Calcutta, Oct. 22: The daunting challenges of administering Jadavpur University appear to have overwhelmed its vice-chancellor whose integrity, academic credentials and good intentions are impeccable.
Souvik Bhattacharyya, an IIT professor, has resigned as the vice-chancellor of the state-run university.
Differences over the quantum of punishment to two students found guilty of ragging have been cited as the flashpoint that led to the departure.
But conversations this newspaper has had with several academics within and without the university suggest a combination of factors, including the ragging stand-off, may have coalesced and weighed heavily on the respected academic. “I could not fit in. My personal and professional difficulties reached a critical level,” Bhattacharyya said today, asked why he gave up.
The resignation underscores how academic excellence has to be complemented by administrative acumen and manoeuvring skills to negotiate the treacherous terrain of state-run higher education.
“I have always honoured honesty, integrity and certain values. I have tried to maintain those principles as the vice-chancellor. But I have faced some difficulties,” Bhattacharyya said in a dignified and restrained response today.
Bhattacharyya had been picked by governor M.K. Narayanan after a search committee resisted pressure from the government to include an applicant of its choice — Besu professor Abhijit Chakraborty — in a shortlist of three. The same Chakraborty was today named the interim vice-chancellor.
“The governor had felt Bhattacharyya would be up to the task of running a difficult university like JU. But even he couldn’t,” a source said.
Bhattacharyya had been lauded widely for holding firm on the punishment for the ragging accused even after being held hostage by students for over 50 hours last month.
However, the ragging issue refused to die down, making some academics ask whether the vice-chancellor should not have taken the initiative to nip it in the bud before it developed into a festering wound. “Tact sometimes works better than toughness while dealing with students,” said a former teacher, who added that he has enormous respect for Bhattacharyya as an academic.
Some also wondered whether Bhattacharyya, who has had enough experience dealing with students as he was the dean at the IIT, was “over-responding” to issues.
There was enough opportunity to do so. Chakraborty, who did not make the list and is now the interim vice-chancellor, had been nominated to the university’s executive council and he has been questioning almost every move by the vice-chancellor.
Chakraborty, the acting chairman of the state higher education council, was among the executive council members who made the vice-chancellor constitute a panel to review the punishment of the students accused of ragging.
“Bhattacharyya has quit before the panel submits its report as it would have been another insult on him if it recommended a lenient stand,” said a JU teacher.
Asked if the opposition of some council members had triggered his decision, Bhattacharyya confined himself to saying: “There are always some not-so enjoyable issues.”
Was he finding it difficult to work with honesty and dignity at JU? Bhattacharyya said: “At times, I have found it difficult. But it is not that I have faced difficulties each and every day.”
He added that he resigned as he could not resolve certain professional hurdles. “I was not being able to operate efficiently.”
Bhattacharyya had left IIT Kharagpur, where he was a professor of mechanical engineering, and accepted the JU offer despite “an almost Rs 50,000 pay cut”, because he wanted to shape his alma mater as a top-notch institute. “I had come full of hope. Many of them have remained unfulfilled,” he said.
Education minister Bratya Basu said he found nothing wrong in appointing as interim vice-chancellor a professor whose application for the full-time job had been rejected earlier. “He could also be a candidate for the next full-term vice-chancellor,” Basu said outside the Raj Bhavan after meeting the governor.
The opinions of Bhattacharyya and the state government differed on several issues. He had opposed a plan to introduce a common entrance test for postgraduate admissions that he felt would compromise quality.
He had pointed out that a government decision to change rules to appoint deans would hurt the autonomy of a university. He had also differed with a government proposal to reserve 40 per cent of postgraduate seats in science and arts for students from other universities.
Three deans appointed under the new rule had opposed his firm stand against the ragging accused. At the executive council meeting on October 8, the deans of engineering, science and arts faculties had spoken against the punishment to two final-year students.
One of the students had been expelled for a year and the other for six months. The deans wanted the duration to be limited to a month at the most. Sources said at one point Bhattacharyya and the deans had a heated exchange.
Bhattacharyya had made it clear that he would not accept any proposal to revoke the original punishment because it had been proved that the students had committed the offence and the university had submitted a report to the UGC.