Readers may by now have heard the hilarious tale of Priya Venkatesan, the Dartmouth professor who may or may not be attempting to sue her students for hurting her feelings in class. (Roger has written about it here.) The specific incident began as follows, in Ms. Venkatesan’s own words:
It’s basically we were talking about The Death of Nature by Carolyn Merchant. I believe I talked about how the scientific revolution—what effect it had on women of the period. In the context I brought up the witch trials of the Renaissance, and I was trying to make to make the claim—it was kind of a paraphrasing of Merchant’s argument, it’s not necessarily mine—that—I really want to get this right, so give me a second—what exactly did I say? I made the argument that—I’m trying to put this in context now—I made the argument that in many cases science and technology did not benefit women, and if women were benefiting science and technology, it was an aftereffect. It was not the goal of science and technology. It was a very feminist claim, and you may not agree with it. But that was Merchant’s argument; it wasn’t my argument, and I’m not a feminist scholar, so I was really making an argument that wasn’t mine and paraphrasing.
When a student had the temerity to challenge this, his peers applauded. This phenomenon should be familiar to anyone who has endured a truly awful professor: Often all it takes is one dissenting view to open the floodgate of suppressed disgust and outrage. In any event, Dartmouth has reassured the students in question than Ms. Venkatesan’s “case” has no legal merit, and has attempted to block from its servers all emails from the not-exactly-gruntled former professor.
Perhaps you’re asking yourself what kind of person would pursue such an action. I’d venture a few adjectives, but the legal bills would kill me. So instead I give you The Dartmouth Review’s interview with the next fifteen minutes’ most famous professor. Res ipsa loquitur—and Ms. Venkatesan is loquacious indeed:
PV: There was also one instance when I was demonstrating an example, I would do any method I could to try to—that was the problem. The students manipulated the situation so that they totally undermined the academic system. The whole academic system was undermined. The whole integrity of the course, the whole academic integrity of the course was undermined because it never became about the students meeting my expectations, it became about me meeting their expectations . . .
It became no longer came about them meeting my expectations, and this through the process of totally undermining my professorial authority, questioning my knowledge in very inappropriate ways, so that it no longer became about the proper academic way about them meeting my expectations. No, it was about me meeting their expectations, because what were they going to do if I didn’t meet whatever expectation they had . . .
Hold on to your hats, folks, we’re going down the rabbit hole:
PV: One of the things that [a female student] did, this is also really interesting, was that she would always ask me how to spell things. That was her thing. She would say how to do you spell this? How to you spell that? I mean—what am I supposed to do?—so I would tell her. One time Tom Cormen was sitting in the class, and she 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: Um, 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 [sic].
TDR: Oh, okay, yeah.
PV: They were trying to intimate that I wasn’t ready for tenure track.
TDR: Yeah, 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.