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Ashoka University resignations: All the developments so far

Faculty wrote to the vice chancellor and board members to state their “deep anguish” over Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation, and noted that his exit sets a "chilling precedent for future removals of faculty.”

March 21, 2021 / 01:32 PM IST
Former CEA Arvind Subramanian (File image)

Former CEA Arvind Subramanian (File image)

Political commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation from his post as professor at Ashoka University on March 16 kicked off a storm, with colleague and renowned economist Arvind Subramanian following suit within two days.

The duo’s resignations triggered “sharp reactions” from students and faculty of the university.

Mehta stepped down as VC of the university in 2019 and resigned from his post as a professor on March 16. On the other hand, former Chief Economic Advisor of India (2014-2017), Subramanian had joined Ashoka University’s Economics Department as a professor in July 2020.

Here is all that followed:

- Reactions from faculty, alumni, and students


>> Faculty wrote to the vice-chancellor and board members to state their “deep anguish” over Mehta’s resignation, and noted that his exit sets a "chilling precedent for future removals of faculty.”

>> "In light of media reports that circulated before the official announcement of Professor Mehta's departure from the university, it seems quite plausible that his (Mehta’s) resignation was a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government. We are greatly troubled by this scenario," a statement issued by the faculty members said.

>> They also raised questions about the university’s “commitment to academic freedom” and “internal processes”, adding that the possibility that the university acceded to pressure to remove Mehta or accept his resignation is “even more troubling.”

>> The letter asks for Mehta’s resignation to be rescinded and that the university clarify its internal protocols of faculty appointment and dismissal to reinforce “institutional commitment to the principles of academic freedom."

>> The alumni council has also released a separate statement expressing solidarity with Mehta.

>> "The events that have transpired point to a failure on the chancellor and vice-chancellor's part in protecting the university faculty from external pressures and, more importantly, also point to a failure of the founders to ensure the same," the statement said.

>> Meanwhile, students of the university of the liberal arts in Sonipat staged protests to register their unhappiness with the turn of events. While

- Status of students boycott

>> Students of Ashoka University have announced a two-day boycott of classes from March 22 to “protest against some recent developments at the institution, including the resignations of faculty members Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian.”

>> The Ashoka University Student Government, a student body, on March 20 said it will also be organising a separate movement demanding the resignation of the Vice-Chancellor.

>> Demands of the protesting students include a public acknowledgment by the university founders on Mehta's statement that he felt that he was a "political liability" as well as assuring the Ashokan Community that Mehta will be given an unconditional offer letter.

>> Students are also demanding an open meeting organised by the founders with the student body, the divesting of administrative powers and roles from founders of the university to the elected representatives of faculty, students, and administration.

>> "We are extremely saddened by the resignations of both professors and incredibly dissatisfied by the conditions under which the resignations took place. Not only have we lost intellectual giants and erudite academics whose scholarship we value deeply, but also our trust and faith in this administration to protect the students within this university from external political pressures. This is a gross violation of academic freedoms and we strongly condemn it," the students' body said in a statement.

>> They added: "We will not back down in the face of injustice. We will continue our struggle for a more just and equal institution and for true academic freedom at Ashoka and beyond.”

- Reaction from economist and former RBI chief Raghuram Rajan

>> In a rather scathing LinkedIn post, Rajan called Mehta and Subramanian’s resignation a “grievous blow” to free speech in India and said that that the varsity's founders have bartered away its soul.

>> "The reality is that professor Mehta is a thorn in the side of the establishment. He is no ordinary thorn because he skewers those in government and in high offices like the Supreme Court with vivid prose and thought-provoking arguments," he said.

>> He added: "Free speech is the soul of a great university. By compromising on it, the founders have bartered away its soul. And if you show a willingness to barter your soul, is there any chance the pressures will go away? This is indeed a sad development for India.”

>> He also called into question the university’s commitment to fight for and sustain the Ashoka vision and said that if they have “compromised with the powers that be in the greater interests of the university, they are wrong".

>> Rajan opined that Mehta and Subramanian's statements suggest that Ashoka's founders have succumbed to outside pressure to get rid of "troublesome" critics and should have realised that their mission was to protect the right of people like professor Mehta to speak.

- Has anything changed?

>> The University on March 21 acknowledged "lapses in institutional processes" and expressed "deep regret" at the recent events surrounding the resignations Mehta and Subramanian.

>> "We acknowledge that there have been some lapses in institutional processes which we will work to rectify in consultation with all stakeholders. This will reaffirm our commitment to academic autonomy and freedom which have always been at the core of the Ashoka University ideals," the institution said in a statement.

>> "Ashoka has been privileged to have been led, guided, and counseled by Pratap first as Vice-Chancellor and then as senior faculty. Subramanian brought eminence, stature, fresh ideas, and energy to the university and his exit leaves a void that will be hard to fill," it added.

>> Notably, this is a joint statement from the university chancellor, vice-chancellor and chairman of the Board of Trustees, along with Mehta and Subramanian said.

>> It said that Mehta and Subramanian are “sad to be leaving Ashoka” and “continue to believe strongly that Ashoka University should embody a liberal vision and commitment to academic freedom and autonomy.”

>> “They remain lifelong friends and well-wishers of the institution and are committed to its success wherever they are," the statement said, adding that the two professors will remain "available for advice and consultation to the university in the future".

>> Mehta also addressed students, urging them to not "press" for his return asserting that the circumstances that led to his resignation will not change in foreseeable future.

>> He told them: "The underlying circumstances that led to the resignation will not change for the foreseeable future, in my case, at any rate. So I must close this chapter. I urge you not to press on this matter. I know you will be disappointed. But if I may exercise one last bit of professorial discretion: your mission is larger than the fate of two Professors.”

>> He also praised them for their “poise and articulacy” towards defending important values and demanding accountability that “should make anyone want to associate with this university.”

>> He added: “You are its beating heart and soul and nothing can damage that. … it is not for me to intercede in this matter. But I imagine your voice will, in the long run, make Ashoka a better university and get it to recommit to its ideals and values. So your outpouring is already a victory of sorts. You have taught us by example, what we were badly trying to teach you by lectures.”

>> The leadership team of Ashoka University includes Dhruv Agarwala (Co-founder and CEO PropTiger), Sanjeev Aggarwal (Co-Founder Fundamental Partnership and Helion Ventures), Vishwavir Ahuja (MD and CEO, RBL Bank), Pramod Bhasin (Founder Genpact, Chairman Clix Capital), Amit Chandra (MD, Bain Capital), Ramesh Damani (Investor and Chairman, DMart), Nirmal Jain (Founder and Chairman, IIFL Holdings) and Gautam Kumra (Managing Partner, McKinsey India).
Jocelyn Fernandes

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