Another one I didn't make up

From IvyGate:

The D reported yesterday on lecturer Priya Venkatesan (also undergrad '90 and a Med School researcher) who, in a series of strangely passive-aggressive group emails, announced a plan to sue her students for workplace harassment based on "intolerance of ideas." The emails—reported first in Dartlog and forwarded to a zillion email lists within seconds—also contain info on Venkatesan's upcoming Academy X rip-off where she plans to "name names." Venkatesan tapped into the email list from her Winter 2008 Writing 5 class:

Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2008 20:56:35
From: Priya Venkatesan
Subject: WRIT.005.17.18-WI08: Possible lawsuit

Dear former class members of Science, Technology and Society:

I tried to send an email through my server but got undelivered messages. I regret to inform you that I am pursuing a lawsuit in which I am accusing some of you (whom shall go unmentioned in this email) of violating Title VII of anti-federal discrimination laws.

The feeling that I am getting from the outside world is that Dartmouth is considered a bigoted place, so this may not be news and I may be successful in this lawsuit. I am also writing a book detailing my eperiences as your instructor, which will "name names" so to speak. I have all of your evaluation and these will be reproduced in the book.

Have a nice day.

The phrase "anti-federal discrimination laws" made me think she was emailing drunk; follow-up messages and press statements indicate that Venkatesan is, in fact, serious.

Few of Venkatesan's students deny disliking her; they just say it had nothing to do with race, gender, or any other federally-protected characteristic. Rather, the lecturer embodied that special brand of neurotic pedagogical tyranny that includes making rules against questions, refusing to interact with students, and, according to the D,

cancelation of class for a week after the class applauded a student who contradicted Venkatesan’s opinions about post-modernism

Spontaneous applause during a class on literary criticism? Obviously, there is something very wrong with this picture, so outrageously shocking as to shake Venkatesan to her very core: In a class at an Ivy League university, students were paying attention. Worse: They were engaged, and they cared.

"I was horrified," Venkatesan said. "My responsibility is not to stifle them, but when they clapped at his comment, I thought that crossed the line ... I was facing intolerance of ideas and intolerance of freedom of expression." ...She canceled class because the incident caused her "intellectual and emotional distress," she said.

Then again, being outsmarted by a room full of eighteen-year-olds must be pretty humiliating. A kinder choice would have been emitting a spontaneous snore or two, then preoccupying themselves with a more innocuous form of disrespect, like text messaging during class or ostentatious yawning.

Possibly awesome turn of logic: If the students' crime was "intolerance of ideas," and the idea in question was post-modernism, does that mean post-modernism is Venkatesan's religion? In which case academia has finally curled so far inward as to truly out-po-mo itself. "Where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain," indeed!

After the jump: More emails from Venkatesan and Dartmouth authorities, and a sample of Venkatesan's evaluations.

The objects of Ventakesan's suit received two more emails, both of which were also sent to "editor@dartmoth.com," probably a mixed-up attempt to get a hold of the D, whose editors occupy "editor@thedartmouth.com." It is still unknown how Venkatesan chose these students; student evaluations are, in theory, anonymous.

From: Priya Venkatesan
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2008
Subject: Class Action Suit

Dear Student:
As a courtesy, you are being notified that you are being named in a potential class action suit that is being brought against Dartmouth College, which is being accused of violating federal anti-discrimination laws. Please do not respond to this email because it will be potentially used against you in a court of law.

Priya Venkatesan, PhD

From: Priya Venkatesan
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2008
Subject: Class Action Suit

Dear Student:

Please disregard the previous email sent by Priya Venkatesan. This is to officially inform you that you are being accused of violating Title VII pertaining to federal anti-discrimination laws, by the plaintiff, Priya Venkatesan. You are being specifically accused of, but not limited to, harassment. Please do not respond to this email as it will be used against you in a court of law.

Priya Venkatesan, PhD

Shortly thereafter, members of Venkatesan's writing course received support from freshmen dean Gail Zimmerman:

Dear Students,

It has come to my attention that many of you have been receiving emails from Prof. Priya Venkatesan as a former student in one of her Writ 5 courses. I understand that these emails have been rather distressing for you.

