Rutgers–New Brunswick Chancellor Steps Down After Just One Year

Carly Sitrin | July 27, 2018 | Education
Debasish Dutta tells student his ‘vision for the chancellorship’ doesn’t mesh with the way the university sees the position

Debasish Dutta, chancellor of Rutgers–New Brunswick
Rutgers University Chancellor Debasish “Deba” Dutta tendered his resignation on Tuesday — just one year into the job. The announcement was sudden, startling those outside the institution. A key issue seems to be a difference of opinion between Dutta and President Robert Barchi about the role of chancellor and how the position should evolve.

In a story first reported by the Daily Targum, the school’s independent newspaper, Dutta wrote in a letter to students: “(It) has become clear that my vision for the chancellorship is not in alignment with that of the university. It is only fair that I step aside and let the University select a new leader for the New Brunswick campus.”

Dutta has stepped down from the chancellor position effective immediately and will serve as a distinguished professor in the school of engineering. He will continue to claim his chancellor’s salary of $480,000 during a one-year sabbatical.

‘A mutual decision’

Pete McDonough, Rutgers senior vice president for external affairs, said it was a “mutual decision” between Dutta and Barchi.

“A year is a good time to take a look back and see if something is working or not … it was just not a good fit. (Dutta) had a different vision not for the role of the university but for the role of the chancellor,” McDonough said.

Barchi has named Christopher Molloy, formerly the senior vice president for research and economic development, as interim chancellor of Rutgers–New Brunswick.

McDonough said Molloy “understands the university and its potential better than most people,” whereas Dutta was the first New Brunswick chancellor from “outside the university.”

Molloy is a Rutgers alumnus and played a pivotal role in overseeing the massive merger with UMDNJ back in 2013.

“He was a student, a faculty member and a dean here. He’s well versed in the culture and traditions of Rutgers,” McDonough said. “Chris will do a great job.”

McDonough said there is currently no search in progress for a permanent replacement but that one may be undertaken in the coming months.

Rutgers’ power structure

The chancellor position at Rutgers–New Brunswick is not like that at other U.S. universities, but it isn’t a particularly high-profile seat. The president is the chief officer of the university and usually eclipses the chancellor role in the public eye.

The president is in charge of all campuses and is the public-facing side of the university. He reports to the board of governors (the authority given by the Legislature to oversee the university). As McDonough puts it, “by tradition or cultural awareness, everything that happens at Rutgers, positive and negative, comes back to the president.” The chancellors of Camden and Newark are generally a bit higher profile than their New Brunswick counterpart, since they are the most prominent figures on each campus.

The university’s governing structure is set out in statute. Following the UMDNJ merger, it set up four chancellor positions, one for each of the “campuses” (sometimes referred to as “universities” in the law books). Those campuses — New Brunswick, Camden, Newark, and Biomedical and Health Sciences — are led by Molloy, Phoebe Haddon, Nancy Cantor, and Brian Strom, respectively. Each chancellor is fully responsible for their campus and has oversight over academics and other operations; they report to the president.

Rutgers’ rules

The four-chancellor structure is vastly different from the hierarchy at other Big Ten universities.

“If you walk in here from other institutions this would seem like a whole different world,” McDonough said.

According to Rutgers, the New Brunswick chancellor oversees the largest of the three major campuses, serving more than 50,000 students, 4,000 faculty, nine academic research centers, four administrative units, an Honors College, Douglass Residential College and the Zimmerli Art Museum.

The position is relatively new. The first chancellor — Richard Edwards — served in an interim position from 2012 to 2014, when he became chancellor of the New Brunswick campus outright. Before the chancellor position was established, its responsibilities had been the purview of the executive vice president of academic affairs. Provosts, which in other universities serve a similar role to Rutgers’ chancellors, report to the chancellors here.

At the time of the new law, Richard McCormick was the leader of the university at large and also the leader of Rutgers–New Brunswick.

Losing a chancellor a year into the job is uncommon, although the position is new to the university. Biomedical Chancellor Strom (appointed in 2013), Newark Chancellor Cantor, and Camden Chancellor Haddon (both appointed in 2014) are the inaugural chancellors in their positions.

In terms of salary, the New Brunswick chancellor draws the second-highest salary for that position — $480,000; the biomedical and health sciences chancellor is paid $675,000. The Newark position is paid slightly more than Camden, $392,700 to $338,130. The president earns $676,260 a year.

Popular with students

Dutta was well liked by students, and was often the subject of lighthearted memes (internet jokes) that he said he found amusing.

In a recent Reddit AMA (ask me anything) open-question session, Dutta addressed student and alumni inquiries directly and promised to pass along their requests and complaints regarding issues like tuition, bus schedules, and the fate of the university radio station to higher powers.

“First, I’m thrilled to be the Chancellor of Rutgers–New Brunswick. I have benefited immensely from higher education. As I progressed further in my career, I realized that one can make an impact in many different ways. So, I’m hoping that the experience of 35 years will allow me to make a positive impact for students and faculty at Rutgers. Yes, I plan to be here for a long time — until you guys are tired of me!”