Sunday, May 16, 2021

Ashoka University students begin class boycott, demand changes

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Students at Ashoka University began their two-day boycott of classes on Monday to demand changes in the university, including divesting of administrative powers from founders of the university to elected students, administrative, and faculty members.

The boycott came in connection with the resignation of two professors Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian last week, and despite a statement issued Sunday by the two, and the university expressing “deep regret” at the exits and acknowledging “lapses in institutional processes.”

While the students boycotted most of the classes during the day, nearly 900 students attended a scheduled class by Pratap Bhanu Mehta and discussed Karl Marx and his celebrated work Das Kapital.

“This was a scheduled class on Western Political Thought and we discussed Karl Marx and his work as it is in our syllabus. There was no discussion on the current crisis and the class took place normally. Since it was made open for all students at the university, nearly 600 students attended the class using a digital platform along with hundreds who were already present on the campus,” said Biplob Kumar Das, 21, a final-year undergraduate student of Political Science at the varsity. The university’s students’ body – Ashoka University Student Government – said in total around 900 students attended the lecture.

News of Mehta’s exit broke on Thursday (he resigned on March 15) and caused a stir among students, faculty, and the larger academic community in India and overseas. In his resignation he wrote that “after a meeting with Founders, it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the University may be considered a political liability” on account of his “public writing”. On Friday, Subramanian, former chief economic advisor, resigned saying Mehta’s exit reflected poorly on the university’s ability to protect academic freedom.

On Sunday, Mehta wrote to students asking them not to “press the matter” and the university’s chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee wrote in a letter to students and faculty that the founders “never interfered with academic freedom.”

The board of trustees met the students’ body on Sunday, but the previously planned boycott wasn’t called off.

Dozens of students were present at the university campus on Monday wearing black to register their dissent over the exits of Mehta and Subramanian . The boycott of classes is slated to continue till Tuesday.

While students boycotted most of the classes on Monday, they said that some classes were held using non-university resources.

A major demand of students has been to hold an open meeting with University founders. Despite repeated calls, messages, and e-mails, university officials refused to comment on the matter.

The Board of Trustees, however, said on Monday that the founders “have never interfered with, nor do they intend to interfere, with academic functioning of the university.”

“The founders are supportive with the appointment of the Ombudsperson (as had been decided earlier) by May 31 2021. The Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor will propose candidates for this position for approval by the Governing Body,” the statement read.

The statement also called for strengthening existing protocols and processes like the Academic Council and Board of Management which separate academic functioning from Founders.

University officials including Ashoka University chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee, vice-chancellor Malabika Sarkar, chairperson of Board of Trustees, Ashish Dhawan on Sunday assured students in a statement, also signed by Mehta and Subramanian that they would work to resolve the crisis.

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