So that you can be informed of how the College is proceeding in response to these and to understand your own concerns, I and Tom Cormen, Director of the Writing Program, will meet with you today, Sunday, April 27 at 12:30 p.m. in Parkhurst Hall, Room 9B (located in the basement of Parkhurst). Robert Donin from legal counsel will also be joining us.

If you are unable to make this meeting, I am happy to meet with you at a later time.

Dean Zimmerman
Gail M. Zimmerman, Ed. D.
Dean of First-Year Students
Dartmouth College

The content of the above meeting is as yet unknown, though we assume it went something like this: "Don't worry, kids. Though the word 'class' is in both 'class-action' and 'class list,' your teacher can't actually sue you for being smarter than she is. We'll just sic that well-oiled machine of right-wing Dartian blowhards on her, and this whole thing will resolve itself."

Speaking of right-wing Dartians, Venkatesan wrote in to Dartlog to explain she is "not bitter at all about teaching evaluations," because she is not a teacher at all, but a research-minded lab rat now employed at some "undisclosed" institution that is even better than Dartmouth, so she doesn't even need you guys anyway, so there! Let us pray to the gods of tabloid fodder that this "undisclosed" employer doesn't actually exist, and Venkatesan is in truth living in a Super 8 Motel outside of Hanover, biding her time until this book deal comes through. Which would probably make the deal even sweeter, as fake memoirs from delusional paranoiacs are all the rage of late.

Was she really so bad? Let's shake the tip jar and see what falls out...

Venkatesan taught two sections of Writing 5, a course mandatory for all Dartmouth students who don't make some cutoff point on the SATs. Her Writing 5 course was apparently offered in two terms - Fall and Winter - and was something to do with science. My friend in the Fall07 course told me she was a ridiculous teacher - she assigned a bunch of readings about postmodernism, but three weeks into the term, nobody in the class could explain what postmodernism was.

Yeah, but who can explain what postmodernism is? Casualty of the field, really.

Last we checked, Venkatesan's course had fourteen reviews on the Dartmouth Student Assembly's student evaluations website, under the following titles:

Worst teacher I have ever had - Written by a 2011

Interesting - Written by a 2011


save yourself now - Written by a 2011

a tad ridiculous - Written by a 2011

Interesting Material but Prof. is hard to follow - Written by a 2011

Terrible class, terrible prof - Written by a 2011

Interesting Material, Bad Prof. - Written by a 2011

If she teaches here... - Written by a 2011

WORST CLASS EVER - Written by a 2011

interesting topic, boring prof - Written by a 2011

Do NOT take this course - Written by a 2011

HORRIBLE - Written by a 2011

insecurity, ego, and more - Written by a 2011
Excerpts from the above evals:

Professor Venkatesan refuses to answer questions, does not respond to questions, and lectures by reading off her notes in front of her. She did not make me a better writer, she did not explain the concepts well, but she did manage to make my life a living hell.

She offered no help in class or in office hours for papers. When handed a hard copy she read the paper, said it was great, but then gave terrible grades to many students. Later on she began refusing to grade papers and gave the reason that judging by our peer editing abilities we didn't need her help on papers. She missed/cancelled 5 or 6 classes and as a result the syllabus was squished into 3 weeks and she changed the final project about 4 times. A TERRIBLE CLASS.

In terms of who will be most damaged by this ordeal, Venkatesan's students are mostly out of the question, since wisecracking a flustered professor isn't illegal, nor are negative course evals. (Though, yeah, it must suck to have a profession that requires listening to our gripes, and we extend honest apologies to every teacher who has been forced to deal with us.) No, the real race-to-the-bottom will be between Venkatesan and Dartmouth's writing program: Is she the villain, for dealing with her inability to teach by sending smugly gloating emails about "naming names" and civil law? Or is Dartmouth, for hiring this litigious trainwreck in the first place, and inflicting her on innocent freshmen?

1 comment:

cj said...

Hmmm -- seems like a trend.