New Delhi: Ashoka University’s ‘student government’ on Wednesday withdrew its strike that was sparked by the resignation of professors Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian after four senior founders of the institute offered a seat to a student ‘invitee member’ in the board of management.
According to The Telegraph, the Seventh House of Representatives of the Ashoka University Student Government said in a letter to the students: “With the Vice-Chancellor’s email today morning, we are officially closing the strike. However, this is not to say that the movement must end. We must continue coming together, asking questions, making art, and discussing academic freedom and the precarious political situation we find ourselves in.”
The university’s vice-chancellor Malabika Sarkar reportedly asked the student government to nominate a student to become an “invitee member” of the board of management. A senior professor told The Telegraph that this would not entail voting rights and that voting rarely takes place on the board, which largely operates on consensus.
Sarkar also announced that a workers’ welfare committee would be set up to meet students’ demands, while the board of trustees said it will take prompt action “to make certain structural changes that incorporate your [students’] voice”.
The student government thanked the vice chancellor in their letter for “being so receptive to our proposed changes and for your commitment to work with us to the best of your ability in building a more representative Ashoka”.
On Monday and Tuesday, students had boycotted classes – which are mostly online – demanding the return of Mehta. The political scientist had quit on March 15, making it clear that the management felt his criticism of the Narendra Modi government in his Indian Express column had become a “political liability” to the university.
Former chief economic adviser Subramanian had quit immediately after Mehta’s exit, saying the university can no longer guarantee academic freedom.
The students had demanded a public acknowledgement of Mehta’s resignation by the founders and offering Mehta the opportunity to rejoin the university apart from divesting powers “from the founders to elected representatives of faculty, students and administration”, according to The Telegraph.
In a statement jointly issued by Ashoka’s chancellor, vice-chancellor, chairman of the board of trustees and Mehta and Subramanian themselves on March 21, the university acknowledged ‘some lapses in institutional processes’,
Mehta, in a letter to students, himself urged students not to press on this matter. “The underlying circumstances that led to the resignation will not change for the foreseeable future, in my case, at any rate. So I must close this chapter,” he wrote.
After meeting students, four prominent founders issued a statement saying that they had “never interfered with, nor do they intend to interfere, with the academic functioning of the university” though they had “devoted resources and energy” to establish it.
“‘Academic functioning’ in this context includes not only how and what faculty teach, how they assess, how they are recruited and how they secure tenure but also their freedom to write and speak in their chosen fora and on their chosen themes,” they said, in a possible reference to Mehta’s columns.
The statement was signed by Ashish Dhawan who chairs the board of trustees, entrepreneur Pramath Raj Sinha, Naukri.com owner Sanjeev Bikhchandani and CEO of data analytics firm Benori Knowledge Solutions, Vineet Gupta.
According to the Indian Express, the board also announced an annual town hall with the founders “where the students can interact with them freely” and would establish an email-based feedback process for students to communicate their suggestions and concerns.
Mehta’s exit has sparked concerns across the country and even abroad, with historian Ramachandra Guha accusing the university of crawling when asked to bend. Many international and national scholars have written to the university, warning it that the circumstance surrounding Mehta’s resignation will diminish Ashoka’s status.
Featured image: Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian. Photos: YouTube/PTI illustration: The Wire