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South Asian University adopts punitive approach towards students and faculty

A civil society petition to Professor Dr. Dev Raj Adhikari, Chair, University Grants Commission, Nepal; and the Chair, Governing Body, South Asian University, New Delhi

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As concerned scholars and academics with deep connections to South Asia, we are taking the liberty of writing to you about the troubling events at the South Asian University (SAU), New Delhi. We urge you to intervene as the Chair of SAU’s highest decision-making body, the Governing Board, to prevent lasting damage to the proud history of SAU as a unique South Asian institution of higher learning.
At the heart of our concern about what is happening in SAU is the punitive approach adopted by the university authorities towards both students and faculty. Student protest and faculty dissent are a normal part of the life of an institution whose mission is to encourage independent enquiry and foster an intellectual climate where the freedom to express varying opinions is assured to all regardless of rank or position. Unfortunately, the university authorities, all of whom hold office in an acting capacity, seem to have pre-emptively chosen a confrontational and even vindictive path.
As we understand it, student protest against the unexplained (and highly unusual) reduction in student fellowships began in September 2022, and expanded into the demand for adequate student representation on various university bodies. In response, the authorities have twice called the police into the campus to disperse protestors, taken strong disciplinary action against five students, and (most recently) served suspension orders on four faculty members. As far as we know, the methods used by the students did not go beyond protest meetings, gheraos and an indefinite hunger strike – all part of the usual forms of peaceful protest. The many faculty members who wrote and spoke to the administrative authorities urging a different course of action that might reconcile students and win back their trust, have similarly acted well within democratic norms. To selectively single out five students and four faculty members for disciplinary action – even as the protests were dying down after the move to the new campus – seems too authoritarian and vindictive a policy for a university administration. SAU’s own regulations require that all such extraordinary actions must be ratified “forthwith” by the Executive Committee, which is currently dormant, not having met for several years. That is why your urgent intervention is critical.
SAU holds pride of place as a unique transnational institution representing the South Asian region. If the short-sighted and vengeful authoritarian acts of an “acting” administration are allowed to take effect, they will ensure that SAU – like manyother once-proud South Asian institutions – will go into terminal decline. We urge you to revoke the disciplinary actions against students and faculty. We appeal to you to save SAU before it is too late.
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