Subramanian resigns as professor of Ashoka University after Mehta; students, faculty stage protest

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New Delhi, Mar 18 (PTI) Two days after political commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta resigned as a professor from the Ashoka University, his colleague, economist Arvind Subramanian, put in his papers on Thursday, triggering sharp reactions from the faculty members and students of the university, who staged a protest over the issue.

The liberal arts university in Sonipat, much sought after for the courses it offers, finds itself at the centre of a controversy due to the recent developments.

While a query sent to the university regarding the developments remained unanswered till the filing of the report, Vice-Chancellor (VC) Malabika Sarkar told the students and faculty members at a virtual town hall meeting that Mehta was asked to reconsider his decision, but 'he has asked to be left alone'.

Subramanian, the former chief economic advisor, had joined the Ashoka University as a professor in the Department of Economics in July 2020.

'Someone (Mehta) of such integrity and eminence, who embodied the vision underlying Ashoka, felt compelled to leave is troubling. That even Ashoka -- with its private status and backing by private capital -- can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom is ominously disturbing. Above all, that the university's commitment to fight for and sustain the Ashoka vision is now open to question makes it difficult for me to continue being part of Ashoka,' Subramanian wrote in his resignation letter.

Mehta, who had quit as the VC of the university two years ago, wrote in his resignation letter earlier this week, 'After a meeting with the 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 the constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens is perceived to carry risks for the university.' 'It is clear it is time for me to leave Ashoka. A liberal university will need a liberal political and social context to flourish. I hope the university will play a role in securing that environment,' he wrote.

The faculty members at the university wrote to the VC and board members, saying Mehta's exit seems to be a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government.

They noted that Mehta's exit has set a 'chilling precedent for future removals of faculty' and is a 'matter of great anguish'.

'In light of media reports that circulated before the official announcement of Professor Mehta's departure from the university, it seems quite plausible that his resignation was a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government. We are greatly troubled by this scenario,' a statement issued by the faculty members said.

'Mehta's resignation is not just an occasion for sorrow over the departure of a deeply respected and admired colleague. It also raises urgent questions about the university's commitment to academic freedom as well as its internal processes. Even more troubling is the possibility that our university may have acceded to pressure to remove Professor Mehta or to request, and accept, his resignation,' it added.

The faculty members said, '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.' The Ashoka University Student Government, Alumni Council and other members of the university community released a separate statement expressing solidarity with Mehta.

'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 point to a failure of the founders to ensure the same,' the statement said.

The students, who staged a protest on the university campus, said they were 'extremely saddened' by the exit of Mehta and Subramanian, who they said were invaluable members of the Ashoka community.

'We strongly condemn these resignations and the lack of transparency from the university about the same. It is unacceptable that we are learning about the exits from news reports and not the university itself,' the students said.

At the virtual town hall meeting with the VC in the evening, the students and faculty members raised questions on the role of the trustees and founders of the university in Mehta's resignation, which led Subramanian to quit.

The VC told them that she was not a part of any conversation between Mehta and the trustees.

'The trustees have categorically told me to convey on their behalf that they never asked Mehta to resign,' she said during the nearly two-hour-long meeting.

The VC also said she asked Mehta to take his resignation back, but he said he did not want to and 'wants to be left alone'. PTI GJS/BKS ANZ GJS MR RC