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Education

Ashoka University Faculty Write to VC About Pratap Bhanu Mehta's 'Troubling' Resignation

Students and alumni too have put out a statement expressing solidarity with Mehta and asking the university to reinstate him.

New Delhi: Faculty members of Ashoka University, Sonipat have written to the university vice-chancellor, Malabika Sarkar, expressing “great anguish” at political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation as professor. Mehta, a vocal critic of the Narendra Modi dispensation, resigned on Tuesday. The varsity sidestepped questions on whether his political opinions and writings had something to do with why he left, and Mehta too has not commented on the matter.

Mehta’s resignation, the letter says, “is not just an occasion for sorrow over the departure of a deeply respected and admired colleague. It also raises urgent questions about the university’s commitment to academic freedom as well as its internal processes.”

A faculty source confirmed to The Wire that about 90 faculty members have signed the letter to Sarkar.

They have also talked about reports that the university succumbed to political pressures and asked Mehta to resign. “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 resignation was a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government. We are greatly troubled by this scenario. Even more troubling is the possibility that our university may have acceded to pressure to remove Professor Mehta or to request, and accept, his resignation.”

On Thursday morning, former chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian too resigned from the varsity, and made his resignation letter public. He said that Ashoka was no longer able to protect academic freedom, as was clear from Mehta’s resignation. “That even Ashoka—with its private status and backing by private capital—can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom is ominously disturbing. Above all, that the University’s commitment to fight for and sustain the Ashoka vision is now open to question makes it difficult for me to continue being part of Ashoka,” Subramanian had said.

Also read: We Can’t Treat Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s Resignation from Ashoka as a ‘Personal Decision’

The faculty members’ letter to the vice-chancellor to echoes these worries. “We request the university to ask Professor Mehta to rescind his resignation. We also request that the university clarify its internal protocols of faculty appointment and dismissal, and reinforce its institutional commitment to the principles of academic freedom,” they had said.

The Ashoka University Student Government, Alumni Council and other members of the Ashokan community too released a separate statement expressing solidarity with Mehta. They have also asked the university’s founders to join the students at a town hall this evening, so that students can demand transparency on what has happened.

“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 points to a failure of the Founders to ensure the same,” the statement says.

Read the faculty members’ full letter below.

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To,
Professor Malabika Sarkar, Vice Chancellor
Mr. Ashish Dhawan, Chairman of Board of Trustees Ashoka University.

The resignation of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 is a matter of great anguish for the university faculty. It is not just an occasion for sorrow over the departure of a deeply respected and admired colleague. It also raises urgent questions about the university’s commitment to academic freedom as well as its internal processes.

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 resignation was a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government. We are greatly troubled by this scenario. Even more troubling is the possibility that our university may have acceded to pressure to remove Professor Mehta or to request, and accept, his resignation. This would fly against the principles of academic freedom on which Ashoka University has been set up – and which Professor Mehta, in his time as Vice- Chancellor and University Professor, has so scrupulously fought to defend. It would also set a chilling precedent for future removals of faculty, curtailing our sense of who we are as researchers and teachers.

We request the university to ask Professor Mehta to rescind his resignation. We also request that the university clarify its internal protocols of faculty appointment and dismissal, and reinforce its institutional commitment to the principles of academic freedom.

We stand fully in support of Professor Mehta and all academics who risk their personal and professional well-being by speaking truth to power.

Sincerely, Ashoka Faculty. March 18, 2021.