Static Societies Are Doomed Societies: Raghuram Rajan On Ashoka Resignation Row

Raghuram Rajan has termed academicians Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian’s resignation from the Ashoka University as a setback to free speech and liberalism in India.

A good university is one that creates an environment where ideas for progress and change arise, the former Reserve Bank of India governor said in a Linkedin blog post on Friday. “Static societies where criticism is silenced are doomed societies, which eventually succumb to the weight of their authoritarianism and groupthink,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mehta, a political scientist, stepped down as professor in the department of economics, stating in his resignation letter to the university’s Vice Chancellor Malabika Sarkar that his “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.”

That followed the exit of the former chief economic adviser. In a letter to Sarkar, he said, “That even Ashoka—with its private status and backing by private capital—can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom is ominously disturbing.”

Citing a report by University of Chicago’s Kalven Committee, Rajan said universities should not take political sides. “…the role of a great university is to provide a protected space for its academicians and students to engage freely in open public debate, much as Indian universities like Nalanda and Taxila used to,” he said.

The university’s founders, according to Rajan, should have realised that their mission was not to take political sides but to continue to protect the right of people like professor Mehta to speak, for in doing so, they were enabling Ashoka to make its greatest contribution to India’s wellbeing — identifying what is going wrong and encouraging us all to remedy it.”

The resignations have created a stir among the students and faculty of the privately-funded liberal arts institute, who sent two strongly-worded statements to the vice-chancellor, and staged demonstrations inside the campus.

The event also garnered support from academics and scholars from across the world who wrote an open letter to the trustees of Ashoka University, expressing their “distress” over the resignations.

Rajan said that Mehta, as a true academic, is an “equal opportunity critic” and hoped that he would continue to be one of the intellectual leaders of liberalism in India. “Yet liberalism has been set back by the actions of Ashoka University. It’s unclear what exactly motivated Ashoka’s founders to remove their hitherto laudable protection.”

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