On June 16, 2023, South Asian University (SAU) suspended four faculty members for supporting ongoing student protests that had begun in Fall 2022 against a reduction in student stipends (see report).
The suspension of four faculty members, Snehashish Bhattacharya (Economics), Srinivas Burra (Legal Studies), Irfanullah Farooqi (Sociology and Social Sciences), and Ravi Kumar (Sociology and Social Sciences), came after an investigation by a fact-finding committee established by SAU, an intergovernmental university funded by the governments of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, to investigate faculty members’ involvement in the protests. In November 2022, after the university expelled or suspended five student protesters, fifteen faculty members wrote to SAU’s administration, voicing concern over the university’s actions and requesting that the administration start a dialogue with students. In December 2022, the administration warned five faculty members to withdraw their support from student protesters and to refrain from questioning the university’s decisions. A fact-finding committee was subsequently established in March 2023. The committee reportedly asked the faculty members currently suspended to provide written answers to over 130 to 150 questions within a day. After the four faculty members did not answer the questions, saying that the request was impossible to fulfill, they received suspension letters for alleged “misconduct” under Regulation 17.8 and the code of conduct prescribed in the by-laws of the university. However, the nature of the misconduct has not been clearly specified.
More than 500 academics and intellectuals from across the world have written to foreign ministers of eight member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and to its Secretary-General, urging them to intervene and revoke the suspensions.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the suspension of faculty members by a higher education institution for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Higher education officials should respect scholars’ rights and refrain from disciplinary actions that restrict or retaliate against nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the damage to the immediate victims, disciplinary actions aimed to discourage or punish support for student protests on campus undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy and democratic society generally.