Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Harvard University Professor's letter to IIT M Director

Professor David Mumford is a Fields Medal winner (Mathematics' top prize); he has been the President of the International Mathematical Union, and is one of the most powerful and influential mathematicians of our times.

Dear Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurthi,

Although, as a foreigner, I acknowledge that it is difficult to understand the complexities of local disputes, I write as a long term friend of many distinguished academics in India and especially in Chennai. In addition, I have several times enjoyed the hospitality of IITM's guest house and have had the honor of giving a number of talks at your Institute. I am in your and your colleagues debt for this warm reception.

But, all this said, I have strong ideas about the importance of free speech and especially the importance of allowing students to discuss vital and difficult issues that confront society today. I have also become increasingly aware, during my nearly 50 years of visiting India, of the deep social struggles that quite possibly are coming to a head as India takes a central role in the world. For all these reasons, I was deeply shocked that the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle was "derecognised". I believe campuses must allow open discussion of divisive issues even when it offends some people so that all aspects of an issue are out in the open. Today's youth are tomorrow's leaders and one wants them to think deeply about the direction in which we are all headed.

On a more personal note, I see many similarities between India's Dalit problems and the African-American problems that have rocked the US since its beginnings. For this reason, I personally take Dr. Ambedkar as one of my heroes.

sincerely yours,

David Mumford,
Prof Emeritus Harvard Univ
US Acad Sci, For Mem RS

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