New Delhi: Ashoka University Sunday acknowledged there “have been some lapses in institutional processes” and said it will work to rectify these to ensure academic autonomy and freedom, days after noted academician Pratap Bhanu Mehta and economist Arvind Subramanian resigned from their positions as faculty members.
The statement was issued jointly by the private university, Mehta and Subramanian. Chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar and chairman of board of trustees Ashish Dhawan were the signatories on behalf of Ashoka.
Mukherjee and Dhawan also separately sent out letters to students and parents reiterating that Ashoka University “will remain committed to academic freedom and intellectual independence”, and that none of founders or trustees “have even an iota of commercial or business interest” in the university.
The two professors’ resignations had become a matter of controversy and triggered protests by students and other faculty members.
“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,” read the join statement.
Mehta, former vice-chancellor of Ashoka University and a noted public intellectual, had resigned following a meeting he had with the university’s founders last week. In his letter dated 15 March, he said that he was quitting because his association with the university may be “considered a political liability”.
Two days later, Subramanian, former chief economic advisor to the Narendra Modi government, resigned, saying Mehta’s exit had devastated him, and added that the fact that someone of “such integrity and eminence, who embodied the vision underlying Ashoka, felt compelled to leave is troubling”. Subramanian will continue teaching at the university till the end of the ongoing academic year.
Sunday’s joint statement expressed the university administration’s and founders’ “deep regret” for the events surrounding the resignations.
“The Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Ashoka
University express deep regret at the recent events surrounding the resignations of Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Prof. Arvind Subramanian who have been extraordinary colleagues and faculty members at Ashoka University,” it said.
It continued that the university has been “privileged to have been led, guided and counselled by Pratap first as Vice Chancellor and then as senior faculty”, and that Subramanian “leaves a void that will be hard to fill”.
The statement said on behalf of Mehta and Subramanian that they are “sad” to leave the institution.
“Pratap and Arvind would like to emphasise that Ashoka University is one of the most important projects in Indian higher education. They are sad to be leaving Ashoka, especially its outstanding students and faculty. They continue to believe strongly that Ashoka University should embody a liberal vision and commitment to academic freedom and autonomy,” it noted.
The statement said the two would remain “lifelong friends and well-wishers of the institution and are committed to its success wherever they are”.
‘Ashoka founders never interfered’
Meanwhile, Chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee sent out a letter to students and parents to clarify that Ashoka’s founders have never interfered with the university’s academic freedom.
In an email that was sent after the joint statement was issued, Mukherjee said the founders “worked selflessly and tirelessly to build Ashoka into what it is today”.
“Today when the founders are being attacked for trying to compromise and curtail academic autonomy and freedom of expression, I find it necessary as chancellor and given my association with Ashoka from its inception, to state unambiguously that the founders have never interfered with academic freedom: Faculty members have been left free to construct their own courses, follow their own methods of teaching and their own methods of assessment,” the letter stated.
Mukherjee said Ashoka has a “unique and unprecedented governance model” that is collaborative but has “natural guardrails to preserve academic integrity and independence”.
Addressing Mehta and Subramanian’s resignations in this letter too, Mukherjee said the university regrets what has happened, “but I am sure we will recover and move forward from the situation we find ourselves in”.
In his letter, addressed to students and alumni, Ashish Dhawan, chairman, board of trustees, also expressed regret over the events of last week.
“I deeply regret any lapses that led to this situation—this was not something we had anticipated or planned … I admit that the departures of Professors Mehta and Subramanian make us all feel a tremendous loss but there is nothing for you to fear. As an institution, we are committed to freedom in every aspect.”
He added that Ashoka University stands for “free enquiry, academic freedom and intellectual independence and always will”, and noted that going forward, “there are certain things that need to change”.
“For one, the last few days have taught us it is really important for us to build an open line of communication and also listen to you. We will make ourselves available for meetings with the Student Government and Alumni Council on a regular basis. The Ashoka administration is entrepreneurial in spirit, and we know that you are too. We want to encourage you to express yourselves and know that we will be there to hear you and take your feedback,” he added.
(This report has been updated with details from a letter sent by Ashish Dhawan, chairman, Board of Trustees, Ashoka University, to students and alumni.)
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)
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