Wednesday, April 30, 2008

TDR Interview: Priya Venkatesan '90

Review correspondent Tyler Brace conducted the following two interviews with Prof. Priya Venkatesan after news broke here on Saturday afternoon that she was threatening to sue seven students from her Writing 5 classes. Prof. Venkatesan—now of Northwestern University—is currently still planning to sue the College. —A.S.

By Tyler Brace.

The Dartmouth Review
: My first question is—you are an alumna of Dartmouth—what was your experience at Dartmouth like? Was there any racism or bigotry? Was it a positive experience?

Prof. Priya Venkatesan: I had a great experience.

TDR: What made you decide to teach at Dartmouth?

PV: I wanted to be in the capacity to reproduce the positive undergraduate experience that I had.

TDR: You mentioned in one of the e-mails you sent out to your students that Dartmouth has a reputation for….

PV: I can’t be specific about that, but Dartmouth does have a reputation for conservative and sheltered. Dartmouth is very secluded, very sheltered.

TDR: Moving on to the issue at hand, could you comment on Tom Cormen [Chairman of Dartmouth's Writing Program]?

PV: Sure, I am like, I really have a lot of work right now, I have two book manuscripts to work on, that doesn’t even include the manuscript about my life in higher education, I have two grants to work on, I have an article to work on, I have three articles to work on, I really have so much work to do and you would not even believe, I really have a lot of work to do. I am not the kind of person who wants to make a big fuss about petty or trivial things. So, I have a lot of things to do that I could be focusing my attention on in very productive ways.

TDR: I can understand that. If you like, I can just ask you a different question if you want.

PV: To your question, Tom Cormen was consistently rude to me and he was very unsupportive of my teaching in the Writing Program. I am perplexed as to why he would give me an offer to teach four sections in the Writing Program and then show absolutely no support, no professional support, and I wasn’t even looking for personal support, no professional support or guidance, and trying to do my best job to be a writing instructor. Now to give you the background, I taught writing in my graduate school at the University of California San Diego. I was what they call a teaching assistant. The students get graded by teaching-assistants in the research universities, not like Dartmouth where the professors grade the students. I was a teaching assistant at the University of San Diego, and I have three teaching evaluations. They were all spectacular. They were all spectacular. They were all positive. I could fax them to you. I don’t mind, I could honestly fax them to you, but no professional support or guidance from the beginning. But, I was confident in my ability to teach expository writing, so I went about it with very little support or direction from the department. That is, in itself, very unusual to have a writing program that does not have a structured orientation program for its new writing staff. Very, very extraordinary. Very out of the ordinary. Very unusual.

[The whole interview, after the jump.]

Usually if you go to schools that have established writing programs or institutes for writing they will give you a two to three day orientation that introduces you to teaching that gives you some pointers, some advice, some suggestions on how to be the most effective teaching instructor. These orientations are not meant to dictate your teaching philosophy or ethics. They are meant to orient you, to guide you in the teaching process to be an effective expository writing teacher. There was no orientation. That in itself is questionable. It is very questionable. It raises flags about the quality of the writing program. I did approach some administrator saying where’s the orientation. She gave me this blank, actually it was a phone conversation, so I can’t see a blank face, but it was like a blank expression over the phone, like I don’t know what you’re talking about. There was no orientation. So Tom, when the students started complaining about me to Tom, Tom did bring me to his office a couple of times and said, “Tell me how things are going.” But what is unusual about what Tom did as a professor, as a writing program director, is that he did not side with the colleague. That is also very, very strange. That is odd. In any professional academic setting it is not academic de rigueur to go against a colleague when students are bitching about them. I don’t know how else to put it.

TDR: Right, right.

PV: Tom did not side with me. He did not show any official support for me. When incidents happen, when suspect incidences were happening, he would essentially try to dictate my teaching philosophy. He used very strong language in telling me what I needed to do to meet the needs of the students. I think yeah, you need to meet the needs of the students. But sometimes students have a different agenda than just learning. Who knows, what the agenda of the students are. I can’t read their minds. That is very strange because when I talked to my colleagues in California, they came back to me and they said, “Why isn’t your boss supporting you?” And I said, “I don’t know.” That is really strange that the boss doesn’t support you, we’re colleagues.

Something more pedagogical is that I question the administrative judgment of Dartmouth for putting someone who is a professor of computer science in the capacity of directing a writing program. How? My first question to that is because I’m not a computer scientist and I don’t know what their training is. But I was taught about writing. I basically had years of experience teaching writing before coming to Dartmouth. Why is it that someone who is in computer science given the directive to promote the interests of writing at Dartmouth? My first response is what is someone who has a computer science background going to know about teaching writing? What are they going to know? They haven’t been trained in literature or composition rhetoric. They have no training in that. I’m not even going to give you the rumors that were circulating about Tom, that’s just gossip. I’m not going to get unprofessional. I’m just going to give you my personal assessment of Tom Cormen as my supervisor and as director of the Writing Program. I’m not going to go in to rumors.

TDR: Thanks for that. Why do you think a pretty significant amount of your students did complain about you? Why do you think that is?

PV: I think that sometimes when you have some students and some instructors they mix like oil and water. That could just be the explanation. It happens all the time, Tyler. Sometimes when a person goes into a corporation, they mix like oil and water. Sometimes when a person goes into a fellowship at a research institution like the one that I’m at now, the supervisor and the fellow mix like oil and water. It just happens a lot.

TDR: I can certainly understand that.

PV: I can’t speak for the students. I don’t know what their expectations were of me. When I was a student at Dartmouth I tried my best to show respect for the professor and to meet his or her expectations. My job was not to bully the professor, that was not my job. That was not my role. My role was not to bully the professor. My role was not to convince the professor that they were stupid or didn’t know anything or to question their knowledge. I was never aggressive with any of my professors. Now that courtesy was not returned to me. My students were very bully-ish, very aggressive, and very disrespectful.

TDR: What kind of bullying did you experience in your classes?

