Liberty is Integral: Ashoka to Appoint Ombudsperson, Say Founders

Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation led to students and faculty expressing unconditional solidarity with the professor.

Updated
Education
3 min read
File photo of Ashoka University.
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Amid the recent backlash faced by Ashoka University over Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation as faculty-member, the educational institution’s Board of Trustees has issued a statement stressing on ‘liberty’ and announced the appointment of an Ombudsperson by 31 May, in order to ‘encourage freedom of expression.’

The Board of Trustees, in their statement, said:

“Liberty which includes the right to express oneself freely, is integral to life itself. Thus institutions, like universities, that seek to enrich life through knowledge and learning are natural homes of liberty and the freedom of expression. Ashoka University, fashioned as a liberal arts university, has enshrined the freedom of expression in its very ethos.”

The statement by Ashish Dhawan, Pramath Raj Sinha, Sanjeev Bikhchandani and Vineet Gupta went on to say that the “rights and responsibilities” of the faculty to articulate themselves freely is recorded in the Faculty Handbook and Guidelines.

“But in the present conjuncture there is the urgent need to reaffirm and elaborate certain aspects of this fundamental pillar of the vision and functioning of Ashoka University,” read the statement.

Further, the Board of Trustees pointed out that even though the founders of the University do not intend to interfere with the academic functioning of the University, “they also see themselves as being responsible for protecting and upholding the vision and the aims of the University they have helped establish” and are very conscious of protecting the “basic structure” of the University.

The statement goes on to focus on the necessity of establishing certain protocols and processes.

Importance of Students & Need for Ombudsperson

Further, the statement lays emphasis on the needs of the students of the University and says:

“These are the students of Ashoka who are being taught to think critically and to question and doubt. They also have valid concerns about their freedom of expression and the need to be heard by various decision-making bodies. The Founders are conscious of that.”   

Thereafter, the statement goes on to lend support to the idea of appointing an Ombudsperson.

“Once again, the founders want to articulate their deep commitment and respect for the autonomy of the University and its academic functioning. With this in mind the Founders are supportive of the appointment of the Ombudsperson (as had been decided earlier) by 31 May 2021.”

The Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor will propose candidates for this position for approval by the governing body, read the statement.

"Our aim is that through this and already existing processes we will be able to ensure that Ashoka lives up to its vision of being a space for free enquiry, free expression, intellectual honesty, respect for the dignity of all human beings and openness to constructive change," the founders said.

They also said that the ‘present moment’ gives an opportunity for a fresh start.

Full Text

Read the full letter here:

Liberty is Integral: Ashoka to Appoint Ombudsperson, Say Founders
(Photo: Kranti Saran/Twitter)
Liberty is Integral: Ashoka to Appoint Ombudsperson, Say Founders
(Photo: Kranti Saran/Twitter)
Liberty is Integral: Ashoka to Appoint Ombudsperson, Say Founders
(Photo: Kranti Saran/Twitter)

Background

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a vocal critic of the ruling government, resigned from Ashoka University last week, following a meeting with the institution’s founders, which made it clear that his association with the University could be considered a “political liability”.

Two days later, fellow professor and former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian also tendered his resignation in support, stating that the University could “no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom.”

The resignations led to students and faculty expressing unconditional solidarity with the professors, with students even staging protests inside the campus.

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