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The Hindu Editorial

27-January-2024

1. Lessons from a high-profile Harvard exit

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Education
Relevant to UPSC as it addresses global right-wing challenges to diversity, equity, and inclusion, impacting academia and political discourse. 
Context:
  • The article discusses the resignation of Harvard’s first African-American President, Claudine Gay, amid controversy.
  • It highlights the challenges posed by right-wing populism to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) values in academia globally, with implications for India, urging prudent resistance to protect academic freedom.
Episode Overview:
  • On January 2, Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s first African-American President, resigned amid controversy.
  • Right-wing activists, including Christopher Rufo and Vivek Ramaswamy, claimed credit for her departure, citing policy disagreements and alleged plagiarism.
  • Controversial events leading to her resignation included reluctance to condemn a Hamas attack on Israel and a subsequent confession before Congress.
Challenges to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI):
  • Harvard’s commitment to DEI was questioned by conservatives, linking it to affirmative action policies.
  • Rise of right-wing populism globally impacting academia, where political allegiance is scrutinized, and potentially threatening academic freedom.
  • Threats to DEI values highlighted by the conservative backlash against Claudine Gay.
Global Impact and Indian Perspective:
  • Right-wing populism’s structural changes in academia pose a threat worldwide.
  • In India, the conservative political class is emboldened by the U.S. events, impacting academic discourse.
  • India’s historical commitment to DEI, shaped by the freedom struggle, faces challenges from communal and divisive right-wing politics.
Concerns for Academic Freedom:
  • Right-wing populism’s coercive nature poses a threat to academic freedom and intellectual autonomy.
  • Upholding DEI becomes crucial to resist the potential erosion of academic values.
Challenges in India and Role of Academia:
  • Private academic institutions and foreign campuses may undermine DEI values.
  • Draft regulations in India lack clarity on reservation in admissions and faculty appointments, raising concerns.
  • Social conservatives aiming for caste-class exclusivism in academic settings may succeed under right-wing populism.
Resisting the Onslaught:
  • Prudent resistance needed against threats to DEI.
  • Overemphasis on political correctness may jeopardize liberal values, and academia must safeguard against it.
  • Critical scrutiny of leaders’ contributions is vital without devolving into idolization to maintain academic integrity.
Warning against Unscrupulous Political Correctness:
  • Unscrupulous political correctness poses a greater threat than the strength of right-wing populism to public academic institutions.
  • Balancing ideological commitment with the pursuit of truth is crucial for academia’s cognitive contribution.
Conclusion:
  • Claudine Gay’s resignation becomes a potential gateway for right-wing populists to challenge DEI values.
  • Academia faces a delicate balance between political correctness, academic freedom, and resisting external pressures.
Significance of Academic Freedom & Intellectual Autonomy
  • Truth-seeking & Knowledge Advancement: Enables open inquiry, questioning, and critique, leading to new discoveries and progress.
  • Critical Thinking & Informed Choices: Fosters independent analysis, debate, and responsible engagement with diverse perspectives.
  • Innovation & Creativity: Encourages exploration of unconventional ideas, sparking innovation and problem-solving solutions.
  • Social Progress & Accountability: Allows scrutiny of societal issues and power structures, promoting justice and positive change.
  • Individual & Collective Growth: Empowers individuals to develop their intellectual potential and fosters a vibrant, learning society.
PYQ: Should the premier institutes like IITs/IIMs be allowed to retain premier status, allowed more academic independence in designing courses and also decide mode/criteria of Selection of students. Discuss in light of the growing challenges. (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2014) (200 words/12.5m)
Practice Question: How do academic freedom and intellectual autonomy contribute to societal progress? Analyze contemporary challenges and propose solutions. (150 words/10 m)
 

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