Venkatesan Speaks! …and speaks, and speaks…

Venkatesan Speaks! ...and speaks, and speaks...Talk about long-winded. The Dartmouth Review interviewed Priya Venkatesan, who babbled for two days straight. (Literally. The interviewer ran out of tape.) She flip-flops on whether or not she’ll sue and explains how Writing Program Director Tom Cormen used top-secret alphanumeric codes for covert intimidation:

PV:One time Tom Cormen was sitting in the class, and she [a student] asked me, how many T’s are in Gattaca. This was the kind of question she was asking, “how many T’s are in Gattaca?,” and I was about to answer her and Tom Cormen pre-empted me, “two t’s.” I’ll leave you to interpret it.
TDR: No. No, I don’t understand that.
PV: I have to tell you: it means tenure track.
TDR: Oh, okay.
PV: Because I wasn’t tenured track.
TDR: Oh, okay, yes.
PV: They were trying to intimate that I wasn’t ready for tenure track.
TDR: Yes, okay, I didn’t realize that’s what that meant.
PV: I’m kind of making this leap because this is the kind of subversiveness that was going on in that environment. That [girl x] would ask how many t’s are in Gattaca and that Tom Cormen would respond, “two T’s” as if I had no grasp on tenure track. ..but with [girl x], something’s going on with her. I’m not a doctor, but she’s not all there.

This interview is so bizarre, it’s breathtaking. Venkatesan repeats every sentence at least five times, which explains why she never had time to answer questions during lecture. I tried really hard to imagine a context in which such loquaciousness would make sense-Dartlog is holding her captive? She is Scheherzade and silence is punishable by death?-but it’s hard. The interview is nearly 8000 words long (that’s 30 double-spaced essay-pages). And since you probably don’t want to read all that, we’ve got the Cliff’s Notes version after the jump.

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Update: In Ultimate Po-Mo Move, Unhinged Dartmouth Prof Drops Lawsuit, Pick Lawsuit Up Again, Leaves Everyone Unsure of Everything

Update: In Ultimate Po-Mo Move, Unhinged Dartmouth Prof Drops Lawsuit, Pick Lawsuit Up Again, Leaves Everyone Unsure of EverythingBreaking news: it looks as though unhinged post-modernist and writing professor Priya Venkatesan will or will not be pursuing legal action against Dartmouth College. Trying to stay in the news despite her rapidly fading 15 minutes, Venkatesan contacted Dartblog and The D yesterday to say that she was dropping the suit. Never mind, though. Within 24 hours she re-contacted them to say that she will indeed be pursuing legal action. What seems most likely, however, is that Venkatesan, despite her claims to the contrary, has not seen a lawyer.

The D has one pithy student’s take on the whole matter:

If Venkatesan followed through with her lawsuit the same way she followed through with grading our papers, no one would have had anything to worry about,”

Meanwhile, the Dartmouth Administration seems more bemused than angry, exasperated that Dartmouth’s spam-blockers can’t shoo Venkatesan away. Here Gail M. Zimmerman, the Dean of First-Year students, pretends to care about Venkatesan’s legal action:

Robert Donin, Dartmouth’s General Counsel, was present at yesterday’s meeting. He advises that we do not believe there is any merit to a potential lawsuit and he does not feel it necessary for students to retain their own legal counsel at this time…

Questions arose as to our ability to block Prof. Venkatesan’s emails. Whether that ability exists or not, it would not likely stop her emails from reaching your inbox given the dearth and ready availability of other free email systems such as hotmail, gmail, and yahoo. If these emails are distressing, please don’t hesitate to forward them to me unopened. I would request you to forward any emails to me regardless of whether you read them or not so that I can be apprised of and assess how best to respond and support you.

After the jump: we analyze Venkatesan’s academic work.


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Putting the “Class” in Class Action. Also, the “Ligitious and Passive-Aggressive Book-Peddler” in Professor.

Putting the "Class" in Class Action. Also, the "Ligitious and Passive-Aggressive Book-Peddler" in Professor.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.

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