Next up at Rutgers? New Brunswick chancellor’s sudden exit has some saying school needs succession plan

Surprised to see Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Debasish “Deba” Dutta step down?

Insiders at Rutgers University were not.

“I don’t think he and (President Robert) Barchi have even been talking the past few months,” said someone familiar with the inside scene at Rutgers.

Like everyone else, the person did not want to be identified because, well, this is an incredibly important time at the school — which clearly needs to make sure it has a clear direction.

That apparently was an issue with Dutta.

“I think he viewed himself as in charge of New Brunswick, while Barchi was in charge of the system,” one insider said. “And I don’t think Barchi viewed it that way.”

Another insider said a bigger issue is whether he was the successor to Barchi, who is expected to step down … well, no one is really sure when.

What’s unclear is why all of this wasn’t made clear when Dutta took the job.

Barchi will be 72 this fall. When he was hired in 2012, many believed it was to lead a complicated medical school merger and that he would stay five years. He’s completed the merger — and last year was his sixth.

The next chancellor should be the next president — or at least have a clear understanding that they will not be. (And that begs the question, “Who would take the job if they know they are getting a new boss soon?”)

The insiders say that person should have some of the characteristics Dutta brought to the job. Which is to say, an honest assessment of the school.

“Everyone at Rutgers thinks it is almost Ivy League,” one insider said. “It is not. It’s not even one of the top schools in the Big Ten. Dutta wasn’t afraid to say that, wasn’t afraid to say things like, ‘We need to be higher in the rankings,’ or, ‘The engineering school needs to be much better.’

“That’s not picking on the engineering school as much as saying, ‘Rutgers needs to be better.’”

So, who should be the next big hire? Early names are surfacing. And all are surfacing under the idea they are in line to be the next president.

A look, in alphabetical order, because we have no way of ranking them just yet.

Greg Brown: The CEO of Motorola is no longer the chair of the board of governors. But doing that job certainly gave him insight into how things are run. “He’s an insider and an outsider; that’s interesting,” one person said.

Nancy Cantor: Well-regarded for her work at Rutgers-Newark, but some have said for years that she likes it so much in Newark, she wouldn’t leave. Worth asking her.

John Farmer: The former state attorney general has held enough positions at Rutgers to know the lay of the land. “He is well respected; no one would have issue with him,” an insider said.

Lisa Jackson: Has connections in Washington, D.C. (where she was former Environmental Protection Agency head) and New Jersey (where she was chief of staff and Department of Environmental Protection head under Gov. Jon Corzine). She was supposedly up for some higher-ed jobs before she landed as top exec at Apple. (We’ll assume this would be a big pay cut.)

Chris Molloy: The interim chancellor seemingly has served in every other job at the school as well as working in the private sector. And he is as well-known in Trenton as anyone else from Rutgers.

Then, of course, there is the under-the-radar candidate.

“Remember, Barchi wasn’t on anyone’s list before he was named,” an insider said.

This, of course, all assumes Barchi is preparing an exit strategy. Our insiders aren’t so sure.

“This has no connection to the Barchi tenure,” one insider said. “It was just getting rid of a guy who wasn’t working out.”

Rutgers needs to make sure the next hire does.

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