Ashoka University row | Another faculty member resigns, professors threatens exodus if Sabyasachi Das not reinstated

The faculty members of Ashoka University have written to the university’s governing body threatening a faculty exodus if Sabyasachi Das is not reinstated.

August 16, 2023 06:55 pm | Updated 09:14 pm IST - New Delhi

Ashoka University had distanced itself from Sabyasachi Das’ paper, “Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy“, in which he argued that the BJP won a disproportionate share of closely contested parliamentary seats in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Photo: ashoka.edu.in

Ashoka University had distanced itself from Sabyasachi Das’ paper, “Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy“, in which he argued that the BJP won a disproportionate share of closely contested parliamentary seats in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Photo: ashoka.edu.in

Days after Sabyasachi Das, an assistant professor at Ashoka University, resigned following a controversy over his research paper, Pulapre Balakrishnan, another professor in the economics department, has put in his papers.

Mr. Das’ colleagues have written to the university’s governing body threatening a faculty exodus if he is not reinstated. The English and Creative Writing departments have also extended their support to the demand.

The university had earlier distanced itself from the paper, Democratic Backsliding in the World's Largest Democracy, in which Mr. Das argued that the BJP won a disproportionate share of closely contested parliamentary seats in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, especially in States where it was the ruling party at the time. The research was published on the Social Science Research Network on July 25.

There was no reaction available from the university on the faculty members’ demand and Prof. Balakrishnan’s resignation.

Swaraj India founder and political activist Yogendra Yadav lauded the step taken by the faculty members, saying, “Good to see some academics standing up in this climate of fear. Salute Prof Pulapre Balakrishnan”.

The faculty members of the Economics Department have written an open letter, warning that the governing body’s “interference” in the process to “investigate the merits” of his study was likely to “precipitate an exodus of faculty”.

The departments of English and Creative Writing, in a joint statement, too demanded that Mr. Das be reinstated. They also stated that they would not be able to carry out their teaching obligations "unless questions regarding basic academic freedoms are resolved before the Monsoon 2023 semester".

"The offer of resignation by our colleague Prof. Sabyasachi Das and its hasty acceptance by the University has deeply ruptured the faith that we in the faculty of the department of Economics, our colleagues, our students, and well-wishers of Ashoka University everywhere, had reposed in the university's leadership," the letter said.

"We urge the governing body to address this immediately, but no later than August 23, 2023. Failure to do so will systematically wreck the largest academic department at Ashoka and the very viability of the Ashoka vision," it added.

Demanding that the governing body unconditionally reoffer Mr. Das his position and also affirm that it will play no role in evaluating faculty research, the letter said, "Unless these questions regarding basic academic freedoms are resolved before the start of the Monsoon 2023 semester, faculty members of the department will find themselves unable to carry forward their teaching obligations in the spirit of critical enquiry and the fearless pursuit of truth that characterise our classrooms".

After Mr. Das’ research paper came under criticism, the University distanced itself and had stated that social media activity or public activism by Ashoka faculty, students or staff in their “individual capacity” does not reflect its stand.

Mr. Das later resigned and the university had accepted his resignation.

According to Mr. Das’ paper, the “disproportionate” wins were never observed in past elections by BJP or Congress, and also that they were mainly seen in States ruled by BJP at that time. His paper cites that the reasons for this could be that either the BJP committed electoral fraud or it was able to accurately predict closely contested seats and mobilise party workers to campaign more intensively.

The open letter by professors said, “[Mr.] Das did not violate any accepted norm of academic practice. Academic research is professionally evaluated through a process of peer review. The Governing Body’s interference in this process to investigate the merits of his recent study constitutes institutional harassment, curtails academic freedom, and forces scholars to operate in an environment of fear.

"We condemn this in the strongest terms and refuse as a collective to cooperate in any future attempt to evaluate the research of individual economics faculty members by the Governing Body."

The letter alleged that the actions of the Governing Body pose an existential threat to the department and is likely to precipitate an exodus of faculty and prevent the university from attracting new faculty.

The Governing Body comprises Ashoka University Chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Vice-Chancellor Somak Raychaudhury, Madhu Chandak, Puneet Dalmia, Ashish Dhawan, Pramath Raj Sinha, Siddharth Yog, Deep Kalra and Ziaa Lalka.

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