PV: It came out in the D [the College's newspaper, the Daily Dartmouth] about the applause, so I don’t want to go through that. But that was very disturbing, that was a very disturbing event, so that’s just one example. 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. They abrogated that right. They abrogated, they turned the tables around. Bullying, aggressive, and disrespectful.

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, whether it would be, I wasn’t white, whatever, I was different, I talked about ideas that were strange, I came off as very eccentric. I can’t make things up, I can’t read their mind. So they would use any type of vulnerability. They would use this and write these horrible evaluations that hardly reflected my efforts and quality of my teaching.

TDR: You mentioned how your students maybe expected someone who was white, in talking to them and reading their evaluations, you don’t really see anything referencing race. What do you have to say about that whole aspect?

PV: I think that’s a really good question and I kind of have to step back and say that I think, and this is really the only comment that I’m going to make, is that I think that discrimination is very hard to prove, and I think that my claim is going to be very hard to prove because I think that discrimination is very subtle. I think that right now because there are so many laws out there, slavery is outlawed, we have the Civil Rights Act, we have all these laws in place to protect minorities, to protect women, to protect the elderly, so we have these laws in place. No one made a comment about my ethnicity. That did not happen, and I have to say that it did not happen. So what is the basis of my claim? I think that the basis of my claim is that the behavior, like I said in which the tables were turned around, was partially motivated by race. I am going to be the first one to say that is going to be very difficult to prove in a court of law, but I think if I get my story out there and tell them this is my assessment of what happened, then I think that’s a social good.

TDR: So with regards to the racism allegation, would you say this is more of a general feeling than any specific event?

PV: There were a couple of events. There were a couple of events.

TDR: Could you elaborate for us?

PV: I think at one point when I was reading a paper during the writing workshop, there were two students, they were actually the more obnoxious students in the class, they were the impolite ones, who would have a little conversation about how geeky or how socially inept an Indian student was. You could tell that it was an Indian because the name they mentioned was South-Asian, and I know that, because I can recognize South Asian names. That was one example. In terms of any other specific incidences, it may be more difficult to prove. To say that that behavior, that type of disrespect is because I’m an East-Indian female is a little bit, maybe it’s a leap, but I don’t think it’s an irrational belief. I think it could be based on reality. I think when I detail these events that I just told you, about Tom Cormen’s attitude, about all these things, it’s the attorney who knows the law and that can make the assessment about whether I have a legal claim about discrimination. I can’t make that claim. All I can do is write down the events that took place in the most factual matter, and that’s what I’m in the process of doing right now.

TDR: Is the book definitely going to happen?

PV: Books always happen. They always happen. I’m [working] with a literary agent right now, I’m waiting to get more responses from them. Dartmouth is just going to be one chapter in the book. But I think like the things I’m telling you right now are going to be in the book. Tom Cormen as a writing director, his treatment of me. I talked with a reporter from the Dartmouth Independent. It was a two hour phone conversation, I’m serious, I went into really great detail about what every student did and about what Tom Cormen did that was unethical. Both the students and Cormen being unethical. Unethically behaving or disrespectful, or what the students exactly did. I’m kind of burnt out from talking about specifics. But what I can do, when that article comes out from the Dartmouth Independent, and you have questions about that, feel free to call me and I can address whatever questions you have about the incidences.

TDR: You mentioned how the students were bullying you, saying certain things, were there any incidences when you might have done that. Several students told me that once you came in the room and were calling them fascist demagogues. Do you deny that?

PV: Not true. I never name called any student in that class. I never name called any student in that class. What happened was that I went into class after that whole clapping incident, and I said. ‘What you did was horrific. What you did was really bad.’ Not bad, I didn’t accuse them of being bad, I said what you did was unacceptable. They started arguing with me. I said fine. You think you know everything. You think you know everything without the knowledge base to boot, without the training, you think you have a command of all the knowledge in the world at this stage in your life, then I’m sorry, that is fascism and that is demagoguery. When I made the two words fascism and demagoguery I looked at the picture on the wall. I made sure that I did not look at the students, and that I did not make any personal attacks on them.

The fact of the matter is that by being so arrogant about their command of knowledge about arguing with me about every point that I was making and that’s really arrogant. That’s very arrogant because frankly, and I’m not trying to be an academic elitist, but frankly, they don’t even have a B.A. They’re freshmen. They’re freshmen. The maturity that they had, and I think that’s what it is, I think it’s a lack of maturity, I don’t think it’s any character flaw, I just think it’s a lack of maturity and when they grow up they’ll find that it’s really tough to succeed in the real world and I really will start respecting my professor.

TDR: In one of the many course reviews of your classes, and through talking to some of your students, I’ve heard them say you’re not open to other opinions. For example, you banned questions in class. I was told you said something about them not having their Ph.D., B.A., Master’s, etc.

PV: This is a total misrepresentation. I don’t know what is motivating their behavior. I am not out to get them. I gave them mostly very good grades. I don’t know what the issue is to why this absolute, demonification of me, I don’t understand that. Rarely have I encountered this. The sense that I’m being demonized by a community that I had nothing against and with good intentions of joining, anyway that’s an aside, what I did was for the majority of my two sections between fall and winter before this incident, I permitted questions during lecture. But I noticed that many students were dissatisfied with that because some of them really did want to learn from me and hear my lecture out but that these questions were derailing the lecture, so I basically said to the students after this incident that I was not going to permit questions during lecture but right after lecture we would have a discussion section or if we have a class that is more discussion oriented then you’re permitted to ask questions.

One of my colleagues from San Diego told me, and I’m not sure I agree with it, but she told me, and please don’t quote me with saying that I agree with this, don’t take it out of context, but she said the classroom is not a democracy and the way she runs her classroom is with an iron fist. I’m not like that. I’m not the iron fist, but I think my genuine attempt to teach them—I think they tried to take advantage of some of my ability not to be this iron fist. I think a lot of professors are like, I’m the boss of the classroom and you listen to me, and that’s probably the norm. I’m a little more lenient, I’m a little more liberal, and I think this was kind of taken advantage of. I think also that many times when I was lecturing, many of the students would take over the class.

