‘Break Silence’: Ashoka Univ Students Protest After PB Mehta Quits

Students staged demonstrations in solidarity with PB Mehta after he resigned as a professor at Ashoka University.

3 min read
Students stage a demonstration in solidarity with PB Mehta, after he resigned as professor at the Ashoka University.

Two back-to-back resignations from two professors – political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta and noted economist Arvind Subramanian – have created an uproar among students and teachers at the Ashoka University.

After the students and the faculty sent two strongly-worded statements to the vice-chancellor, and staged demonstrations inside the campus over Mehta’s resignation, which they alleged was done due to ‘external pressures’, a virtual ‘town hall’ was held.

Addressing the questions of the students, Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar said that she had approached Mehta to take back his resignation, but he was not willing to. She said she wasn’t consulted before Mehta took the decision.

‘Break Silence’: Ashoka Univ Students Protest After PB Mehta Quits
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)
‘Break Silence’: Ashoka Univ Students Protest After PB Mehta Quits
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

What Happened?

Political scientist and scholar Pratap Bhanu Mehta tendered his resignation as the professor at Ashoka University on Tuesday, 16 March.

In his resignation letter, accessed by The Quint, Mehta said he took the decision after it was made abundantly clear to him that his association with the institution “may be considered a political liability.”

Mehta, in his letter, said that his public writing is “perceived to carry risks for the university”.

“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.”

You can read his full resignation letter here.

The move comes two years after Mehta resigned as vice-chancellor of the university, one of the foremost liberal arts institutes in the country, citing a desire to return to full-time academic life.

Two days after Mehta’s resignation as professor, renowned economist Arvind Subramanian also tendered his resignation, noting, “that even Ashoka – with its private status and backing by private capital – can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom, (which) is ominously disturbing.”

Subramanian had joined the university as professor of Economics in July 2020.

Resignation Over Land Acquisition Deal, Claims Student Newspaper; V-C Denies

The Edict, a newspaper published by students of Ashoka University, cited an anonymous source and claimed the decision “was motivated by an understanding that if Professor 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’ Program, was also hinted at as being part of the deal.”

The newspaper also said, “In a heartfelt email to his students thanking them for ‘being an inspiration,’ Professor Mehta revealed that 'after discussions with the university about prevailing circumstances, it became clear... that it was best to move on.’”

Sarkar, in the town hall, denied the allegations and said the newspaper’s source is not credible.

In a statement, the students’ governing body at the University said: “We express our unconditional support to Professor Mehta, who always taught us to be critical of the structures we live around and question what is taken for granted. He has been fundamental to the building of Ashoka and we believe that the implicit stance this University has taken is to not to support academic freedom, his and that of others in the Ashokan community. The events that have transpired point to a failure on the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor’s part in protecting the University faculty from external pressures, and more importantly, also points to failure of the Founders to ensure the same.

We are also concerned about the larger implications this has on the freedom of speech for Ashoka’s students and faculty. This is not the first time that Professors have come under fire for their opinions and/or their course content. We are worried about the support they will have in the future, whether it will force them to self-censor, and what this means for the quality of our education.

‘Stand Fully in Support of Prof Mehta’: Ashoka Univ Faculty

A letter by the faculty at Ashoka University, addressed to the vice-chancellor, read, “We request the University to ask Professor 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.”

“We stand fully in support of Professor Mehta and all academics who risk their personal and professional well-being by speaking truth to power,” it added.

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