Comfort factor confines Presidency to home pool - Amita Chatterjee, retired philosophy professor, named vice-chancellor of new varsity

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  • Published 6.10.10

Calcutta, Oct. 5: Amita Chatterjee, a retired professor of philosophy, has been appointed the first vice-chancellor of Presidency University, a surprise choice that suggested the selectors gave primacy to administrative experience and “comfort” level with the Bengal situation.

A former student of Presidency College, Chatterjee is not known to have shown any political affiliation and is well regarded by her peers.

However, some academics felt that the net should have been cast far wider outside the state to make a clean break from the immediate past as the once-celebrated institution seeks to revive its pursuit of excellence in a new avatar.

“I feel like an opening batsman, like a Sourav Ganguly or a Sachin Tendulkar, who will lay the foundation stone for the others to follow,” Chatterjee, 60, told The Telegraph this evening.

The former professor, who taught at Jadavpur University for 31 years, has taken her appointment as a “challenge”.

Governor M.K. Narayanan, the chancellor of Presidency University, approved her name from a shortlist of three suitable candidates drawn up by a three-member search panel set up by the state government. “The process of selecting the vice-chancellor is complete,” state higher education minister Sudarshan Ray Chaudhury declared this evening.

Chatterjee completed her postgraduation from Calcutta University and was awarded a PhD degree from the same university. She was the founder-director of Jadavpur University’s Centre for Cognitive Science, which conducts advanced inter-disciplinary research in social science, science and engineering.

Sources in the education department said it was her 16-year experience as director of the centre that gave Chatterjee the edge over the other two shortlisted candidates — Dhrubojyoti Chattopadhyay, pro-VC, academic affairs, Calcutta University, and Jayanta Bhattacharya of the S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences.

“Chatterjee has worked with great efficiency in giving shape to the centre,” an official explained. “This will help her tackle the initial problems that may come her way in developing the new university.”

The government search panel was appointed to select an academic of “international repute” who could turn the 193-year-old College Street institution into a centre of excellence. For drawing up a list of candidates, the search team of economist Amiya Bagchi, former Indian Statistical Institute director Sankar Pal and Jadavpur University vice-chancellor P.N. Ghosh had approached a number of academics working in reputable institutions within and outside Bengal.

Chatterjee’s colleagues and staff at Jadavpur University today said she had been apolitical during her long tenure there. “We had approached candidates from all over the globe and we settled for candidates from Bengal since we wanted someone who would be comfortable with the situation here,” Ghosh told The Telegraph tonight.

But a Presidency professor asked: “Why wasn’t Presidency benchmarked with other institutes of international repute?”

However, Sukanta Chaudhuri, a former professor of Jadavpur University, said: “I am very pleased. She was my batchmate at Presidency College. Later we were colleagues at Jadavpur University for a long time. I have high regard for her academic achievement and organising capabilities. She is a scholar as well as academic organiser.”