While they took over the class, the students that were questioning me would not question the student, but they would consistently question me. In other words, in that setting, the student had more authority than me. Usually the student that questioned me was a white male. When this white male spoke he was given more authority of knowledge, more respect than I was given. I think that was an example of racism. So this kind of thing was going on. It made me feel very uncomfortable. But I did not ban questions I just said leave them for the lecture, because what was happening was that people were asking questions that would just derail the lecture, and a lot of people did not like that, so I said questions after lecture. This demonification, this criminalization of very rational behavior, is very disturbing that it takes place. I don’t know if it’s just endemic to Dartmouth. Dartmouth is the only place I experienced it.

TDR: There is one specific incident where I heard from one of the girls in your class who was pretty outspoken, and one day she hadn’t spoken for a while and you said, “Could we have a round of applause for this girl, she hasn’t spoken in ten minutes?”

PV: She was probably the most abrasive, the most offensive, the most disruptive student. She ruined that class. She ruined it. She ruined it. That class actually had a lot of potential, there were some really bright kids there, but every time she would do a number of things that were very inappropriate. For instance, I had basically gotten a hold of Blackboard technology, but I was making some mistakes too because I was new to the system, and every time that some link was wrong or some link wasn’t set up right, [girl x] in the beginning of class would point this out to everybody. Then what happened was, I was lecturing on morals and ethics and she just gave me this horrible look, and I was pretty disturbed. I just said what is going on here? The problem with [girl x] is that she can’t take criticism. She can’t take the fact that there is something wrong with her work. Now, some people are like that, a lot of people are like that, unable to take criticism, but the fact of the matter is that I have the PhD in literature, I make the assessment if someone has talent for philosophy, literary theory, and literary criticism. A student might say, well, the hell with you I’m still going to become a literary critic, I had to do that, there were people who criticized me while I was a student, you’re not a good writer or whatever, but I said well I’m still going to go ahead with my goals, but I never made any personal attacks on them or made life difficult for them or was rude to them. I just did the socially acceptable way of dealing with criticism, and [girl x] is the kind of student who does not know the socially acceptable way of dealing with criticism. She thinks the way to go about doing it is to go to my superior or to try to undermine my ability to teach the class. One of the things that she 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: 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.

[Editor's Note: At this point, Mr. Brace ran out of tape. What follows is from a second interview conducted the next day.]

Venkatesan: I’ve decided not to pursue any litigation with regard to my grievances at this point, and I have also decided that if sources outside of Dartmouth approach me, that I will respond by saying that this is, you know, what I’ve said, and not prefer to comment on this matter. I know that right now that I don’t want my family to suffer, and I don’t want people to work with in this community to be affected by what I’m doing, so it is as much in my interest as it is theirs to withdraw pursuing a legal avenue. You know, this is not to absolve Dartmouth of any wrongdoing, but to show that, um, you know, it’s tough to address these kind of issues against a really large institution, being just one person myself. So, I’ve kind of come to that conclusion, that this is what I should be doing. I know that it may seem that I’m kind of like copping out, but I think it’s in my best interests at this point. I think—I’m really very touched that people have shown interest in my issue and in my matter. But you know, I just don’t know if going legal is going to be the way to go.

TDR: So, are you still going to be pursuing the book?

PV: Definitely. Probably the way to go—you know, I think, I just don’t feel like the courts are the way to address this issue. I feel like by getting my narrative out there about my experiences, and then leaving the interpretation open to the reading public, that would be great. If people are interested in my story, you know, then I would be more than delighted to share it with them. But right now, the legal road is probably causing more harm than good.

TDR: I have a few questions about your educational background and how it relates to the courses you teach, and some other specific questions. Yesterday in a lot of the interviews you granted, you referred to “the clapping incident”, and I was just wondering if you could explain to me what exactly that was.

PV: Sure. 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.

But there was one student who really took issue with this—and he took issue with this, and he made a very—I’d call it a diatribe, and it was sort of like, well—science and technology, women really did benefit from it, and to criticize patriarchal authority on the basis that science and technology benefited patriarchy or men, was not sufficient grounds for this type of feminist claim. And he did this with great rhetorical flourish; it was very invective, it was a very invective sort of tone. And I think what happened afterwards was that some people—I can’t name them, and I don’t know how many there were, but it was a significant number—started clapping for his statements. It was a very humiliating moment to my life; it was extremely humiliating, that my students would clap against me, when all I was trying to do was talk to them about arguments and argumentation, in the light of what I had been trained with. In other words, it’s kind of interesting that when you are trained in graduate school, it’s sort of like, you know, you’re trained in this kind of—I don’t want to say it’s political—you must be aware that most college campuses are very liberal, right?

TDR: Oh yes, certainly.

PV: Yeah, and the training which you receive, it’s very much slanted toward a particular political point of view. And it’s almost unstated—I’m not saying that this is good or bad, I’m just saying that this is the case—but certainly political framework is absorbed into academic material, and you must be aware of that by reading, you know, arguments by academics. You know, they talk about things such as Marxism—that’s just the intellectual way of thinking about it. But maybe to the general public, these are issues that are not considered objects of general discussion. You know what I mean?

In other words, talk about, you know, in French theory—we talk about Lacanian psychoanalysis. Lacan was a very radical psychoanalyst, but he’s considered almost like a god, Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard… Bruno Latour—highly regarded in the field of science and technology studies. But these students aren’t aware of the framework in which I was training. They’re not; they’re just coming into college. So right there, there’s a discrepancy between what I know and how I was trained and their worldview. Do you see what I’m saying?

TDR: Yes.

