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Top academics ‘distressed’ to learn of Mehta quitting under political pressure

New Delhi, March 21 (IANS) Hundreds of leading academics, including from top universities like Yale, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, UCLA, Johns Hopkins, Oxford and Cambridge, have written an open letter to the trustees, administrators, and faculty of Ashoka University, expressing solidarity with Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

“We are distressed to learn of Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation under political pressure from Ashoka University.

“A prominent critic of the current Indian government and defender of academic freedom, he had become a target for his writings. It seems that Ashoka’s Trustees, who should have treated defending him as their institutional duty, instead all but forced his resignation,” they said in the letter.

“As he put it in his eloquent resignation letter: ‘My public writing in support of a politics that tries to honor constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens is perceived to carry risks for the university’.

“We write in solidarity with Pratap Bhanu Mehta, and to reaffirm the importance of the values that he has always practiced,” the letter said.

“In political life, these are free argument, tolerance, and a democratic spirit of equal citizenship. In the university, they are free inquiry, candor, and a rigorous distinction between the demands of intellectual honesty and the pressure of politicians, funders, or ideological animus,” it said.

These values come under assault whenever a scholar is punished for the content of public speech. When that speech is in defense of precisely these values, the assault is especially shameful, it added.

“The university must be a home for fearless inquiry and criticism. We support Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his practice of the highest values of intellectual inquiry and public life,” the letter said.

The signatories include Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale; Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor, Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard; Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies, University of Oxford, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Charles Beitz, Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics, Princeton University; Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University; Richard Bourke, Professor of the History of Political Thought, University of Cambridge; Jennifer Bussell, Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley; Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean, School of Law, University of California, Berkeley; Joshua Foa Dienstag, Professor of Law, Shapiro Family Chair Professor of Modern Political Theory, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); Lisa Disch, Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan; Rosalind Dixon, Professor of Law, University of New South Wales, Co-President, International Society of Public Law; John Dunn, Professor of Political Theory, Emeritus, University of Cambridge among others.

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