Ashoka University

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Arvind Subramanian, Pratap Bhanu Mehta resign

Shradha Chettri, March , 2021: The Times of India

Ashoka University, which has made a name for itself as one of India’s premier private educational institutions since its foundation in 2014, found itself at the centre of a furore following the resignation of noted economist Arvind Subramanian, who said it was “ominously disturbing” that it could “no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom”, and the disclosure of Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s letter to the vice-chancellor, earlier in the week, where he wrote, “After a meeting with the founders, it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the university may be considered a political liability.”

Mehta, a newspaper columnist and public intellectual, also told VC Malabika Sarkar in his letter, “My public writing in support of a politics that tries to honour constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens is perceived to carry risks for the university.”

“It is clear it is time for me to leave Ashoka,” he wrote. “A liberal university will need a liberal political and social context to flourish. I hope the university will play a role in securing that environment. Nietzsche once said that ‘no living for truth is possible in a university.’ I hope that prophecy does not come true. But in light of the prevailing atmosphere, the founders and the administration will require renewed commitment to the values of Ashoka, and new courage to secure Ashoka’s freedom.”

Mehta’s exit raises urgent questions about univ’s commitment to academic freedom, says faculty

In his letter to Sarkar, Subramanian, who returned from the US to be chief economic adviser during the Modi government’s first term, said, “The circumstances involving the ‘resignation’ of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who is not just a dear friend but a truly inspirational national figure, have devastated me. I am acutely aware of the broader context in which Ashoka and its trustees have to operate, and have so far admired the University for having navigated it so well. But that someone of such integrity and eminence, who embodied the vision underlying Ashoka, felt compelled to leave is troubling. 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.” In a statement addressed to Sarkar and the chairman of the board of trustees Ashish Dhawan on Thursday, the university faculty said Mehta’s “departure… raises urgent questions about the university’s commitment to academic freedom as well as its internal processes… 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 Prof Mehta or to request, and accept, this resignation. This would fly against the principles of academic freedom on which Ashoka University has been set up and which Prof Mehta in his time… 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 stand in support of Prof Mehta and all academics who risk their personal and professional well-being by speaking truth to power.” Till the time of going to press, Dhawan had not responded to TOI’s efforts to reach him.

Mehta had two years ago resigned from the post of vice-chancellor of the university but continued to teach. Subramanian joined the university last July as a professor in the department of economics and was responsible for establishing its Centre for Economic Policy.

The allegation that Mehta had left because of political reasons was virtually denied by Sarkar earlier at a townhall with students, faculty and alumni on Thursday evening. Referring to Ramachandra Guha’s tweet blaming the “spinelessness of the Trustees, who have chosen to crawl when asked to bend”, Sarkar had told the gathering that she was “utterly mystified”. She said: “I have never seen Ashoka trustees crawling as Ram Guha has said.”

In the wake of the uproar in the academic community, there is speculation that the university might approach Mehta to return to his teaching post.

Kaushik Basu, who teaches at Cornell University and was CEA under UPA (besides having been chief economist at the World Bank), tweeted that the resignations of Mehta and Subramanian were “sad news”. “The best minds are combative minds, critical minds. If we can’t tolerate that, we damage creativity.”

In the wake of the uproar in the academic community, there is speculation that the university might approach Pratap Bhanu Mehta to return to his teaching post

No deal behind Mehta quitting: VC

At a virtual townhall of faculty and students, Ashoka vicechancellor Malabika Sarkar dismissed a claim made in ‘The Edict’, the university’s “independent student newspaper”, that Mehta’s resignation was endorsed by the founders as part of an “understanding” that the acquisition of a new plot of land to expand the campus “would get much smoother”. “Completely mistaken,” she said, adding that the trustees had told her clearly that they didn’t ask Mehta to resign.

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