PV: So there was immediate friction, because basically the concepts that I was trying to bring to them were concepts I was not inventing on my own. They were concepts that were part of the field, and I was trying to bring it to the table. It offended their sensibilities, because the whole course of “Science, Technology, and Society” was about problematizing science and technology, and explaining the argument that science is not just a quest for truth, which is how we think about science normally, but being influenced by social and political values. Now I’m not telling you this to convince you of this. I’m just saying that this is the framework with which I approached the course—that I wanted to bring this view that science and technology; there’s an ethics behind it. This type of argumentation—the reason I did that in the context of expository writing, I thought “by reading arguments, they will learn how to form arguments, think better, and write better.” That was my goal, because when you think better, you write better. All this offended their sensibilities, and there’s ways of responding of arguments that offend your sensibilities. The way not to do it is to be abrasive, rude, and engaged in this type of rhetoric. And that is why I had a lot of difficulties in dealing with the students in the class. What effectively happened was that my voice was taken away, and it was taken over by a lot of students. And I know that one of the students complained to the dean that he stopped paying attention in class. And I said “Well, of course they stopped paying attention, because the class had been taken over by a bunch of students who were just discussing it by themselves on their own, and it became very boring, because they didn’t have the argumentation permitted to them. They were just discussing without any framework, so that’s why the class was somewhat degraded by the end, and people complained because of that, but I felt pretty much restrained—constrained. I couldn’t negotiate the class because it had gotten to this level, that my voice and my authority were effectively eliminated from that class.

I’m not trying to dramatize it; I’m just trying to tell you how I felt about it. And that’s, that’s my point of view. That’s my sense of what took place. It wasn’t in any way what I was trying to take away from the rigor of the class; in fact, the opposite of that. I really wanted to enforce the rigor, whereas I was met with a lot of resistance.

TDR: I’ve spoken to some of the people involved in this specific incident. Is it true that after the whole applause incident, you said that it was a good discussion and you were pleased with the way things turned out?

PV: That’s not true.

TDR: That’s just what I had heard, so you deny that?

PV: Yeah, I deny it, I completely deny it. I was certainly not in the frame of mind to say something that would take that much decorum, actually, to take that much graciousness.

TDR: Okay. Tell me if I’m wrong, but after the incident, you didn’t attend class for the next week. Why was that?

PV: I was on doctor’s orders.

TDR: What did the doctor say?

PV: I went to the doctor because over the weekend I had basically been—I don’t know how to put it—I had basically been crying to my husband, and he said “Why don’t you go to the doctor, see what she can do for you. Maybe this is something you could talk to the doctor about, get some advice.” So I did, and what she recommended was not to attend class for—she recommended not to go back for a full week, and I said no, I wanted to go back on Friday. I was going to have class on Friday, but it was Winter Carnival weekend, and the doctor’s orders were: “You’ve just been through a lot in the past few months, you know, so much that you should really take kind of a break. You should take a break from the whole situation for awhile, step back,” do you know what I mean? That really helped, but when I came back—I probably needed a two-week break, I don’t know, I’m not a doctor—but I said I’m going to try to go back on Thursday or Friday. I scheduled class on Friday, and I got a lot of complaints that said “This is Winter Carnival weekend, you can’t hold class on Friday.” And I said “Okay, I’ll schedule class on Monday.” And this is how the thing went, back and forth, it was like any time I was trying to enforce any kind of goodwill or good-naturedness or anything like that with the students, they were just so like, um, demanding, they just demanded more. You could do nothing to please them.

If you praised them, they’d intimate “You don’t have the authority to praise us.” If you criticized them, they’d say “You don’t have the authority to criticize.” So what do you do? You try to teach them, they’d argue with your ideas, and they’d be very rude and hostile. It was a no-win situation for me. There was nothing I could do to meet the demands of the students. As I was saying earlier, that’s not the classroom setting. The classroom setting is where students meet the expectations of the professor.

TDR: So you say that students should meet the expectations of the professor, but the professor shouldn’t meet the expectations of the student?

PV: Well, I think it’s a dialectic; I think that’s what they call a dialectic. It’s a two-way street, right? It shouldn’t be a one-way street, and I agree with you. I think that the professor should be attuned to the students’ needs. I think that’s probably a good way of putting it, and the students are there to meet the expectations of the professor and to respect the professor. But to be playing constant devil’s advocate all the time and be difficult in that way was so degrading.

TDR: Couldn’t it be said that an important part of the educational process is this kind of back-and-forth questioning of ideas, and many would argue that that’s very important, and that professors’ ideas should be questioned. What do you think?

PV: Yeah, I think professors are not immune from being questioned. I’m not saying that these scholars I’ve studied should not be questioned, but the comments I was getting on my papers were like “Oh, this thinker is like, the worst writer in the whole wide world,” or “This thinker thinks they know everything,” and I would be getting irrational things from them. These weren’t thoughtful statements; they were irrational.

TDR: Some questions about the course in general: one thing that’s come up is this frequent discussion of postmodernism, which a lot of the students I’ve talked to still can’t really define. Can you tell me what postmodernism is?

PV: Postmodernism has different definitions, but I’m going to give you the definition according to the guy that invented the term—and he’s Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard. He wrote a book called The Postmodern Condition, which was published in 1984 in America. The book basically outlines what is called the state of knowledge in post-industrial societies, that because of the influx of computer knowledge, information society, that we are going to have a change in what is known as expert knowledge versus lay knowledge. And I’m sure this will resonate with you because when you go to the computer, you access the Internet and you can get all this information.

Prior to the computer industry or information technology, this was not possible. There was a strict division between expert knowledge and lay knowledge. Expert knowledge of course would be defined as science; science was, according to positivism, the way by which we arrive at knowledge, a truth by the scientific method. Postmodernism was a challenge to that. It challenged the fact that science was the only way of arriving at truth. It was saying that we would have a leveling of the playing field in knowledge. The second thing that it’s about is art, which in the period of modernism and literature—when you go back to [Emile] Zola or the modernist authors—for them, for them art was about the misting of reality. And art should follow the scientific method—that literature and art should follow the tenets of science. According to Lyotard, in the postmodern society, art and literature were going to be in something of a dichotomous relationship with science. In other words, art and literature were going to be now put on the same level as science.

