Noted economist Arvind Subramanian has resigned as professor from Ashoka University, citing the circumstances involving Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s exit and the fact Ashoka, even with its private status and private capital, can no longer provide space for academic expression and freedom.
Subramanian had joined Ashoka University in July last year as a professor in the department of economics. He is also the founding director of the new Ashoka Center for Economic Policy, devoted to researching policy issues related to India and global development.
His resignation, which comes two days after Mehta left, will take effect from the end of this academic year, Subramanian wrote in his letter addressed to the University Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar.
The Indian Express had first reported the news of Mehta’s exit from Ashok University on March 17. Mehta, who is also Contributing Editor, The Indian Express, has consistently, in his writing and public appearances, questioned the ruling establishment. He is considered one of the nation’s foremost scholars on politics and political theory, Constitutional law, governance and political economy. On Tuesday, when asked by The Indian Express if his criticism of the government had anything to do with his exit, the university had sidestepped the question.
However, in his resignation letter, Subramanian made it clear that Mehta’s exit was linked to the university’s inability to protect academic freedom and expression. He also wrote that with Mehta leaving “the University’s commitment to fight for and sustain the Ashoka vision is now open to question” and that makes it difficult for him to continue being part of Ashoka.
The Indian Express could not reach Subramanian for a comment.
As you know, I came to Ashoka University with the aim of teaching students, and building a centre for economic policy to build our national capacity for high-quality research, analysis and communication. With the University’s support, especially of key trustees, the Centre has been taking shape—with events, research projects, teams of talented researchers, and resources—beyond what I could have hoped for, especially considering the pandemic-induced constraints. The exciting sense was growing that some of our long-term goals would be achieved. And I was really enjoying getting to know and work with the brilliant students and colleagues of Ashoka.
However, the circumstances involving the “resignation” of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who is not just a dear friend but a truly inspirational national figure, have devastated me. I am acutely aware of the broader context in which Ashoka and its trustees have to operate, and have so far admired the University for having navigated it so well.
But that someone 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.
So it is with a sense of deep regret and profound sadness that I am writing to submit my resignation from the University which will take effect from the end of this academic year. I wish you and the University, and especially its gifted and motivated students–who are the heart of Ashoka–success in the future.
PS: As a courtesy to my colleagues in the economics department, and in the interests of transparency, I will be sharing this email with them.
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