Sunday, May 19, 2024

SAARC urged by scholars worldwide to ‘revoke suspension’ of SAU professors; internal support lacking

More than 500 academicians from universities in India, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other nations have penned a letter to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), urging “an immediate revocation of the unfair and arbitrary suspension” of four professors from the South Asian University (SAU) in Delhi.

The academicians have urged the secretary general of SAARC to “intervene in this regard and call upon the SAU administration to immediately revoke the unfair and arbitrary suspension orders and establish a congenial academic environment in the university.”

Through the letter directed to foreign ministers of SAARC nations, the academicians appealed to intervene regarding the same.

The four faculty members were suspended by the university on 16 June 2023 for alleged ‘misconduct’, but the nature of the misconduct has not been mentioned in the suspension letter. This comes months after faculty members wrote emails to the university community “question[ing] the compassionless manner in which the SAU administration dealt with the students who were protesting a decrease in their monthly stipend last year and asking for fair representation in sexual harassment and gender sensitization committees.”

While the suspended faculty members are getting support and solidarity from other institutions and even from the international academic community, colleagues of the professors are yet to step up and lend their support to them.

A faculty member on condition of anonymity told Maktoob: “Not even a consoling message has been sent by faculty from within SAU, let alone a visible solidarity or a written statement in favor of suspended colleagues even when leading intellectuals globally have demanded revocation of suspension.”

He also mentioned that there are a few colleagues who perceive the entire process as unjust, but they are hesitant to voice their opinions publicly, fearing potential arbitrary actions from the administration.

“The censuring actions taken against the professors stand in conflict with the traditions of openness, dialogue, and mutuality that are the hallmarks of the Indian education system. They also stand in conflict with a faculty’s obligations to speak on students’ behalf and ensure a safe and supportive learning environment that promotes the well-being and educational development of students. Teaching, conducting research, and contributing to the academic community are all integral parts of a faculty member’s professional responsibilities”, read the letter written by the academicians.

The letter further reads, “…the suspension order violates the basic rights of faculty members to exercise their professional skills and fulfill their obligations, while at the same time, denying the students of valuable instruction and mentorship…”

Among the universities outside India which have signed the letter condemning the arbitrary action are demanding “to revoke the unfair and arbitrary suspension orders and establish a congenial academic environment in the university” includes, the University of Princeton, Columbia, the University of California, the London School of Economics and the SOAS University of London.

Academics from Indian Universities, such as the Jawahar Lal Nehru University, the University of Delhi, the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata, and the Aligarh Muslim University are part of the 502 signatories.

The letter bears the signatures of renowned global scholars and intellectuals such as Irfan Habib, Akeel Bilgrami, Amit Bhaduri, Anu Muhammad, Anupama Rao, Costas Lapavitsas, David Ruccio, Gyan Prakash, Jayadeva Uyangoda, Jayati Ghosh, Kevin Anderson, Mukul Kesavan, Nancy Folbre, Partha Chatterjee, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande, Sheldon Pollock, S. D. Muni, Tony Anghie, Zoya Hasan, and various others.

“The arbitrariness and callous disregard with which the administrators have taken actions against the professors violate the norms of accountability, transparency, integrity, and sustainability of academic institutions. This will undermine a vibrant and productive academic community and can erode the trust and academic character of the university”, the letter added.

SAU is an international institution of higher learning that was established in 2010 through an inter-governmental agreement between SAARC member-states: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The administration of the university is coordinated through the foreign/external affairs ministries of the above countries.

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