There’s another element to postmodernism prior to the information society in philosophy. The philosophy was about going after knowledge for knowledge’s sake, so you had people just talking about philology, biology, economics, just for the sake of knowledge. But for Lyotard, knowledge would be about efficiency; it would be about doing things better. Knowledge would be not for the sake of knowledge, but for the sake of productivity and technical efficiency. So that’s what postmodernism is about; it has nothing to do with the overthrowing of capitalism. It has nothing to do with it; in fact, postmodernism appropriated many of the tenets of capitalism in what it was talking about. It was not considered a liberal or leftist way of looking at life, although many postmodernists have been thought of as being left-wing or liberal. It was not in any way like that—I just wanted to quality that.

TDR: One of the complaints from many of the students is that the course featured a lot of postmodernist and feminist sort of thinking that was not necessarily described in the course description, and they were a little surprised by what they actually found when they got to the course. Do you think that the way you presented the course initially matched up with those more abstract theories that you covered in the class?

PV: Yes. Possibly what I could have done… I don’t remember the course description, to be honest; but the course description was approved by Tom Cormen. And Tom Cormen knew the reading materials; he interviewed me, so he knew what my teaching philosophy was like. He never discussed the course with me, I have to admit, but Tom Cormen approved that course description, okay? So if there was any illegitimacy about it, he should have approached me about that; I don’t really remember the course description, so I can’t really comment on that, but I don’t remember if I put those readings on there. So basically the complaint is that it was too heavy on—what were the complaints about exactly?

TDR: What I’ve heard is that students went into the course expecting something very different from what they got, with its emphasis on feminism and postmodernism and less standard theories than you’d find in an introductory class made them wonder what they had really signed up for.

PV: Yeah, I mean… [long pause] I don’t know how to answer that because I wrote that a specific portion of the course was on the debates—they really enjoyed the debates about global warming, stem cell research, and the Human Genome Project—so I know that I spent a significant portion on the debates. What I don’t understand is that there were many students who were very very satisfied with the course. I mean, there were students in the fall term, not winter term—winter term just got into a disaster—but fall term I remember there were a lot of students who came into my class with their final projects, and they would shake my hand and say “Thank you for the course.” They were very polite; I don’t know why they’re not coming forward and saying “She was a pretty good instructor.” I don’t know why. The only other thing I want to add is that there were some complaints I wasn’t respecting people’s opinions on specific arguments if they didn’t agree with mine. I remember many times saying to the student, “I think it’s a brilliant statement. I don’t agree with it, but it’s a brilliant statement.” I know I said that many times.

TDR: One thing I heard today from several students was that during one class when you got frustrated that you said something along the lines of that the students weren’t fit to be Ivy League students.

PV: No, I never said that. On what grounds would I say something like that? I’m not on the Admissions Committee, all right? I can’t say that.

TDR: So you deny that?

PV: Yeah, of course! I never said that.

TDR: Okay, another question. You have two Ph.Ds, is that correct? Or a Master’s and a Ph.D? What are they both in, just to remind me?

PV: I have a Master’s in genetics and a Ph.D in literature.

TDR: Okay, and so how do you think your degree in literature relates to a course in science and technology?

PV: Well, my doctoral studies focused on science and literary theory. I’m going to refer you to my book, which is called Molecular Biology in Narrative Form. And I think I have a chapter there on historical and sociology frameworks. I can show you some of my publications; they’re with me here. I have close to—I had a paper in Exit 9 called “The Dialogue on the Scientific Method.” I have an article coming in Social Semiotics on the entry of postmodernism into laboratory science. I have an article in another edited collection called Discovery in Molecular Biology and Continental Philosophy. Right now I’m working on my second manuscript, which is called Narrative Theory in Science Studies: Bridging the Two Cultures. So my publications attest to my knowledge of science and technology studies. Most of the conferences I’ve been to have been on science studies. Some of them have been on literature studies, but most of them have been on science studies.

TDR: Could you ever see yourself working in the Dartmouth—undergraduate—College Community again?

PV: Right now, I anticipate no. I don’t know how things may change, but right now, I don’t anticipate coming back to the East Coast. I think it’s just a different culture, and my goal is to go back to California, because I really like California. I don’t know.

TDR: You’re at Northwestern right now, right?

PV: I am at Northwestern, and I’m really enjoying it now, but word has gone out at Northwestern about my suit, so I don’t know if I should tell you... I don’t know what’s going to happen here, but hopefully, I won’t have too much of a fallout. I don’t want my career to suffer here, you know. People here have heard about my suit, so I kind of want to like, you know, withdraw at this point [as of press time, she has told TDR that she is now pursuing legal action], because I thought I could do it on a very private scale, but I can’t, unfortunately. Unfortunately that’s going to work in Dartmouth’s interests rather than mine in terms of addressing my grievances, so whether my grievances will be addressed, I don’t know, but at least I can write a book about it. I’m already starting to write a book, so, yeah, that’s all I can do.

TDR: Have you had any discussions with Dartmouth about addressing your grievances?

PV: Yeah, I talked about it with one of the deans. He recommended seeing a general counsel. I am trying to go to the Dartmouth presses to see if my grievances can be addressed, but actually, you know what? I think I’m just persona non grata there because of what happened… I know I was going to alienate people, but when this level of distress is caused for an individual, I just think that there should be more responsibility out there about what goes on in terms of academic discussion. And I think one of the problems is that you know, someone like me… my academic interests aren’t disciplinary, and they’re not mainstream. So when you ask “What is postmodernism?” People don’t really understand a lot of the things I’m working on, and when people don’t understand things, they kind of get into attack mode. Rather than try to understand it, they prefer to attack than try to understand it. That’s not just about Dartmouth, but I think that’s about many, many, many places and situations. So I have may have been facing that. And I also wanted to add about Professor Cormen and Dr. Lowery, who in my opinion are men of science. They think that their knowledge is the only knowledge worth having. They think their work is the only work that should be done; that’s just the impression that I got from them. When someone comes and tries to problematize something that they’re doing, which is science and technology—this is something I was facing with the students—they get very combative and hostile and resistant. So I think that—and this is how I’m going to conclude this interview—that what I was facing with the students was really similar to what I was facing with Cormen and Lowery, with attitudes about their work, there was no room for questioning it.

And I think it’s very anti-intellectual; that’s one of the things I mentioned in the article, that that’s a very anti-intellectual thing to do.

