Ashoka University Row: Professor Balakrishnan Cites Violation Of Academic Freedom In Letter To Founder

Ashoka University Row: Professor Balakrishnan Cites Violation Of Academic Freedom In Letter To Founder

News is that the governing body has decided to invite young Sabyasachi Das to return to the post from which he had resigned. If this is correct, I appreciate the gesture. If not, I would request you as leaders of this community to consider doing just that.

IANSUpdated: Saturday, August 19, 2023, 07:58 PM IST
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Ashoka University | Ashoka University

New Delhi: Professor Pulapre Balakrishnan, who had also resigned from Ashoka University while extending support to Professor Sabyasachi Das, on Saturday said that there was a grave error of judgement in response to the attention received by Das' paper and academic freedom was violated.

He also said that he was given to understand that the governing body has decided to invite Das to return to the post from which he had resigned, and if this is correct, I appreciate the gesture, if not, I would request you as leaders of this community to consider doing just that. In his letter to Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Chancellor and Professor of History at Ashoka University and Pramath Raj Sinha, founder and Trustee of Ashoka University, Balakrishnan said, "I write you as the dust settles at least a bit on the recent turmoil at our university. News is that the governing body has decided to invite young Sabyasachi Das to return to the post from which he had resigned. If this is correct, I appreciate the gesture. If not, I would request you as leaders of this community to consider doing just that." Commenting on his resignation, Balakrishnan said, "As for myself, I am moving on. I have resigned my position based on my belief that there was a grave error of judgment in the response to the attention received by Das' paper on social media. Academic freedom was violated in the response, and it would be unconscionable for me to remain."

Looking back

He also said that in his resignation letter submitted to the Vice Chancellor, he offered to stay and complete his teaching responsibilities for the semester. "In any case, as I am not going to be here for much longer, I owe you both this letter. You may recall our first meeting at the IIC's coffee lounge in 2014. As for myself, I recall having asked you two questions. I had stated that I had for at least two decades by then been writing critically about economic policy in India and intend to continue to do so were I to join Ashoka's faculty," he said.

Mentioning some incidents, Balakrishnan said, "Rudrangshu had responded by saying that the University did not expect its faculty to take any particular view on the matter. Next, I had declared that I was associated with the public campaign to repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (some tact was needed there, I guess). Pramath had responded by saying that, while the University appreciated the disclosure, it made no difference to it." He also said that he wishes to place on record that in these eight years he has been there, the University has been true to its word.

Gratitude

"I have written extensively in the media, marched on the streets for my rights and expressed my thoughts in class without the slightest restraint placed in my path. The University also bank rolled (I am an economist, after all) the publication of my book 'India's Economy from Nehru to Modi' in its Hedgehog and Fox series. I did not have to meet anyone or even submit a proposal for this. The publisher informs me that the project was approved the moment that it was proposed," he said.

Expressing his gratitude for the opportunities offered to him, he said "I express my deepest gratitude to the foundation that you represent. As a meagre recompense, I offer to the University's library my personal collection of books. This may please be considered. Finally, I am aware of the challenges you face in taking forward the mighty adventure that is Ashoka University," Balakrishnan said, adding that he was among the first faculty representatives of the IIM Kozhikode, have headed an autonomous economics research institute in the public sector and now run a modest private educational trust.

"In all these situations I have seen how terrifying it can be to deal with the government. As I continue to speak in future, some attention may inadvertently be drawn to Ashoka. However, anyone reading this document, which I intend to make public at some stage, cannot but recognise the brave and selfless attempt to provide India with a thriving space for intellectual activity that it represents," Balakrishnan added.

Support for those who resigned

Following the resignation of Das and Balakrishnan, as many as 320 economists at 91 institutions across the country have so far extended their support to Prof Sabyasachi Das, whose paper suggesting voter manipulation in 2019 elections sparked a controversy, demanding the Ashoka University to immediately reinstate him. Faculty members at the Haryana-based Ashoka University have earlier written a letter to the varsity administration flagging concerns over the academic freedom in the institution.

On August 15, in the wake of the resignation of Professor Sabyasachi Das and members of faculty writing to him for formation of committee for academic freedom, Ashoka University's Vice Chancellor Somak Raychaudhary assured to all the members that measures are now being taken to form the committee and they have his full support to create it.

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