New Delhi: A student newspaper at Ashoka University has claimed the founders of the university “endorsed” noted scholar Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation from the post of professor Tuesday, nearly two years after he stepped down as vice-chancellor.
In an email to his students Wednesday night, Mehta had hinted that a discussion with the university regarding the “prevailing circumstances” led to his exit.
ThePrint has accessed copies of the newspaper, The Edict, as well as Mehta’s email to his students. Neither Mehta nor Ashoka University have officially commented on the reasons for his exit.
Mehta declined to comment when reached through a text message.
Responding to this report, Vineet Gupta, a trustee and co-founder of Ashoka University, said The Edict article was “factually inaccurate”.
“The Edict article about Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s departure and its purported link with either the plot for Ashoka’s new campus or statutory approval for the four-year UG programme is factually inaccurate,” Gupta said in a message response to ThePrint.
“The plot of land for Ashoka’s new campus was acquired three years ago. There is no question of approval for the four-year UG programme being a factor, because that is governed by a national law and is not specific to any university. The four-year programmes have anyway been approved by the government under the new National Education Policy for all universities. The article is purely speculative. Please treat it as such.”
The paper and the email
The student newspaper alleged, citing a source, that there was an understanding that if Mehta resigned, the university’s efforts to acquire a new plot of land would get smoother.
“This endorsement, according to a senior faculty member with whom our source spoke, was motivated by an understanding that if Prof. Mehta resigned, the university’s efforts to acquire a new plot of land to expand the campus would get much smoother. Additionally, formal recognition for the fourth-year post-graduate diploma, Ashoka Scholars’ Programme, was also hinted at being part of the deal,” the newspaper claimed.
Ashoka University runs a postgraduate diploma in advanced studies and research programme, also known as the Ashoka Scholars Programme (ASP), which is open to students after their three-year undergraduate education.
Mehta himself spoke of “circumstances” being behind his decision to quit, though he did not detail these circumstances.
In an email sent to his students Wednesday night, he wrote: “The decision to leave Ashoka was not an easy one, especially because of the exceptional quality of students I have been privileged to teach. But after discussions with the university about the prevailing circumstances, it became clear to me that it was best to move on. Hence, I took the decision to resign.”
‘Founders not happy with Mehta’s columns criticising govt’
Ashoka University is a private liberal arts university located in Sonepat, Haryana. It describes itself as “a pioneer in its focus on providing a liberal education at par with the best in the world”. Established through collective philanthropy, the university says that it encourages students “to think and to question”.
However, Mehta’s resignation, followed by economist Arvind Subramanian’s resignation Thursday, has led many liberal intellectuals to question the basic founding principle of the university and its ideas of “liberal education”.
A faculty member at Ashoka who spoke to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity said the university was not comfortable with Mehta writing columns critical of the government.
“The university has always tried to stay away from unnecessary media attention. Being a private institution, it does not want to be seen as anti-government, and Pratap’s columns were doing just that, drawing attention to the university,” a faculty member said.
“The founders were not happy with it, hence he was first asked to step down as V-C, which slowly paved the way for his resignation.”
In a scathing tweet hours after news of Mehta’s resignation broke, historian Ramachandra Guha said Ashoka’s “trustees have chosen to crawl when asked to bend”.
In its journey thus far, Ashoka University had shown much promise. They may have frittered all that away by the spinelessness of their Trustees, who have chosen to crawl when asked to bend.
— Ramachandra Guha (@Ram_Guha) March 17, 2021
The vast leadership team of Ashoka University includes some of the biggest names in the corporate and education world, including Puneet Dalmia, managing director, Dalmia Bharat Group; Pranav Gupta, director of Jamboree India; Ashish Dhawan, founder and chairman, Central Square Foundation; Sanjeev Bikhchandani, founder and executive vice-chairman of Info Edge, the company that runs Naukri.com; Vineet Gupta, managing director Jamboree Education, and also the founder and trustee of Ashoka; and Pramath Raj Sinha, founder and MD, Harappa Education.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)
(This report has been updated with a response from Ashoka University co-founder Vineet Gupta)