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From the annals of the academy: Prof sues students for criticizing her

Yes, really: Priya Venkatesan, who taught writing this year at Dartmouth College, sent around several emails to former students threatening to sue them under Title VII, the "anti-discrimination" portion of the 1964 Civil Rights act. "Dartlog," the weblog of the invaluable Dartmouth Review, published the text of her email, which is a classic in the annals of politically correctness fatuousness.

Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2008 20:56:35 -0400 (EDT) From: [email protected] To: "WRIT.005.17.18-WI08":;, [email protected]

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 [SIC] 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 experiences as your instructor, which will "name names" so to speak. I have all of your evaluations and these will be reproduced in the book.

Have a nice day.


It is not clear exactly what sort of "harassment" poor Priya Venkatesan Ph.D. (as she generally signed herself) was subject to. I don't imagine that student evaluations such as this did much to help matters:

Aside from the fact that I learnt nothing of value in this class besides the repeated use of the word "postmodernism" in all contexts (whether appropriate or not) and the fact that Professor Venkatesan is the most confusing/nonsensical lecturer ever, the main problem with this class is the personal attacks launched in class. Almost every member of the class was personally attacked in some form in the class by either intimidation or ignoring your questions/comments/concerns. If you decide to take this class, prepare to NOT be allowed to express your own opinions in class because you have "yet to obtain your Ph.D/masters/bachelors degree". We were forced to write an in-class essay on "respect" (and how we lacked it) because we expressed our views on controversial topics and some did not agree with the views of "established scholars" who have their degrees.

If you wonder what Dr. Venkatesan's "scholarly" work is like, Dartlog conveniently links to a sample. Here's an excerpt:

In many ways, social constructivism has been reframed as postmodernism, since both movements question the scientific realm's theory of truth -- that is, that scientific facts mirror an external reality which does indeed exist. However, this reframing is unnecessary, since clear distinctions exist between social constructivism and postmodernism. Through my experience in the laboratory, I have found that postmodernism offers a constructive critique of science in ways that social constructivism cannot, due to postmodernism's emphasis on openly addressing the presupposed moral aims of science. In other words, I find that while an individual ethic of motivation exists, and indeed guides the conduct of laboratory routine, I have also observed that a moral framework -- one in which the social implications of science and technology are addressed -- is clearly absent in scientific settings. Yet I believe such a framework is necessary. Postmodernism maintains that it is within the rhetorical apparatus of science -- how scientists talk about their work

I used to think higher education could be reformed--you know, a few tweaks here and there, hire some good teachers, insist on a back-to-basics program and, presto, American higher education would once again be an ally instead of an enemy of civilization. The story of Priya Venkatesan reminds me of how utopian that belief was. Unlike so many other academic mountebanks, however, Prof. Venkatesan has at least provided some entertainment along with her absurdity.

Update: Ivygateblog has rounded up more student evaluations. There is a lot to be said against the institution of student evaluations, but Prof. Venkatesan clearly deserves all the evaluations that can be mustered:

* 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.