Committed to Academic Freedom: Ashoka University’s Chancellor
Mehta, chancellor, vice-chancellor, board of trustees’ chairman and Arvind Subramanian issued a joint statement.
As the faculty, students and scholars from Ashoka and universities around the world voice their apprehensions over Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s sudden exit from Ashoka, Rudrangshu Mukherjee, the Chancellor of the university addressed concerns about academic freedom and intellectual independence—ideals that, according to Mukherjee, the university is still committed to.
In a separate instance, Mehta, along with chancellor Mukherjee, vice-chancellor, chairman of the board of trustees, and Arvind Subramaniam – another renowned professor who resigned – issued a joint statement.
The statement iterated the administration’s admission of “lapses in the institutional processes”, and lauded the former professors.
In a letter addressed to students, faculty, alumni, parents and founders, Mukherjee wrote, “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.”
This comes after around 180 academics and scholars from across the world wrote an extremely critical open letter to the trustees of Ashoka University, expressing their “distress” at Mehta’s resignation “under political pressure”.
“There are only two points that the founders have insisted upon. One, that Ashoka should not compromise on intellectual standards; and two, that the Foundation Courses should be integral to Ashoka's academic offering,” the statement read.
The joint statement reaffirmed the university’s “commitment to academic autonomy and freedom which have always been at the core of the Ashoka University ideals”.
“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 read.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a vocal critic of the ruling government, had resigned from Ashoka University earlier this 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”.
Fellow professor and former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian also tendered his resignation in support two days later, stating that the university could “no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom”.
The resignation led to students and faculty expressing unconditional solidarity with the professor, with students even staging protests inside the campus.
In the early hours of Sunday, Mehta penned a letter to the students, restating his decision to step down from his position. “The underlying circumstances that led to the resignation will not change for the foreseeable future,” he wrote.
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