They demand reinstatement of Mehta and Subramanian, meeting with founders and divesting of their administrative authority
NEW DELHI – The Students of Ashoka University have called for “a boycott of all classes on Monday and Tuesday” (22nd and 23rd March) to push for three demands that were made in the wake of resignations by Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Prof. Arvind Subramanian earlier this week.
These demands are: an unconditional offer and apology to both professors, divesting the founders of their administrative authority, and a meeting with the founders. During a meeting on 19th March, the university’s student body known as the Student Government, also voted and passed a conditional demand, seeking the VC’s resignation if proper action is not taken to fulfil the students’ three demands.
At 1:30 PM on the same day, students on campus gathered in the atrium to voice these demands, in light of news published about Prof. Mehta’s resignation letter. Contrary to Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar’s categorical denial of Prof. Mehta’s resignation being anything but for “personal reasons,” it was reported by NDTV that there was a political element. “After a meeting with Founders it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the University may be considered a political liability,” Prof. Mehta wrote in his widely circulated resignation letter, which was not made public by the university due to “confidentiality.”
The past two days saw an immense outpouring of support and solidarity for the professors. The Ashokan community collectively mobilised to demand answers from the Vice-Chancellor and the Founders with regard to the conspicuous nature of Prof. Mehta’s sudden resignation. Students present at the atrium sit-in expressed their anger at the lies and deflection of the Vice-Chancellor in the last meeting, arguing that the “VC has not taken accountability.” A suggestion to attend Prof. Mehta’s 2:50 PM class on Monday was proposed and accepted as a sign to show solidarity.
Many calls for deepening democracy and large-scale structural reforms were made, with the only faculty member who was present urging students “to not be limited by the facade of democracy,” and reimagine the way it currently functions within the walls of Ashoka. They encouraged students to rely on their own strength, communication, and dialogue to propel this movement forward, rather than seek the approval of faculty who remain “dated and tied down” by many strings.
Students who spoke expressed deep anxiety and frustration, raising a number of important queries. One asked “Why are founders speaking directly to faculty?”, shocked that the Vice Chancellor and other members of the admin are not involved in issues that directly concern them, and the functioning of academics on campus. “What is the role of senior academic membership in this university if tenured professors can be forced to resign?”, voiced another, amplifying concerns regarding the significance of seniority as students are now worried about the position this puts junior faculty in. One pondered whether “we are here because of something that happened four years ago”, suggesting that this is a consequence of past inaction and “not an isolated event.”
Optimistically, students present also asserted their rights and urged their peers to think of themselves not as victims of this institution but the very makers of it. They said that students are ultimately responsible for the greater outcomes of this university’s education, taking forward all the skills, knowledge, and values they acquire into the outside world. They implored fellow students to be more invested in the future of this university, asking if professors will teach with the same academic liberty and “whether future students will get to sit in the same classrooms as us.”
Over 150 academicians express solidarity
Over 150 academicians from international universities, including Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge, have come out in support of scholar and commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who resigned from Ashoka University this week, saying that the founders made it “abundantly clear” that his association with the institution was a “political liability”.
The Indian Express, quoting an open letter addressed to the university trustees, administrators and faculty, says that the signatories were “distressed” to learn of Mehta’s exit under “political pressure from Ashoka University”.
“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,” the open letter states.
-With inputs from Edict, the newspaper brought out by the students of Ashoka University