TDR: And just one more question—and now that you’re withdrawing your suit [she is now pursuing legal action], would you like to take this time to apologize to the set of students that you named?

PV: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. This is not to absolve them of the wrongdoing that they did—they did a real number on me. They did a real number on me. I can talk at length about postmodernism and stuff, but they should treat me as a human being; if they can’t realize that at this stage in their life, then that’s really disturbing. I’m not apologizing to any member of the Dartmouth community; I still have the same grievances. I am showing the same indifference to the Dartmouth community as they showed to me. It’s like, what comes around goes around. And it’s not vindictive, but that’s rather just the way it is. You show indifference, then that indifference gets returned. And this is because I don’t want my family to suffer. I don’t want my family to get dragged into this, and I don’t want any other place that I go to get dragged into this. There are different institutions, and hopefully, wherever I’m at, it will be a really healthy place for me, but I want this to kind of blow over at this point. I think it’s in everyone’s best interest.

I think it’s really nice of you to do this, because I feel that it’s getting my story out there, and that’s the most I can ask for, and I really thank you for doing that and not taking me out of context. That’s great. Thanks.

Stop the Presses: The Dartmouth Review Mistreats Minorities

"It goes without saying that a lot of underrepresented groups feel mistreated here, whether it’s by the Greek system, The Dartmouth Review or just the people they engage with on a daily basis."

Jordan Osserman '11's editorial in the D today about the necessity of choosing a female, non-heterosexual, or minority President is truly a treasure. In addition to the above quote, it yielded such gems as:
"And as the Board of Trustees continues its search for the next leader of the Big Green, it’s time we set a new requirement: straight white men need not apply."

"Thus, the assumption that fairness requires colorblindness is false. The Board of Trustees is not casting for “Grey’s Anatomy” — it’s looking for a leader to move Dartmouth forward."

"As a representative of a marginalized group, a president who is female, gay, non-white or all of the above would have an inherent understanding of the struggles of women and minorities."

"I do not intend to discredit the work of President Wright or any of the other well-intentioned straight, white male leaders on this campus."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Venkatesan drops lawsuit plans--Nevermind

UPDATE 8:45pm: In further correspondence with the Review, Venkatesan has stated that she changed her mind and still plans on pursuing legal action against the College.

Earlier today, Review reporter Tyler Brace had a phone conversation with Priya Venkatesan, who informed us that she no longer planned to bring a lawsuit against the College. Venkatesan also confirmed that she is now a research assistant at Northwestern University.

Administration: no merit to a potential lawsuit

Here is the email Dean Zimmerman sent out following the Sunday meeting with the former students of Priya Venkatesan. The blitz, below the fold.

Date: 28 Apr 2008 09:29:08 -0400
From: Gail M. Zimmerman
Subject: Meeting summary
Cc: (Thomas H. Cormen), Daniel M. Nelson, Thomas Crady, Robert B. Donin, Kevin D. O'Leary, Susan E. Knapp

Dear Students,

Thanks to all of you who were able to attend yesterday's meeting. For those of you who were not able to attend, below is a summary of the key points. I, and the other deans in the First-Year Office, remain available to meet with any of you on an individual basis and/or to talk with your parents. Please don't hesitate to share this information with your parents.

The most significant concern was related to the legal issues raised by former Prof. Venkatesan's emails. 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. Any lawsuit received by the College would be responded to by Dartmouth's legal counsel. There has been no such action thus far. Students and parents should feel free to contact Dartmouth's General Counsel if there are individual concerns. They can be reached at:
Office of the General Counsel
Dartmouth College
14 South Main Street
Suite 2C
Hanover, New Hampshire 03755
Telephone: (603) 646-2444

Most of you have seen and/or heard that the Dartmouth Review and The Dartmouth have articles and blogs about the emails that you have received. There interest and publication may result in other media becoming interested as well. Should you be approached by any media for comment, you are certainly free to talk. Our advice would be, if you choose to do so, do so judiciously and/or with caution. You should also know that you are under no obligation to respond at all and this may be the best approach. Our Public Affairs Office is happy to advise you on your rights when responding to media requests. Sue Knapp, Stephen Smith, and Roland Adams are familiar with this situation. They can be reached at:
Office of Public Affairs
Office Address: 7 Lebanon St., Suite 201, Hanover, NH 03755
Telephone: (603) 646-3661

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.

Again, please don't hesitate to contact any of the first-year deans with concerns or questions.

Take care,
Dean Z

Gail M. Zimmerman, Ed.D.
Dean of First-Year Students
Dartmouth College
6007 Parkhurst
Hanover, NH 03755

Trustee Letter Upsets Alums

Alumni have been contacting The Dartmouth Review en masse about the trustee letter sent out to them last night. Here's a sample response, representative of most of the feedback we've been getting, below the fold.

WOW! Alumni, except those who are Trustees chosen by the administration, are all a bunch of idiots who can't think for themselves. They might be under the sevengali-like spell of "organizations" with "AGENDAS!" When the administration and its lackey Trustees stop acting like Stalinists trying to shove their cramped, narrow, ideas about the college down everybody's throats, perhaps law suits wouldn't be necessary. But they sure were in Daniel Webster's day, and appear to be equally necessary today. And by the way, the lawsuit was started before Wright said he might leave in a year, so your cause and effect for confusion is 180 degrees off-kilter. Talk about agendas! You apparently don't like your fellow elected Trustees, so you are trying to marginalize them with the Boogey-Men of the Dartmouth Review and Hanover Institute, the Review's fundraising arm. Don't you people believe in academic freedom, the right to disagree successfully, the right to suggest alternatives? Apparently not.

John Gridley '64.

PS. And f--- you too, Brad.

