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Ashoka students begin boycott in class

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New Delhi: Students at Ashoka University began their two-day boycott on Monday to demand changes at the university, including the distribution of administrative powers from university founders to elected students, administrators and faculty members.

The boycott came in the wake of the resignations of two professors Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian last week, and despite a statement issued on Sunday by both, and the university expressing deep regret for the exits and acknowledging mistakes in institutional processes.

As students boycotted most of the hours during the day, nearly 900 students attended a class planned by Pratap Bhanu Mehta and discussed Karl Marx and his famous work Das Kapital.

This was a planned hour for Western Political Thought and we discussed Karl Marx and his work as it is in our curriculum. There was no discussion on the current crisis and the class proceeded normally. Since it became open to all students at the university, nearly 600 students attended the classroom using a digital platform along with hundreds already on campus, said Biplob Kumar Das, 21, a final year undergraduate student of Science Political in dependency. University Student Body Ashoka University Student Government said a total of about 900 students attended the lecture.

News of Mehta’s departure erupted on Thursday (he resigned on March 15) and caused a stir among students, faculties and the largest academic community in India and abroad. In his resignation he wrote that after a meeting with the Founders, it has become very clear to me that my association with the University can be considered a political responsibility because of his public writings. On Friday, Subramanian, the former chief economic adviser, resigned, saying Mehta’s departure reflected poorly on the ability of universities to defend academic freedom.

On Sunday, Mehta wrote to students urging them not to postpone the issue, and university chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee wrote in a letter to students and faculty that the founders never interfered with academic freedom.

The board of directors met with the student body on Sunday, but the previously planned boycott was not interrupted.

Dozens of students were present on campus on Monday dressed in black to record their disagreement over the Mehta and Subramanian exits. The lessons boycott is scheduled to continue until Tuesday.

While students boycotted most of the classes Monday, they said several hours were held using non-university resources.

A major request of the students has been to hold an open meeting with the founders of the University. Despite repeated calls, messages and emails, university officials declined to comment on the matter.

The Board of Trustees, however, said Monday that the founders have never intervened, nor do they intend to interfere, in the academic functioning of the university.

The founders are supportive of the appointment of the Ombudsperson (as previously decided) until 31 May 2021. The Chancellor and Vice Chancellor will nominate candidates for this position for approval by the Governing Body, the statement read.

The statement also called for the strengthening of existing protocols and processes such as the Academic Council and the Board of Management that separate academic functioning from the Founders.

University officials including University Chancellor Ashoka Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Vice Chancellor Malabika Sarkar, Board of Trustees Chairman Ashish Dhawan on Sunday assured the students in a statement, also signed by Mehta and Subramanian, that they would work to resolve the crisis.

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