Ashoka University students want Prof. Mehta reinstated

They plan to boycott classes to protest exit of academic, Arvind Subramanian.

The students of Ashoka University have demanded that Pratap Bhanu Mehta be offered his job back with a public acknowledgement of the pressures behind his resignation, as well as a divestment of the trustees’ powers to the university staff, students and faculty.

They plan to boycott classes on March 22 and 23 to protest the exits of Prof. Mehta and Arvind Subramanian.

“If these demands are not met by Tuesday, we will be organising a separate movement demanding that the Vice-Chancellor resign,” said the statement issued by the student union on March 20.

“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 this University from external political pressures — specifically, the Vice-Chancellor (Professor Malabika Sarkar), Chancellor (Professor Rudrangshu Mukherjee), and Founders of this University. This is a gross violation of academic freedoms and we strongly condemn it,” they said.

They demanded an open meeting of the university’s founders with the student body. “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,” they added.

On March 19, at least four of the trustees met with the faculty to hear their concerns regarding recent developments.

According to one faculty member, the trustees insisted that there had been no government pressure behind Prof. Mehta’s resignation but admitted that “donors wanted it”. However, they insisted they had not asked him to resign.

Several senior faculty also pushed strongly for the founders to “stay out” of the university’s functioning in the future, added the source.

Solidarity letter

More than 170 senior academics from top universities around the world, including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Columbia, signed an open letter in solidarity with Prof. Mehta, expressing their distress at his resignation under political pressure.

“A prominent critic of the current Indian government and defender of academic freedom, he had become a target for his writings. It seems that Ashoka’s Trustees, who should have treated defending him as their institutional duty, instead all but forced his resignation,” said the letter, which was signed by distinguished scholars of political science, history, government, law and ethics.

They contended that the values Prof. Mehta practised included free argument, tolerance, a democratic spirit of equal citizenship, free inquiry, candour and a rigorous distinction between the demands of intellectual honesty and the pressure of politicians, funders, or ideological animus.

“These values come under assault whenever a scholar is punished for the content of public speech. When that speech is in defence of precisely these values, the assault is especially shameful,” said the letter.

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