UPDATE: Just a quick note: the Hanover Institute is actually not the Review's fundraising arm. In the note above, I think it may be unclear whether Mr. Gridley himself is asserting that the Hanover Institute is the Review's "fundraising arm," or if that is the impression Dartmouth Undying is giving to alums such as Mr. Gridley. In either case, the assertion is wrong. Thanks. -Emily

Mirengoff Responds to Trustee Letter

At Power Line, below the fold:

Now, let’s address the trustees’ diversionary attacks on those of us who disagree with them. Are we “well-organized and well-financed?” I hope so, and we have been able to run a few ads, do some mailings (though the college won't give us the full alumni mailing list), and establish a web-site. Not surprisingly, however, we are substantially outgunned by the Dartmouth establishment. For example, the pro-capitulation slate was able to place its glossy ad on the front page of the alumni magazine. Ours was somewhere in the back, as I recall.

Do we have a “political agenda?” I don’t know the politics of most of my fellow parity candidates, though I'm vaguely aware that not all of them share my take on politics. It’s possible that, as a group, some of our views of what’s good for Dartmouth differ from the views of the opposing slate. If so, that wouldn’t mean that we have a “political agenda” and our opponents don’t. In any case, the only “political” issue we can expect to be able to influence if elected is whether Dartmouth alums will retain the right to elect half of the college’s trustees. All of us think they should.

Is the lawsuit costing the college money to defend? Yes, but the trustees can put an end to that by adhering to the 1891 agreement. Indeed, assuming the trustees act with a modicum of good faith, they will try to settle the lawsuit if their slate loses this election. The trial court’s denial of the trustees' motion to dismiss plainly signals that the trustees have a losing hand. Thus, the sensible course (if the trustees' election gambit fails) would be to concede the issue of parity and to negotiate other issues they say concern them, such as expanding the board and reforming the election process. Unfortunately, the trustees have never shown an interest in negotiating. They prefer to dictate.

Finally, we come to the biggest red herring: who is paying for the effort to oppose the trustees’ power grab? As I understand it, funding comes through the Hanover Institute, a 501(c)(3) educational foundation that was founded and is run by Dartmouth College alumni. The Hanover Institute raises money primarily through letters sent to Dartmouth alumni. By an overwhelming majority, most contributions come from thousands of Dartmouth graduates. A few come from non-alumni who wish to lend support because they are offended by board’s power play, favor free and fair trustee elections, and/or agree with the Institute with respect to the primacy of undergraduate education, or similar issues.

Full post, here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Trustee Letter to Alums

This just in: the trustees sent out this letter below to Dartmouth alums in the wake of the Association of Alumni election. The election's voting period begins today. Twelve of the sixteen official trustees signed the letter; the four petition trustees have not attached their names to the letter.

Voting takes place here. The letter, after the jump.

Dear fellow Dartmouth alumni,

Last month, the Trustees launched a search for the next president of Dartmouth--a search that is critically important to maintaining the unique character of Dartmouth and ensuring that our students continue to receive an outstanding education. As we embark on that search, the College has become ensnarled in yet another divisive campaign--this time around the Association of Alumni (AoA) election. As Trustees of the College, we were reluctant to enter this debate, but we feel an obligation to respond to a recent letter by four trustees to alumni containing inaccurate claims and endorsing like-minded petition candidates for the AoA.

This group has wrapped itself in the rhetoric of "democracy at Dartmouth" but they are working with national groups that have a clear ideological agenda for the College. The Upper Valley's local newspaper, the Valley News, wrote in a recent editorial that this group wants to "turn back the clock" at the College. They believe they can manipulate Dartmouth's unique process of electing alumni nominees for the Board of Trustees and are now waging an aggressive campaign to maintain control of the AoA, which administers those elections.

A Well-Organized, Well-Funded Group's Campaign Against the College

Critics of the College-long championed by The Dartmouth Review and supported by outside groups like the Hanover Institute--are well organized and well funded. They have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on full-page newspaper ads, glossy mailings, and web sites to elect their allies to the Board and now the AoA. They are supporting a costly lawsuit against the College. This will force Dartmouth to divert some $2 million away from critical priorities like financial aid and faculty in order to protect the independence of the College that Daniel Webster so ably defended in 1819. The plaintiffs have repeatedly refused to reveal who is really paying for their suit or their campaign, although an ideological special interest group--The Center for Excellence in Higher Education--with no connection to Dartmouth is raising money to support their lawsuit.

They have politicized Dartmouth elections and have brought Washington-style politics to trusteeship. And, this week, The Dartmouth Review launched a reprehensible and baseless personal attack on Chair of the Board Ed Haldeman--unabashedly timed to coincide with the AoA elections. Members of this group even encouraged their political allies in the New Hampshire Legislature to promote a bill that would allow the Legislature to insert itself into the affairs of the College-a misguided effort that failed by an overwhelming majority.

What Is This Group's Real Agenda?

Amidst the many emails and letters you've received, we're sure you have asked yourself--what is this group's real agenda? Trustee Todd Zywicki provided an unintended glimpse of that agenda in a speech last October where he attacked Dartmouth and its peer schools, saying those "who control the university today[,] they don't believe in God and they don't believe in country." He discouraged people from contributing money to support the College and told his supporters that it would be a "long and vicious trench warfare I think if we are serious about taking the academy back."

This group's political agenda is also at the heart of their opposition to the expansion of the College's Board of Trustees. We recognize that alumni have many different views on the governance issue, but after a thorough review of Dartmouth's needs, a majority of the Board determined that it was in the College's best interests to add eight new members who could bring additional skills and talent to the College--leaders who could help ensure Dartmouth remains a world-class institution. Four of our trustee colleagues filed an amicus brief against the College to try to achieve through the courts what they could not achieve in the boardroom through normal Board processes.

We sent a copy of the report explaining this decision to all alumni. We also voted for a more open election process to ensure the winning candidate received a majority of votes. This group opposed the changes because they reduced their ability to game the system. They want you to believe that the Board is looking to "marginalize" alumni. The fact is that every member of the Board (except the Governor and the President) is a Dartmouth alum. Alumni will continue to nominate a higher percentage of trustees than at virtually any other institution in the country and will remain central to the College's governance.

What Is At Stake For Dartmouth and Its Students?

