The students and faculty of Ashoka University on Thursday demanded that political scientist and commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta be offered his position as professor again and asked the university to make the process of resignations more transparent.

Mehta had resigned from his position on Tuesday, less than two years after he stepped down as the university’s vice chancellor. Mehta is a vocal critic of the Narendra Modi government. However, the university refused to say whether his writings and criticism were connected to the resignation. Economist Arvind Subramanian also quit after Mehta’s exit.

The students demanded that Mehta’s resignation letter be made public after seeking his permission. Following the demands, one of the co-founders of the university said that Mehta has been asked to consider withdrawing his resignation, according to an email accessed by Mehta has not made any public statement on the matter yet.

The Ashoka University Students Government and the Alumni Council expressed their support for the former faculty members. “We firmly believe that as members and stakeholders of the Ashokan community, we should be able to demand transparency from the founders and trustees of Ashoka regarding the events that have taken place over the last 48 hours,” the groups said in a joint statement. They asked the university’s founders to be present at the Townhall on Thursday evening.

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Full text: Arvind Subramanian resigns from Ashoka University after Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s exit

The students 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,” they added. The students said it was unacceptable that they were learning about the exits from news reports and not the university itself.

The students also criticised the administration for failing to protect faculty members from “external pressures”.

‘Chilling precedent’

Meanwhile, the faculty of Ashoka University in a statement said that Mehta’s decision to quit was a “matter of great anguish” for them. They demanded that the institute should ask him to rescind his resignation.

The faculty said that it seemed “quite plausible” that Mehta’s resignation was a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and a critic of the government. This, they said, would set a “chilling precedent for future removals”, curtailing their sense of who they are as researchers and teachers.

Read the full statement here:

The resignation of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 is a matter of great anguish for the university faculty. It 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. 

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. 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. It would also set a chilling precedent for future removals of faculty, curtailing our sense of who we are as researchers and teachers. 

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.   

We stand fully in support of Professor Mehta and all academics who risk their personal and professional well-being by speaking truth to power.

Mehta is a graduate in philosophy, political science, and economics from Oxford University, and has a PhD in politics from Princeton University. He has also been a lecturer at Harvard University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and the New York University School of Law. He is a contributing editor at The Indian Express, where he writes a regular column. Mehta was also previously the president of the Center for Policy Research.

Meanwhile, Subramanian had joined Ashoka University in July last year as a professor of economics. He is also the founding director of Ashoka Center for Economic Policy.