Ashoka University: Row over disbanding data centre

According to Ashoka University’s political data centre, Professor Verniers was ‘forced’ to leave, while the varsity claims he was let go for not clearing the tenure process

September 13, 2023 11:56 am | Updated 11:56 am IST - New Delhi

A exterior view of Ashoka University.

A exterior view of Ashoka University. | Photo Credit: File

A new controversy has erupted at the Ashoka University, Sonepat over the ‘disbanding’ of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD), and the removal of scholar and founding director of the centre Gilles Verniers.

The Centre’s Scientific Board, consisting of eminent academics and intellectuals such as Christophe Jaffrelot and former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Qureshi has sent an open letter alleging that the University disbanded the TCPD and its founding director Gilles Verniers was “forced to leave” the institution.

The members said that an empirical study of democracy and elections requires evidence and the TCPD provided quality open-access data in real time along with “cutting edge analysis” of India’s elections.

“We now write to state our regret that the Trivedi Centre’s founder and director was forced to leave, and that the university did not inform the scientific board about decisions that affect not only the leadership of the centre but also its future as an institution,” the letter said.

They said in its seven years of operation, scholars at TCPD have produced 16 groundbreaking datasets, led 20 research projects, organised 80 research seminars, published 20 research papers and book chapters, and organised two major conferences on computational social sciences.

“The team has also published more than 300 analytical articles in the Indian press and built high-quality academic partnerships. In 2017, it was awarded the label of ‘International Research Partner’ from the Centre for National Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, in association with CERI-SciencesPo,” the members said in the letter.

“Currently, data made public through the TCPD website is a primary source for nearly all scholarship and commentary on Indian politics. The data are frequently used by scholars and journalists and have a substantial impact on the research and coverage of Indian elections,” they said expressing disappointment that the Board was not consulted before substantial changes were made governing how the Centre is run and situated within its home institution, in breach of academic norms.

The university, however, refuted the charges and said Professor Verniers did not clear the university’s stringent tenure process.

“Faculty who do not qualify for tenure exit the university within three semesters. Professor Verniers has not been teaching at Ashoka for the last one year, and has now chosen to leave the university. The university appreciates Professor Verniers’ many contributions as a teacher and towards building a strong reference source of political data for researchers and students,” the university said in a statement.

It added that some its centres and offices are planned to be integrated with the newly established Centre for Data Sciences and Analytics. “The TCPD is among them, and TCPD’s proposed integration with the new Centre has been communicated to the TCPD Scientific Board recently,” it said.

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