The resignation of insightful and widely admired public intellectual Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, star columnist of the multi-editions Indian Express, from the faculty of the high-profile crowd-funded Ashoka University (AU), Sonipat (Delhi NCR), has severely dented the carefully curated reputation of this new genre private liberal arts university. AU was promoted in 2014 with the objective of providing liberal arts education with “highest level of academic integrity”.
In 2017, its trustees and management were able to persuade Oxford and Princeton alum Mehta, then president of the Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Policy Research, to come aboard as vice chancellor on condition that he would be free to write his weekly column for the daily. However, quite obviously Mehta’s anti-establishment weekly column in the Express notable for its unsparing criticism of the BJP/NDA government, was too forthright for the noveaux riche trustees of this professedly independent university. In 2019, Mehta stepped down as vice chancellor and more recently resigned from the faculty after he was informally informed by the promoter-trustees that he had become a “political liability” for AU. Since then, all hell’s broken loose with academics abroad, and faculty and students of AU up in arms.
Your editor who travelled a long way to AU’s Sonipat campus five years ago to write a cover feature on this high-minded private university’s debut, isn’t surprised by this turn of events. Right then, it became apparent that the trustees who manage the university want to have their cake and eat it too. Since this publication was not quite in the pink at that time, it was agreed that AU’s regular lensman would shoot the cover photograph.
However, after the issue was out, AU’s billionaire trustees who practice a curious mix of philanthropy and penny-pinching parsimony, declined to pay their pricey photographer’s Rs.32,000 bill. After a somewhat unseemly argument, the bill was paid in full by this publication. Similarly, it’s very likely that the AU trustees recruited Mehta with tall promises, but became weak-kneed about honouring them.