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Mentor-physicist turns down Presidency VC job

Education department sources have said physicist Sabyasachi Bhattacharya has declined the post of Presidency University vice-chancellor, a decision that at least one mentor of the institute said would be “a big blow”.

Bhattacharya met governor M.K. Narayanan at Raj Bhavan on Saturday and told him the reasons for not accepting the post, a senior official in the higher education department said.

Sources said Bhattacharya — an alumnus and a mentor of Presidency — has also contacted a senior official of the university and informed her about his inability to take up the assignment.

“If Bhattacharya has declined to join Presidency, it is going to be a big blow to the university,” said mentor Swapan Chakravorty. “Presidency would have immensely benefited under him. If he declines… it is going to be a setback for the institution,” the professor of English added.

Bhattacharya has apparently cited “personal reasons” for shying away from the top job at his alma mater. He, however, refused comment when Metro spoke to him on Monday.

When asked whether Bhattacharya had told him that he would not accept the post, governor Narayanan, also chancellor of Presidency, said on the sidelines of a programme on Monday: “I have not been officially informed about anything. I will let you know when informed.”

Bhattacharya’s selection as Presidency’s first full-term vice-chancellor had been hailed across the academic fraternity. Many thought his leadership would help the university emerge as a world-class institution.

Sources said it’s likely for a top-notch academician not to be interested in heading a state university in Bengal because of the unappealing perquisites that come with the job.

A former vice-chancellor of a state university, whose appointment had been widely lauded, said the situation at state universities was often “beyond the control of an academician”.

“First, you have to negotiate too many stakeholders who are always ready to put a spanner in your works. You take a decision but when it comes to implementation, factions crop up to stall the decision as it does not serve their purpose,” he said.

The political atmosphere makes it all the more difficult. “There is this typical tradition of branding you as belonging to a certain political group. In the highly unionised atmosphere, such branding obviously works to your disadvantage,” he said.

Then there is the legacy of demonstrations and gheraos “to frustrate any attempt to bring in a change”.

“At the end of day, what pains is the lack of decency in conduct,” said a vice-chancellor. “One ends up feeling that nothing has been achieved despite putting in so much of effort.”

Bhattacharya, a “distinguished professor” at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, had topped the undergraduate physics class at the then Presidency College 44 years ago. He is also the Acharya Jagadis Chandra Bose Distinguished University Professor in natural sciences at the fledgeling College Street university.

Sources said such credentials were not enough for a successful stint at a Bengal university. “It requires other skills, which an academician of Bhattacharya’s calibre might lack,” a veteran university official said.

The state government had announced Bhattacharya’s name after Narayanan picked him from a short list of three presented by a search panel on April 10.

It is still not clear whether Bhattacharya declined the offer after initially saying yes. Some sources suggested he got cold feet as the difficulties of the job became clear. Others said the search panel had not obtained his consent before sending the names.

Sources said Bhattacharya had not applied for the post. “In such a case, obtaining a consent before drawing up the final list becomes all the more important,” an education department official said.

“The consultation has to be held at various levels. First, the person who is recommending a name has to seek his/her consent. Then, the search committee has to seek his/her consent before inducting the name into the final panel. It is not clear whether Bhattacharya was consulted by those drawing up the list. This could have influenced his decision,” the official added.

Sugata Bose, the chairman of the mentor group and the state’s nominee in the search committee, did not take calls. Higher education minister Bratya Basu said he was unaware of Bhattacharya’s reluctance.

“We will soon get in touch with the chancellor’s office to confirm whether Bhattacharya has declined the post of Presidency VC.”