U. appoints Debasish Dutta as new chancellor of Rutgers—New Brunswick
Last November, University President Robert L. Barchi announced that Chancellor Richard L. Edwards plans to step down after the conclusion of the academic year.
At today’s Board of Governors meeting, it was revealed that Debasish Dutta, the former provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Purdue University, will take Edwards’ place.
Dutta will begin serving as chancellor on July 1.
“Dr. Dutta will be an inspiring, collaborative leader and a powerful voice for Rutgers University—New Brunswick at a pivotal time in its history,” Barchi said. “He comes here with impeccable academic credentials, solid administrative leadership and deep experience at three Big Ten institutions.”
Dutta said he plans to approach his new position at Rutgers by using the school’s existing strengths — particularly its diversity — as a foundation for his future initiatives. At both Purdue and the University of Illinois, he focused intently on building diverse and inclusive communities for students.
He said the school's diversity was one of the primary reasons he took the position at Rutgers.
“Rutgers is a very very fine institution,” Dutta said. “It's a well-balanced institution, it has balance across the board in different disciplines and that's something I really admired. So I looked at it and, as good as its history is, I think the future is even brighter.”
Dutta was chosen from a field of more than 100 potential candidates in a national search. Barchi said what stood out most about Dutta was his extensive and wide-ranging experience in academia. Out of everyone interviewed, Dutta was the only candidate who had simultaneously served as the chancellor and diversity officer of a major University.
When he assumes the position, the new chancellor intends to integrate himself into the campus culture by living in a house at the end of College Avenue, which previously housed a University president, Barchi said.
“This is partly because of (Dutta’s) desire to bring students and faculty into his home and to be part of the everyday environment of the campus. As opposed to living somewhere else and commuting in, he's willing to be with his wife right here on campus,” Barchi said.
The primary role of the chancellor is to inspire action among students, faculty and staff, Dutta said. Above all else, he wants to keep the trajectory of the school moving upward.
Dutta has a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Purdue, a master’s degree in engineering management from the University of Evansville and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Jadavpur University in India, according to a University press release.
He also served as acting director of the Division of Graduate Education at the National Science Foundation for three years.
This, combined with Dutta’s depth of experience in higher education, makes him the perfect candidate for the position, Barchi said.
“Engineers are problem solvers. That is, you know, the simple bumper sticker if you will. And I view administration as an extension of my research,” Dutta said. “To be an effective administrator you need the same skill set as you need to be a good researcher — you need analytical thinking, you need a gathering of facts, you need an understanding of the facts and context. And you need to be able to put that all together and come out with some conclusions that are based on facts, that can be defended.”
From afar, Dutta said he has watched the prominence of Rutgers ascend over the course of the last few decades. This upward trend is “crystal clear” to anyone looking at the prestige and ranking of the University’s individual departments.
Through working with all of the facets of the University, Dutta hopes to use the initiatives that Edwards put in place as a jumping-off point for his work. He said Rutgers’ potential is infinite if people are willing to think on a large enough scale.
Chancellor Edwards’ most well-known initiatives included “Scarlet and Black,” which assembled a team to investigate and acknowledge the history of slavery in the construction of Rutgers and the speaker series “America Converges Here.” The latter brought a number of influential individuals like Jose Antonio Vargas and Marc Lamont Hill to the campus to speak on diversity and big ideas.
“I believe in the importance of inclusiveness in campus climate and so forth, so that will be very important. Equally important is academic excellence,” Dutta said. “That is what I am here for. Now academic excellence in my way of framing has two parts: faculty excellence and student success. I combine both of these. Students come here for an excellent education so I will be paying a lot of attention to thinking about initiatives where the Rutgers faculty can develop new areas of scholarship, new modes of pedagogy, helping the students to be the productive graduates of Rutgers and be successful.”
In the press release where Barchi first announced Edwards’ retirement, he praised the work the chancellor has done since first assuming the position in 2014.
“When I arrived here four years ago, Dick — who was interim president that summer — helped make my transition to the Rutgers presidency as smooth as possible,” Barchi said in the statement. “Since then, he has been a trusted advisor, an innovative and creative problem-solver and an effective ambassador to our external constituencies.”
Following his retirement and sabbatical, Edwards plans to return to Rutgers as a professor.
The chancellor held his final Town Hall meeting at last week’s Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) meeting. In his address to the student body, he said he has the utmost confidence in his successor and in Rutgers’ future.
“I am absolutely confident that the new chancellor is a person that will be a great addition to Rutgers when people find out who he is and his background, and I know personally that individual and what kind of human being he is, and he’ll be a great person here,” Edwards said.
Kira Herzog is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is the news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @kiraherzog1 for more.