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Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s exit ‘direct consequence of his role as critic of govt’: Ashoka University faculty writes to V-C, Board trustees

Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s exit, the statement said, has set a “chilling precedent for future removals of faculty”.

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi |
Updated: March 18, 2021 7:19:38 pm
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Ashoka University, Pratap Bhanu Mehta news, Pratap Bhanu Mehta resignation, India newsPratap Bhanu Mehta resigned as a professor from Ashok University on March 17. (File/Express photo)

The faculty at Ashok University released a statement Thursday in solidarity with noted scholar Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who resigned as a professor of the university, stating that the teachers were “deeply troubled” by his exit, which possibly was “a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government”.

While Mehta, who is also Contributing Editor with The Indian Express, had already stepped down as the university’s vice-chancellor two years ago, his resignation as the professor came as a shock to many.

The statement said Mehta’s exit has set a “chilling precedent for future removals of faculty”. The teachers have demanded that Ashoka should ask Mehta to rescind his resignation and “clarify its internal protocols of faculty appointment and dismissal, and reinforce its institutional commitment to the principles of academic freedom”.

“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,” the statement reads.

It adds, “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. This would fly against the principles of academic freedom on which Ashoka University has been set up – and which Professor Mehta, in his time as Vice- Chancellor and University Professor, has so scrupulously fought to defend.”

The faculty statement, came a few hours after noted economist Arvind Subramanian resigned as professor from Ashoka citing the circumstances involving Mehta leaving the institution.

“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,” Subramanian wrote in his resignation letter addressed to Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar.

The Indian Express had first reported the news of Mehta’s exit from Ashok University on March 17. Mehta 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.

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