New Delhi: Students at the Ashoka University’s Sonepat campus launched a protest Thursday seeking the reinstatement of noted scholar Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who resigned from the institution’s faculty earlier this week. The faculty has also extended support to the call, seeking clarity on appointment and dismissal protocols.
Economist Arvind Subramanian also quit the faculty Thursday, two days after Mehta, citing the circumstances involving the latter’s exit as the reason for his resignation and the fact that “Ashoka can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom”.
The resignations have led academics, students and faculty members to question the idea of “academic freedom” at the university, which advertises itself as an institution that encourages its students “to think and to question”.
On Thursday, agitating students called for Mehta’s reinstatement. They also asked for his resignation letter to be made public.
In a statement, the students said, “We express our unconditional support to Prof. Mehta who always taught us to be critical of the structures we live around and to question what is taken for granted.”
In a virtual town hall meeting Thursday evening with Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar, students and faculty members raised questions on the role of trustees and founders in Mehta’s resignation, which led Subramanian to quit.
Sarkar told them she was not a part of any conversation between Mehta and the trustees. “The trustees have categorically told me to convey on their behalf that they never asked Prof. Mehta to resign,” she said during the nearly two-hour-long town hall.
None of the trustees or founders were present in the meeting. While Sarkar said she had not invited them to this meeting, some students and faculty members questioned their absence.
Sarkar also said she had asked Mehta to take his resignation back, but that he said he did not want to and “wants to be left alone”. The V-C refused to make his resignation letter public.
Faculty also express ‘anguish’
Faculty members at the university have also written to V-C Sarkar, expressing their “anguish”.
In the letter, which has now been made public, the faculty members said Mehta’s resignation “raises urgent questions about the university’s commitment to academic freedom as well as its internal processes”.
“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,” said the letter.
“It would also set a chilling precedent for future removals of faculty, curtailing our sense of who we are as researchers and teachers,” the letter said, asking the university to call on Mehta to withdraw his resignation.
They also asked the institute to clarify its internal protocols on faculty appointment and dismissal.
“We request the university to ask Prof. 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,” the letter read.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)