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PB Mehta row: Over 150 international scholars slam 'attack on academic freedom'

Signatories include academicians from Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge

pb-mehta Pratap Bhanu Mehta | https://www.ashoka.edu.in/

The row over the resignation of political commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University has now gone international.

Mehta had submitted his resignation on March 15. In his resignation letter, Mehta wrote the founders of Ashoka University made it "abundantly clear" that his association with the institution "may be considered a political liability". Mehta wrote, "My public writing in support of a politics that tries to honour constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens is perceived to carry risks for the university."

On Friday, 178 academicians from prominent international institutions, including Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge, came out in support of Mehta. They wrote an open letter to the trustees, administrators and faculty of Ashoka University titled A Dangerous Attack on Academic Freedom. The scholars alleged Mehta "had become a target for his writings" given his reputation of being a "prominent critic of the current Indian government".

The open letter noted, "It seems that Ashoka’s Trustees, who should have treated defending him as their institutional duty, instead all but forced his resignation."

Highlighting the need for freedom of expression in universities, the scholars reaffirmed “the importance of the values that he [Mehta] has always practiced. In political life, these are free argument, tolerance, and a democratic spirit of equal citizenship. In the university, they are free inquiry, candor, and a rigorous distinction between the demands of intellectual honesty and the pressure of politicians, funders, or ideological animus. These values come under assault whenever a scholar is punished for the content of public speech. When that speech is in defense of precisely these values, the assault is especially shameful."

The scholars concluded by expressing support for Mehta. "The university must be a home for fearless inquiry and criticism. We support Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his practice of the highest values of intellectual inquiry and public life."

Congress leader slams university

Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Ashwani Kumar lashed out at the trustees of Ashoka University.

Kumar was quoted by The Indian Express as saying, "trustees of the premier educational institution [are] clearly the principal villains, in not standing up to those who wanted Mehta to pay the price for his intellectual integrity."

“The attack on academic freedoms is the most pernicious of devices to stifle opinion and to promote intolerance in the battle of ideas thereby robbing democracy of its defining distinction. This is the moment for academia and public intellectuals to collectively fight for their space as keepers of national conscience and to remind the powers that be, that the power of their pen will not be captive to the lure of wealth or to the brute power of a muscular State,” Kumar said in a statement.


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