New Delhi: The Department of Political Science of the Ashoka University on Thursday unanimously expressed its solidarity with assistant professor Sabyasachi Das after the varsity accepted his resignation, following which another professor in the Economics Department, Pulapre Balakrishnan also stepped down in protest.
Das’s paper, which suggested voter manipulation in 2019 elections, had sparked a controversy, follwoing which he tendered his resignation.
In a letter, the Department of Political Science said: “Prof Sabyasachi resigned from the Department of Economics following the University’s stand distancing itself from his work and the Governing Council’s decision to investigate his research. We demand greater transparency about the factors that caused Das to offer his resignation and its hasty acceptance by the University, especially at a time when faculty and students across departments have mobilised to support him. By now the pattern is all too familiar, especially for us as a department.
“We believe that Prof Das did not violate any accepted norm of academic practice. We strongly condemn the actions of the Governing Body. Through its interference and the suggestion of constituting a committee, the Governing Body has questioned the credibility of the peer review system and in effect has cast aspersions against scholars at Ashoka and elsewhere. These steps have besmirched the name of the university and its claims of becoming a top research institute.”
Also expressing solidarity, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology said on Friday: “In support of our colleagues in the Department of Economics. Over the past few days, we have come to know that Professor Das was subjected to unusual and disturbing interference in his academic work. We are distressed in the degree to which academic freedom was not respected by the university and the Governing Body.
“We hope that the Governing Body will extend an unconditional apology to Das and to the faculty. In doing so, we expect them to reaffirm fidelity to the university’s policy on academic freedom and to the ideals on which Ashoka was founded. By its very nature, social research often covers sensitive and controversial topics, and any line arbitrarily drawn between the political and the academic is unsustainable.
“We look forward to the long overdue strengthening of important institutional safeguards to protect academic freedom in both letter and spirit. The process of rebuilding trust must start with meeting the demands laid out by the Department of Economics, including the unconditional offer of reinstatement to Dr Das.”
In its letter on Wedmesday, the Department of English and Creative Writing had said: “This is to state that we stand by our colleagues in the Department of Economics and echo their demand that Sabyasachi Das’s position in Ashoka be reinstated. We also demand accountability from the governing board and senior colleagues responsible for this debacle, and seek affirmation from the governing body that it will play no role in evaluating faculty research or make senior faculty carry out this exercise by appointing ad hoc committees or bodies.
“We hope, too, that Ashoka’s official social media handles will cease putting out statements discrediting academic research by its faculty members in the future. Unless 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.”
Earlier, the University Vice-Chancellor Somak Raychaudhury had said that Das was “currently on leave from Ashoka, serving as visiting faculty at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (Deemed to be University) in Pune”.
“After making extensive efforts to dissuade him, the University has accepted his resignation,” he added.
Raychaudhury said that Das’s paper on Indian elections was the subject of a widespread controversy after being shared recently on social media, where it was perceived by many to reflect the views of the University.
“At Ashoka University, members of the faculty have freedom to teach and carry out research in the areas they choose — the University affords its faculty and students what it believes is the most enabling environment for academic freedom at an institution of higher education in the country,” V-C Raychaudhary said.
“The University does not direct or moderate the research conducted by its faculty and students. This academic freedom also applied to him.”