US varsity returns USD 3 million grant for Hindu studies chair

Washington, Feb 23: A top US university is "walking away" from the USD 3 million grants it received to establish endowed chairs in Hindu and India studies after faculty members and students alleged that the donors were "extremely ideologically driven" and have "extreme right-wing notions", a media report has said.

As a result, question hangs on the future of proposed chairs at the University of California Irwin (UCI), for which it received USD 3 million from California-based Dharma Civilisation Foundation (DCF). The university has also decided to review another USD 3 million in gifts it received for another two chairs.

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The four chairs are Thakkar Family-DCF Presidential Chair in Vedic and Indic Civilisation Studies; Swami Vivekananda-DCF Presidential Chair in Modern India Studies; Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies by Harvinder and Asha Sahota and Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair in Jain Studies by Meera and Jasvant Modi.

Some faculty questioned why the university administration didn’t identify red flags regarding the gifts much earlier in the process. "You didn't have to do too much due diligence," Catherine Liu, a professor of film and media studies at UC Irvine, said of the foundation. "I went right to their website and it immediately read to me as extremely ideologically driven and of having “extreme right-wing notions."

An ad hoc faculty committee in its report has recommended the University "against accepting any endowment" regardless of the changes that might be made to the gift agreement.

The committee in its report noted that the agreements related to all the four chairs included language that is not consistent with University policies related to religious and academic freedom.

Such a recommendation comes after 150 professors and educators throughout the international academic community collaborated on a petition published in early February denouncing the University of California, Irvine's decision to take this donation.

"We are troubled by news reports that the [DCF] has put forward its own list of acceptable candidates based on race and religion. Further, we are concerned about reports that the DCF has already brought their favoured candidates to the UC Irvine campus, in the absence of any advertised search for these positions," said the petition signed by professors from Yale, Cambridge, Harvard, and several UCs, among others.

In another letter, UCI students and faculty expressed concern over DCF donation, and the impact it might have on the credibility of Hindu studies at the university.

"The HEC recommends that we do not proceed with the chairs endowed by the Dharma Civilisation Foundation," Georges Van Den Abbeele, the dean of Irvine's School of Humanities, was quoted as saying by Inside Higher Ed. The report was posted by the University on its website.

"I will support these and other recommendations and will be working actively with HEC and relevant faculty on the recommended actions," Abbeele said. The University and the Dharma Foundation did not respond to questions send on the gifts related to the chairs.



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