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320 Economists Demand Ashoka University Prof’s Reinstatement

Economists from 91 institutions said that academic freedom is the cornerstone of a vibrant educational and research community.
Asoka university

Ashoka University’s economics assistant professor Sabyasachi Das, whose research paper‘Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracyhinted at possible vote ‘manipulation’ by the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election has been supported by 320 economists from 91 institutions nationwide.

The paper had triggered a massive controversy with the BJP targeting Das, who subsequently resigned.

Demanding Das’s immediate reinstatement on Saturday, the economists said in a statement that “academic freedom is the cornerstone of a vibrant educational and research community, and that everyone must have the right to pursue knowledge, share their findings, and engage in open dialogue without the fear of censorship or retribution”, IANS reported.

“We stand in solidarity with professor Sabyasachi Das and extend our support for the demands of the economics department at Ashoka University,” they said and urged the university’s governing body to “immediately reinstate”Das “unconditionally”.

Within a few days of Das’s resignation, another professor from the department, Pulapre Balakrishnan, quit, The Wirereported. Balakrishnan, who has worked at Oxford University, the Indian Statistical Institute, the Indian Institute of Management in Kozhikode and the World Bank, has authored several well-regarded books, including India’s Economy from Nehru to Modi in 2022.

Earlier, several departments of the Sonepat-based private university had demanded the unconditional and immediate reinstatement of Das and Balakrishnan.

The economics department had alleged that the institute’s governing body’s interference in investigating “the merits” of the paper will likely “precipitate an exodus of faculty”.

A letter addressed to the university’s governing body by the department on Wednesday read: “The offer of resignation by our colleague professor 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.”

Claiming that Das “didn’t violate any accepted norm of academic practice”, the department wrote: “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.” 

The department “condemned this in the strongest terms” and refused as a “collective to cooperate in any future attempt to evaluate the research of individual economics faculty members by the governing body”, which includes chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee and vice-chancellor Somak Raychaudhury.

Alleging the governing body’s actions “pose an existential threat to the department, the letter warned: “It is likely to precipitate an exodus of faculty and prevent us from attracting new faculty.”

The department demanded that Das should be offered his position “unconditionally” and that the governing body should not play any role in “evaluating faculty research through any Committee or any other structure”.If the issue is not addressed by August 23, the department wrote, it will “systematically wreck the largest academic department at Ashoka and the very viability of the Ashoka vision”.

The departments of English and creative writing too wrote to governing body. “We stand by our colleagues in the department of economics and echo their demand that professor Sabyasachi Das’s position in Ashoka be reinstated,” they wrote in an email. 

“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,” the departments wrote.

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