A Dartmouth lecturer Priya Venkatesan appears to have some unresolved teaching issues with her Winter ’08 Writing 5 class. Most professors deal with a rude class with stern lectures, implied grading threats, and more homework. Venkatesan reportedly took a different tack: she informed the class that she is going to sue them for discrimination under Title VII. This appears genuine, though it remains hard to believe that any rationale academic would threaten such legal action.
Dartmouth blogs and papers are on fire with the story and a series of bizarre emails sent by Venkatesan. Consider the intent to sue email below:
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.
Venkatesan appears upset that the students disagree with her and even applauded a student who stood up to her in class. Sounds like a pretty engaged class. Most professor complain that students rarely look up from their laptops. In order to applaud, the students would have had to actually take their fingers off the keyboard for a period of time.
If true, Venkatesan fulfills the worst stereotypes of some educators. All to often academics teach “new ideas” but resist any “old ideas” from being interjected into their classes. I try to start fights with students because I find that passionate debate tends to sharpen points and engage a class to a great degree. More importantly, too many academics believe that their jobs is to instill a particular value or view in their students — rather than expose them to different views and allowing them to adopt the view that they find most compelling. As a general rule, I have found that serving students with legal complaints or subpoenas tends to undermine the teacher/student relationship. Though the depositions would have a great one-to-one student/teacher ratio.
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