Dr. James A Tebbe – Building Future through Education
Dr. James A Tebbe is currently serving as the Rector of Forman Christian College, University Lahore. His affiliation with Pakistan goes a long way and is something that many are not aware of. His father was a chemistry professor at Gorden College, Rawalpindi and later served as the principal of Forman Christian College. Dr. Tebbe was born in Murree and spent his childhood in the country till the age of fifteen.
At that point he was sent to the United States where he completed his high school and then went to collage for his BA in Psychology. Later on, he completed his Masters’ degree from Princeton University, in Near Eastern Studies, focusing on Modern Islamic Institutions. He later did a PhD. From Britain in Comparative Religious Studies.
Dr. Tebbe’s career took many turns which led him to different directions. However, a common denominator has been his work in the administration departments.
He started off with a non-profit in the United States and worked as their International Director for ten years.
“People say that as you grow older you should do a job that is more like you, implying that it should fit your personality. You experiment when you are younger and you try different things but by the time you are near your retirement you should be working in a job that fits you best.”
In his opinion, today, his job at Forman Christian College, University is his best fit. He establishes that it is one of the most difficult jobs where he has been, working the longest hours compared to his other jobs but at the same time he considers it the most awarding.
When asked about professional setbacks in his career on the whole, he gave a couple of examples. The earliest one being, when he applied for a job in a multi-national company and scored 85% in the recruitment test; according to the career services, it was a job that was best suited for him. However, the organization refused to hire him and it is only then that he started looking for other options. This was something that he took as an early setback but this incident also proved to be the best thing that happened to him, because it led him to look elsewhere and proved to be the first step in the direction his career ascended.
Even at FC College he initiated a new construction that had to be stopped because right after its initiation there was a lot of opposition from various quarters to it.
“It is important that once you make a mistake you acknowledge it and deal with it rather than push ahead with it, regardless.”
Moving on to the success stories of his career, the characteristic that comes out is that the impossible motivates him. What the rest would feel is not doable, Dr. Tebbe will take the lead and show how it’s done.
When he was working with Rebana, the biggest student convention in the US, he successfully changed his venue, something that was considered undoable, given the association of so many people with this convention. At FC College, many new projects have been developed under him, like the women hostel, health center, e-library and many are underway. Currently, he is trying to collaborate with Gordon College in Rawalpindi and Murray College in Sialkot to become satellite institutions of FC College, despite a lot of political pressures that go against it.
“In America people call me a hidden immigrant. I look and speak like an American but actually I am not one who belongs there.”
When Dr. Tebbe made the decision to come to Pakistan leaving one of the best jobs in the US, many questioned his move. His response was that there people only get to see fifty percent of him, the rest is somewhere else and he considered his move the answer to his wandering fifty percent.
“I love Pakistan, I grew up here I love the people, I love my colleagues. We have wonderful faculty and staff here at FC College that can rival any university around the world. Our student body is growing and merit quality is improving as well.”
According to Dr Tebbe, the impact that FC College has goes beyond the student body. The institution is playing a very positive role is developing higher education in the country and is actively involved in the expansion of various educational programmes in collaboration with government bodies and other institutions. This is something that is unique and makes it a matter of great pride.
“I enjoy the society here. Family and general moral values of Pakistan are better than any other place in the world and that I like the most. Not to forget the food! Chicken handi is one favorite.”
His family has been very supportive during his period of stay in Pakistan and are quite interested in the development of FC as a higher educational body; especially his mother because of the affiliation that his father had with this institution. It was like coming full circle. Though he was aging and having problems with his memory, when Dr. Tebbe decided to take up the position at FC College but he knew that he was going there where he belonged.
Talking about various issues that Pakistan is dealing, he shared that now it is coming in perspective that these issues are not unique to this Country only. Others are facing similar issues as well. Be it terrorism or discrimination. Discrimination exists but ask successful individuals from minorities- for them it doesn’t exist. Both perspectives are true and the need is that the issue be dealt by working to stabilize the overall political system.
“Pakistan is not a terrorist state, Pakistan is a state that has some terrorists in it just like France or United States or any other country in the world. The geo political issues have allowed this to happen.”
People here have identified the issues and are willing to deal with them and that is a start in the right direction. In the long run the things are going to improve for the better for sure. There is a lot of potential and opportunity here. One of the things that saddens him is that the people themselves have not realized their full potential. The development graph that was under way when he left the country as a boy has not been fully tapped in, specifically in terms of industrial growth.
Despite all this, Dr. Tebbe is optimistic about the future and considers the people and their culture and heritage as the best feature about Pakistan. Ending the note to the conversation Dr Tebbe said:
“One stereotype that I would like to break about the country that I was born in is that it is not a land of the fanatics and people should visit and experience it for themselves.”