The much-hyped controversy on the resignation of Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University has got wide space in the media. People have got a chance to discuss the role of academic freedom in universities in India. This is a very well known fact that all want liberal funding from the government but all want full freedom. Now, the government is inviting private investments in the universities and our academics are obsessed with the foreign model of Oxford, Cambridge and Harward, the interest of teachers and students are not at all a prime concern in the institutions of higher education.
Now, the prime concern of learners is to collect certificates and degrees. They are not at all interested in studies and knowledge. Teachers are more interested in research, projects, seminars, conferences, foreign visits etc and to make their C.V. loaded with paper achievements and collecting points. All these activities and financial resources cannot create world-ranking and high-impact educational institutions. Failure of Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Canada is the latest example of this kind.
Singapore invited institutions of higher education in the west to develop their campuses in Singapore and they got very liberal financial assistance from the Singapore government. Yale University established an undergraduate college of liberal arts in Singapore in collaboration with the National University of Singapore (NUS).
However, this experiment failed in Singapore and it never developed as a real equivalent to Yale University. Ultimately, Yale-NUS did not allow students to create branches of political parties and other groups. It also banned strikes, dissent, criticism and any political activity to discipline the students and teachers.
The much-hyped concept of freedom of expression or speech is created by these western institutions. Para-dropped academics who were the production of these western universities but could not get any position there rushed to India with these lifted from the west. However, the too much liberal context in which the Indian universities works, these borrowed concepts disturb the academic environment and keep away serious scholars and teachers.
So financial support is not the prime concern. Experiences of Singapore, Malaysia, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia have proved this beyond any doubt. Economics historian from Harvard, Alexander Gerschenkron very correctly observed that “intellectual climate” in India is strikingly different from those of early rulers from whom they borrow different concept like “freedom of speech.”
As a result, the need and working of educational institutions cannot ape (such as academic freedom, dissent) the concept of their ousted colonisers.
In India, governments want educational institutions and institutions of the nation to take part in social and national development, even government officials serving in universities. Hence, the refusal of director IIM Ahmedabad, Errol D’Souza was not appreciated by the Ministry of Education (MoE) to review a PhD thesis already approved by the IIM.
In India, academic freedom, the most important and fundamental feature in western universities, has no value and discipline and expertise restrict academics and scholars. This clash of concept and borrowed ideology was seen in Ashoka University. Prof. Mehta followed the borrowed concept blindly in a nation where participation of academics in dissent, politics and criticism of governments is not welcome.
It is not a guarantee of the freedom of expression, dissent, debate promotes excellence and world-class institutions. Academicians and scholars have to be loyal to local needs and local systems. After all, it is their responsibility to loyal to their world. There should be a balance in university affairs and the freedom of speech, debate and dissent to create and flourish world-class institutions.
The governments and the leaders can provide a positive consultative role relevant to the excellence of the institutions. Creating and promoting internal academics in a time-bound manners cum seniority, as professors, deans and vice-chancellors. These faculty members would provide a more efficient and healthy university fraternity and leadership.
A good relationship with students, faculty, authorities and alumni is very critical and important. There must be clarity and division of powers and roles. Academic freedom, duty and discipline go hand-in-hand. The political masters should not dictate governance. The small group of nit-pickers should not be allowed to control all the voices. They should not be allowed to encumber the academic and administrative working of the universities.
Now there are no limits to freedom and debates. All respect diverse points and duty. It is also the responsibility of everyone that ambience prevails on the campuses. A tiny number of students and teachers, guided by their political masters cannot hold the universities to ransom. Media is always there to give oxygen to such elements. This small group of students and teachers are against the very idea of freedom of expression and dissent.
Now tolerants are most intoleranats and liberals are most narrow-minded. They are against the very idea they advocate. The objective of this write-up to understand reality through the lane of divergent opinion. Selective media reporting has created a comedy of strife that suits the ideological composition of a handful of self-styled scholars of eminence. They are so much intolerant to others that they create all the obstacles in the appointments and promotions of others. So, to meet all these problems systems should be simple. All the eligible candidates for the promotions should be promoted automatically as professors, deans and vice-chancellor in a time-bound manner to the democratisation of the university space.
This will give a larger segment of the university community a space to work smoothly.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
END OF ARTICLE