Arvind Subramanian’s and Professor Bhanu Mehta’s resignation from Ashoka University has stirred debates over academic freedom in educational institutions across the country. The Ashoka University Student Government has called for a two-day strike, and would further go on to demand the resignation of the Vice-Chancellor if their three key demands are not met in time. Prominent activists and leaders including Former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan weighed in and expressed their support for Mehta and his departure on fears that he could be a “political liability” for the university on account of his strong political views.
On March 15, former Vice-Chancellor and Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, and former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian resigned from Ashoka University. The move has, in turn, raised questions over academic freedom and liberty in such institutions, and have agitated students and activists from all over the country. While Subramanian found it “ominously disturbing” that the varsity could “no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom”, Mehta said that he felt his association with the university had become a “political liability”.
After a meeting with Founders, it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the University may be considered a political liability. 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. In the interests of the University, I resign.
-Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, in his resignation letter
The students of the institution, who had started protesting yesterday with slogans like “This is not my Ashoka ”, have planned to call a campuswide strike for the next two days.
We have planned to call for a strike for two days. Students on campus will organise sit-in protests and talk about issues that need to be discussed like what Ashoka stands for and what the ethos of the university are.
-A member of the Students’ Government, Ashoka University
A student said that students, teachers, and the administration are used to solving issues by dialogue, however, this time, things have been different.
The news was broken to us from the outside and that is a major reason why it became such a big issue so fast. But we have been having discussions with the administration since then. Even though the Vice-Chancellor met us, her answers are not very satisfactory.
-A student at Ashoka University
On March 20, the Student Government issued an official statement, in the same regard enlisting their plight and the key demands made by the Ashoka student body.
Not only have we lost intellectual giants and erudite academics whose scholarship we value deeply, but also our trust and faith in this administration to protect the students within the University from external political pressures – specifically, the Vice-Chancellor (Professor Malabika Sarkar), the Chancellor (Professor Rudrangshu Mukherjee), and the Founders of the University
-the statement read.
The statement makes the following key demands: firstly, the students demand a public acknowledgement by the Founders on Professor Mehta’s statement that he felt that he was a “political liability” as well as assuring the Ashokan Community that Professor Mehta will be given a public unconditional offer letter. Further, they demand an open meeting to be organised by the Founders with the Student Body.
The divesting of administrative powers and the rules from founders of the University to the elected representatives of faculty, students and administration. We must create a body with both members of the faculty and student body to serve as a medium to discuss matters with the founders and the administration
the statement added.
The Student Body plans on protesting until all of these demands are met. They will be organising a two-day boycott of classes on the 22nd and 23rd March. If the Ashoka administration and founders fail to meet these demands by Tuesday, the Student Government will organise a separate movement demanding that the Vice-Chancellor resign.
The state crackdown on academics and activists has only worsened during the pandemic. We stand in complete solidarity with all the academicians and activists who have resisted the state’s brutality, organised in support of targeted groups and been subject to imprisonment and torture for it including, but not limited to the Bhima Koregaon 16, peaceful anti-CAA protestors and most recently Nodeep Kaur and Shiv Kumar.
-Official Statement by Ashoka University Student Government
On March 21, breaking their silence after a week, the board which includes the chancellor, vice-chancellor and the chairman of the board of trustees of the varsity said they express “deep regret at the recent events surrounding the resignations of Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian who have been extraordinary colleagues and faculty members at Ashoka University.”
The University has been privileged to have been led, guided and counselled by Pratap first as Vice-Chancellor and then as senior faculty. He has worked closely with the faculty and founders over the years to take the University into a position of being rightly acknowledged as a great centre of learning, teaching and research.
-Joint Statement, Board of Ashoka University
Arvind brought eminence, stature, fresh ideas and energy to the University. He is one of the premier thinkers about the Indian and the global economy. He leaves a void that will be hard to fill
the statement added.
Meanwhile, Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote a letter to students, urging them to not “press” for his return, as circumstances that led to his resignation won’t change in the foreseeable future.
Featured Image Credits: The Quint