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Chair prof shares dream for Presi

The first chair professor at Presidency University stepped on the College Street campus for the first time on Wednesday. Amitabha Dasgupta, who will join as the Distinguished Swami Vivekananda Chair Professor for philosophy, met Presidency vice-chancellor Malabika Sarkar and the chairman of the mentor group, Sugata Bose, during the day.

The dean of humanities at the University of Hyderabad is an alumnus of Visva-Bharati. He did his master’s at IIT Kanpur and was a Fulbright scholar at MIT, where he did his postdoctoral research in linguistics and philosophy. The 64-year-old shared his plans for Presidency with Metro.

On being selected the first chair professor:

“It’s an honour for me to pay a visit to the institution, which has a rich legacy and has embarked on a journey to emerge as a centre of excellence. I plan to join the institute late March or early April,” said Dasgupta.

On what he will try to do as chair professor:

Dasgupta wants to steer Presidency towards excellence using his experience of dealing with 14 departments and various wings at the Hyderabad institution, a central university. “I have been teaching for three decades. My experience as dean (he assumed the responsibility last year) has given me an administrative acumen on how to run a vast number of departments and schools. I hope my teaching and administrative experience would help me provide an academic leadership as chair professor,” said Dasgupta.

English, philosophy, comparative literature and Hindi are among the departments he mentors in Hyderabad. The centres under his tutelage include the centre for endangered language, centre for study of foreign language and the centre for English language study.

At Presidency, the former visiting professor at Tilburg University in The Netherlands is looking forward to working with a young faculty. “It’s always an advantage to have a young pool of faculty in an institute attempting to shape itself up as a centre of excellence,” said Dasgupta.

As Presidency’s first chair professor, Dasgupta has his task cut out: “Identify talent among students and motivate them towards individualistic research.”

Promoting interdisciplinary studies, which he has been doing for years at the central university, will be his other goal at Presidency, said Dasgupta. VC Sarkar told Dasgupta that Presidency since last year had been offering general education courses which are inter-disciplinary. In the new system, a student with a science subject as honours has to choose at least two arts papers as electives. Arts honours students, too, have to select two science subjects as electives.

“Interdisciplinary studies help students develop a holistic approach. We are trying to develop Presidency not just as a degree-awarding institute, but as a centre of excellence that encourages such an approach,” said Dasgupta.

On what Presidency University needs to do to become a world-class institution:

Striking a synergy between research and teaching is a must. “Teaching must supplement research and research must supplement teaching. In India there is an unfortunate mismatch between the two. If need be, we have to devise the course afresh to bridge the gap,” said Dasgupta.

A “focal point” of the Hyderabad university is its integrated five-year courses. Dasgupta wants to start similar courses at the College Street institution, too. “Have integrated courses with more flexibility to choose options from a basket of subjects, along with the traditional system,” said Dasgupta.

Asked about Presidency’s fall, he said: “The decline has not been restricted to Presidency alone. It’s a national phenomenon. But now an attempt is being to made to arrest the trend. I will be proud to be part of the endeavour.”

On campus unrest:

Dasgupta feels campus unrest is typical of any academic institute. “Students have their demands, legitimate or illegitimate. But it is always important to have a dialogue and take students on board,” he said.

On Presidency’s journey in last three years:

Presidency has made a mark for itself with the state and the mentor group doing their best. “Teachers are coming from abroad. New courses have been launched and this is no small achievement for a fledgling varsity,” said Dasgupta.