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  • Devansh Mittal and Vidhi Bhutra

How Ashoka Picked its Next Vice Chancellor

On 10 November, 2022, it was announced to the Ashokan community that Somak Raychaudhury would succeed Malabika Sarkar as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of Ashoka University.

He took over the Vice-Chancellorship on 4th January 2023. Previously, he was the Director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune. Having completed his doctorate in Astrophysics from the University of Cambridge, he has taught at the universities of Birmingham and Presidency.

“His appointment follows an extensive global search,” according to the announcement on mail. But how exactly did Ashoka University find him?

Who was supposed to look for a new VC?

In the middle of 2021, a Search Committee was constituted by the Governing Body of the University. The committee’s role was to look for and appoint the new Vice Chancellor for the University.

The previous Vice Chancellor, Malabika Sarkar, held the office from 1st August 2019 to 1st January 2023. After the completion of her term, she is now the Principal Academic Advisor at Ashoka.

A Vice-Chancellor can be appointed for three years, according to the Haryana Private Universities Act. Thereafter, their term can be renewed.

The 15-member committee was composed of both academics (Professors Ashwini Deshpande, Nayanjot Lahiri, Upinder Singh, Gautam Menon, Bharat Ramaswamy, L.S. Shashidhara, Srinath Raghavan and Rudrangshu Mukherjee) and non-academics ( Founders and Trustees Ashish Dhawan, Dr. Pramath Raj Sinha, Sid Yog, Karishma Sanghvi, Zia Lal Kaka, Amit Chandra and Madhu Dhamani).

It was chaired by Amit Chandra, Founder and Trustee. He is currently the Managing Director of BainCapital, India. The chairman’s role was to lead and coordinate the search process. He also summarized discussions to enable the move to the next stage.

“The brief was simple: an individual with excellent academic credentials who has administrative experience and is in empathy with the aims and vision of Ashoka University,” said Professor Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Chancellor and Professor of History, Ashoka University, over mail, when asked by The Edict about the qualities the committee had to look for in a candidate.

The Committee first appointed a search firm - Spencer Stuart. Spencer Stuart is a leadership consulting firm based in Chicago, with one of its flagship services being Executive search.

How did the Committee work?

The firm provided the committee with a list of potential candidates from around the world. The committee pruned down the list to 8-9 suitable candidates. It then further prepared a shortlist of 3 candidates.

They had regular meetings for 18 months. As the committee progressed toward finalization, it met more frequently — from once a month to twice a month to once every ten days.

When asked to describe the functioning of the committee, Mukherjee replied, “Intense discussion with a frank and free exchange of views without the slightest note of discord.”

The interactions were friendly, there was good synergy and consensus, while on some topics “we agreed to disagree and decided to move on,” explained Professor L.S. Shashidhara, Professor of Biology at Ashoka then and currently the Director of National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) to The Edict over mail.

There were no differences between the academics and the non-academics, according to both Shashidhara and Mukherjee.

So, how was the final candidate chosen?

The final three candidates made presentations and visited the campus.

They both maintained that the decision to select the new VC was reached unanimously. At no point did the committee find itself in a situation to call for voting. No member exercised any special power in the form of a veto.

“When we started talking to Somak, it was clear that this is the person we need to meet the demands of a new, but fast growing University.” remarked Shashidhara. Names of other candidates considered could not be revealed for reasons of confidentiality.

In his inaugural email to the student body, Raychaudhury wrote how after establishing itself as a frontrunner in the important field of liberal arts education, “Ashoka is now putting equivalent emphasis on the core Science disciplines.”

The Edict asked Mukherjee about how the choice of an astrophysicist reflected the university's priorities in terms of Sciences and Social Sciences. To which he said, “The priorities of Ashoka University remain what they have been from its inception.” He further added that “Dr Raychaudhury is a top class astrophysicist with an enormous empathy for and understanding of the humanities and social sciences.”

The Edict reached out to other members of the search committee, but received no response.

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