Ashoka University, Sonepat, has admitted that there have been “lapses in institutional processes” surrounding the exits, last week, of two top academics citing free-speech curbs. The privately-funded liberal arts institution has said it will “work to rectify” these slips “in consultation with all stakeholders”. Acknowledging their eminence, a joint statement from the university’s top functionaries and the two outgoing faculty members, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian, sought to emphasise that they both continue to believe in Ashoka University being “one of the most important projects in Indian higher education”.
“We acknowledge that there have been some lapses in institutional processes which we will work to rectify in consultation with all stakeholders. This will reaffirm our commitment to academic autonomy and freedom which have always been at the core of the Ashoka University ideals,” the statement said.
“They continue to believe strongly that Ashoka University should embody a liberal vision and commitment to academic freedom and autonomy,” it said.
The joint statement was signed by Chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar, Mr Mehta, Mr Subramanian, and Ashish Dhawan, the Chairman the university’s Board of Trustees.
A critic of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, Mr Mehta quit as Ashoka University Vice-Chancellor in July 2019 but remained a professor. On Tuesday, however, he abruptly resigned from that position, too, saying his “association with the University may be considered a political liability”. Two days later, Mr Subramanian, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s former Chief Economic Advisor, resigned as faculty expressing sadness at Mr Mehta’s departure.
Their exits from what is said to be India’s first privately-funded institution of higher education dedicated to the liberal arts sparked howls of protest from international intelligentsia. Those who expressed solidarity with Mr Mehta and Mr Subramanian include former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan and a range of professors and academics from Harvard, Oxford, and Brown universities, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Here is the full text of the joint statement:
The Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Ashoka University express deep regret at the recent events surrounding the resignations of Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Prof. Arvind Subramanian who have been extraordinary colleagues and faculty members at Ashoka University.
The University has been privileged to have been led, guided and counselled by Pratap first as Vice Chancellor and then as senior faculty. He has worked closely with the faculty and founders over the years to take the University into a position of being rightly acknowledged as a great centre of learning, teaching and research.
Arvind brought eminence, stature, fresh ideas and energy to the University. He is one of the premier thinkers about the Indian and the global economy. He leaves a void that will be hard to fill.
We acknowledge that there have been some lapses in institutional processes which we will work to rectify in consultation with all stakeholders. This will reaffirm our commitment to academic autonomy and freedom which have always been at the core of the Ashoka University ideals.
Pratap and Arvind would like to emphasize that Ashoka University is one of the most important projects in Indian higher education. They are sad to be leaving Ashoka, especially its outstanding students and faculty. They continue to believe strongly that Ashoka University should embody a liberal vision and commitment to academic freedom and autonomy. And they remain lifelong friends and well-wishers of the institution and are committed to its success wherever they are.
They remain available for advice and consultation to the University in the future.