Most of us prefer to live our private lives quietly. Some of those who get celebrated for their achievements still prefer to stay away from controversies especially those involving a face-off with the establishment. The question this oped and the event it refers to poses is if it is ok for private individuals or institutions to tow the line even if it goes against your stated values and beliefs. And in this case, it is a well-respected institution of higher education, set up in the first place to hold up values of liberal thought, something that the founders saw missing in the incumbent institutions of higher education in the country. Ashok University, a private not-for-profit institution, set up by a bunch of like-minded philanthropists, highly distinguished in their fields of work, to bring about much needed change in India’s higher education, is in the news for exactly the wrong reasons. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an Indian academician specialising in political science, resigned earlier this week from Ashok University, citing that the founders made it “abundantly clear” that his association with the institution was a “political liability”. For those not familiar, Mehta is known for his prolific and outspoken commentary on political issues, often questioning the establishment, some of which has been carried in the 3L&3S as well. The question this OpEd poses to all of us is if standing up to our beliefs is an absolute (you are for it all the time) or if there is scope for compromise, especially when it hurts you, in lieu of the greater good. The Indian Express suggests it is the former and how this event poses existential challenges for the university.
“As universities go, Ashoka University is still young. But it is, sadly, already in decline. It took only about seven years for its founders and trustees to let down the fundamental idea that animated its institution. It was, in its own words, “a pioneer in its focus on providing a liberal education at par with the best in the world” — a “private non-profit university, an unprecedented example of collective public philanthropy in India” “committed to maintaining the highest intellectual and academic standards”. The resignation of Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts a question mark on those claims and credentials. One of the country’s pre-eminent scholars and public intellectuals, who unsparingly and courageously asks questions of power and the powerful, whoever they may be, whatever be their political colour — The Indian Express is privileged to carry his columns on these pages — has been compelled to step down, first as vice-chancellor and now as professor. The circumstances indict the university’s establishment as much as they point fingers at the political regime.
…By bending when asked, they may have inaugurated the slide, and surrendered the possibilities of the university’s rise. Because vindictiveness feeds on cowardice. And because even though the institution cannot be equated with the individual, Mehta’s departure sends out a signal much larger than him. As former Chief Economic Advisor and economist, Arvind Subramanian, who has also resigned saying he is “devastated” by Mehta’s going, has put it: Ashoka “… can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom”. That’s the message to students, faculty — and to the next generation waiting to go to college. That a fancy campus and a bunch of glittering CVs does never an institution make.”
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