a college dean who confronted Tanggol during the latter’s first meeting with IIT administrators at the Institute Boardroom. The dean was worried that Tanggol would fit a certain stereotype of the Muslim administrator.

But a stereotype Tanggol is not. Tanggol simply answered no, and asked the administrators to give him a chance to serve first before they judged him.

This appeal seemed not to work as the campus still buzzed of fears for the next couple of weeks, which prompted Tanggol, during his first address to IIT’s constituents at the monthly flag raising ceremony to take a brutally frank approach.

“I did not come here to steal money from IIT,” he declared at the beginning of his speech.

That immediately intrigued all those present, and exposed not a few in the campus as guilty of prejudice.

As a follow up, he declared, “In fact, I offer my hand in reconciliation to you.”

To most IITians, this was the first time they ever heard and saw their new Chancellor. Tanggol’s honesty, integrity, and display of brilliance in public speaking that day, no doubt, saw new converts.

The buzz in the campus did not die down after that speech, however, its tune noticeably had changed.

All Photos by: Cherly Adlawan, OVCRE

Topics : msu-iit