Thirteen fellows, out of a total of forty, have resigned due to “serious concerns about the vision and governance of the Australia India Institute”.
Thirteen fellows of Australia India Institute, including Prof Ian Woolford of La Trobe University, Melbourne, Professor Hari Bapuji and A/Professor Bina Fernandez of University of Melbourne and Senior Lecturer Priya Chako of University of Adelaide, have written a letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne raising “serious concerns about the vision and governance of the Australia India Institute (Aii) given the University’s values and commitments.”
“Those of us with affiliations to the Aii are resigning from our positions as Academic Fellows of the Institute. We take this action after several years of repeated unsuccessful efforts to effect change,” wrote the fellows in their letter sent on 29 March.
The letter says that twenty-four Academic Fellows wrote to Professor Michael Wesley on 15 December 2020, expressing their concerns.
According to this letter, these fellows were concerned that Aii was being oriented “around the bilateral inter-governmental Australian Indian relationship.”
They recommended “engagement with a broad cross-section of Indian universities, schools, NGOs, the media, artists and others in conformity with the values of the University of Melbourne.”
“The new strategic vision for the Aii, expressed through its 2022-2026 strategy, the events it has recently held, and communication from leadership takes exactly the course that the signatories warned against. Moreover, this strategic vision was implemented with no meaningful consultation with researchers and other Aii stakeholders, not even academic fellows of the Aii,” reads the letter.
The academic fellows “emphasised the need to shape the future of the Aii around the values of academic freedom, independence, impartiality, inclusiveness, quality, diversity and respect for scholarly dissent.”
They noted that “events and practices [of AII have] threaten[ed] researchers’ ability to hold open, intellectually-rigorous debates on pressing contemporary events in India and the region.”
“We note that Prof Sarah Biddulph’s valuable report on threats to academic freedom has since captured some of these examples. Professor Wesley, in meeting with some of the fellows, assured them that these concerns were being addressed,” it reads.
The fellows say during these last months, they have witnessed the same concerning behaviours relating to academic freedom.
“Following some criticism on an Aii fellow’s talk on invisible inequalities (touching on class and caste), the Aii declined to support the publication of a piece aimed at discussing the attacks on Gandhi (in view of the attempted beheading of his statue in Melbourne) prepared by two Aii fellows (including one who gave the talk). It was communicated to them that the Aii has decided to “stay away from the topic a little longer”. The fellows then approached Pursuit, which published the piece. We also noted that an Ear to Asia podcast entitled Caste and the Corporation, in India and abroad by these two fellows has also not been included on the website of Aii, although those by others have been included. We think that those who engage in such critical scholarship, despite facing hate from supremacist groups, should be supported rather than silenced. In this context, the Aii not supporting the fellows is deeply concerning. More broadly, the tone or format of some events and activities on India have carried the flavour of propaganda, celebrating the current Indian government and its dominant culture and language, while overlooking or downplaying the current regime’s oppression and marginalisation of Indian minority, dissenting and critical viewpoints and identities,” said the fellows in the letter.
They have also raised concerns about the process, lack of diversity and assumptions about funding.
The fellows have asked the chancellor to “re-consider whether the university’s financial commitment to Aii as currently imagined is justifiable in financially constrained times across the university sector.”
“As experts on India, we have doubts that its quasi-diplomatic focus is consistent with, and furthers, the mission of the University,” they have said.
NRI Affairs has approached the University of Melbourne for their comment. Their response is awaited.
The fellows who have signed the letter, are:
Bina Fernandez, A/Professor, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Academic Fellow, Aii
Hari Bapuji, Professor, Dept. of Management and Marketing, University of Melbourne, Academic Fellow, Aii
Priya Chacko, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Adelaide, Academic Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Aii
Farrah Ahmed, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, (former) Academic Fellow, Aii
Mridula Nath Chakraborty, Senior Lecturer, Monash Intercultural Lab, Faculty of Arts, Monash University, Academic Fellow, Aii
Ian Woolford, Lecturer (Hindi Language), Department of Languages and Cultures, La Trobe University, Academic Fellow, Aii (resigning)
Devleena Ghosh, Professor (Retired), Faculty of Communications, University of Technology Sydney, (former) Academic Fellow, Aii
Tanya Jakimow, Associate Professor, School of Culture, History and Languages, Australian National University, (former) Academic Fellow,Aii
Amanda Gilbertson, Senior Research Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Academic Fellow, Aii
Assa Doron, Professor, School of Culture, History and Languages, Australian National University,
Academic Fellow, Aii
Purushottama Bilimoria, A/Professor (Honorary), School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne, (former) Academic Fellow, Aii
Anthony D’Costa, Professor, Eminent Scholar in Global Studies and Professor of Economics, College of Business University of Alabama in Huntsville, (former) Academic Fellow Aii
Ramaswami Harindranath, Professor, School of the Arts & Media, University of New South Wales, (former) Academic Fellow, Aii.