This group has publicly vilified the leadership of the College in newspaper interviews and letters. And, while the College is in the midst of a critical capital campaign--the largest in its history--they have done little to advance it and, in some cases, actively urged alumni to divert resources from Dartmouth to institutions that are more ideologically in tune with their own agenda. They have lost sight of Dartmouth's purpose. The College exists to provide a superb education to its students, not to advance the personal politics of its alumni. And now they are putting Dartmouth's future in jeopardy. They would push the College far outside the mainstream of higher education. As The Dartmouth wrote in a recent editorial aimed at this faction of alumni, "If you truly love it, you should be able to cherish the College without controlling it."

What Does All This Mean For You, Our Fellow Alumni?

By every significant measure, Dartmouth has become a stronger institution over the past decade. That progress has come despite the harmful efforts of this group-not because of them, as they have claimed. As Dartmouth looks to build on that strength, we want to encourage all of you to stay engaged with the College--and to read the election materials carefully and to let your voice be heard in the upcoming AoA elections,

We need individuals representing Dartmouth alumni who bring no political agenda to the table--except what is in the best interests of Dartmouth. We need individuals who can fairly and effectively represent the views of all alumni and work with the leadership of the College to carry forward the business of Dartmouth. And we need individuals capable of unifying the College's alumni to help Dartmouth remain the finest College in the world.

Please join us in putting Dartmouth's interests first.

Trustees of Dartmouth

Leon Black '73
Christine Bucklin '84
Russ Carson '65
Michael Chu '68
John Donahoe '82
Brad Evans '64
Jose Fernandez '77
Karen Francis '84
Ed Haldeman '70, Chair
Pam Joyner '79
Steve Mandel '78
Al Mulley '70

Apology from Alex Felix

From: Alexander J. Felix
Date: 28 Apr 2008 18:46:36 -0400
Subject: To the Dartmouth Community
To: [redacted]

I would like to offer a full and sincere apology for the cartoon I
authored last week. The material was insensitive and unnecessarily
personal. The cartoon was plainly not fit for print. I do hope that
our community will forgive me my lapse of judgment. I hope this
incident teaches us all, as it has me, that we must hold the campus
discourse to a far higher standard -- one worthy of Dartmouth.

Alex Felix

Spring is in the Air

Just got two of these within a second. Double the fun for me, I guess. Below the fold.

***** T r a n s F o r m *********
****** Wednesday at 7 pm

Come see TransFormed Dartmouth Students: ------
All together bending their gender expression in one HOT runway show.

Test your perception! Test yourself!

T r a n s F o r m
7pm doors open
Wednesday at Collis Common Ground
Followed by the incredible

~~ ANNUAL DRAG BALL ~~ (you won't want to miss this either)

Proceeds of this event will benefit ACORN, a local HIV and Hep-C
resource organization.

President's Office, Dean of the College Office, Alumni Relations, Bildner
Endowment, IDE, Graduate Student Council, Office of the Advisor to LGBT
Students, ORL, DGALA, SPEC, Office of Black Student Advising, Office of Asian
and Asian American Student Advising, Dartmouth Athletics, Dartmouth Coalition
for Progress, Afro-American Society, The Coed Council, OPAL, GSX, XH, TDX,
SAE, AXA, TriDelt, Chi Gam, Panarchy, Alpha Phi, AZD, AD, Sigma Delt, Phi Tau,
EKT, Tri-Kap, Psi-U, KKG, KDE, Sig Ep, GDX, BG, Alpha Theta, Sigma Nu, Alpha Pi
Omega, The Tabard, Student Assembly

Trustee Peter Robinson on the Election

From NRO's the Corner, after the jump:

Which brings us back to the voting that begins today.

Now that the current officers of the Association of Alumni are approaching the ends of their terms, two slates of candidates are seeking to succeed them.

One slate stands for parity. If elected, this slate would continue the lawsuit. At the same time, it would open negotiations with the Board, seeking to preserve the longstanding parity between elected and unelected trustees.

The other slate supports the Board-packing plan. If elected, it would withdraw the lawsuit, permitting the Board-packing plan to take immediate effect.

My own views on the Board-packing plan are already public—an alumni trustee, I voted against the plan, then joined several other alumni trustees in submitting an amicus brief supporting the Association’s lawsuit. Here, however, I simply want to urge Dartmouth alumni to consider the arguments for and against the plan for themselves—and then vote.

Full post, here.

Bonnie Lam Member of Dartmouth Undying

We have just discovered that Bonnie Lam's name is listed on the "Who We Are" portion of the Dartmouth Undying website. Not only is Bonnie Lam the only '10 member of Dartmouth Undying, she is one of relatively few current students who are members of the organization that claims broad student support.

"The message was created, prepared and signed solely by students. Dartmouth Undying did not solicit this message." - Bonnie Lam in the text of the original letter.

P.S. I'll add that there are only 12 current students who are members. Nine members of the class of 2008, and one each for the following three years. —A.S.

P.P.S. It's been correctly pointed out in the comments that the list we linked to was one of supporters, not members. The difference between the two is unclear at this point. I think the big story here is how few students have signed on—or relatively small story, as it were. —A.S.

AoA Election Begins Today

The AoA election, which begins today, is essentially a referendum on the Association led lawsuit. The lawsuit is in response to the Board of Trustees' announced intention to change the proportion of alumni-elected trustees to appointed trustees from 50/50 to 33/67 (the proportion does not include ex officio trustees). There have been claims that the lawsuit is sullying Dartmouth's name, but the lawsuit would not have been necessary had the Board honored an agreement with more than one hundred years behind it. Let this be clear: we are not against expanding the Board; we are against the unproportional expansion of the Board. Every time the Board's size has been increased since 1891, the increase has been proportional.

More, beneath the fold.

This is an important juncture in history of the College. The next president must recommit the College to the undergraduate experience, to the importance of a liberal arts education. This, coupled with increased transparency in the administration, is what we—along with many students and alumni—are looking for. This concern has largely fueled the recent victories of petition trustees. Now the Board is changing the rules mid-game. The reason Chairman Ed Haldeman '69 gave for not increasing the number of alumni-elected trustees was the contentious nature of recent elections. The last few U.S. presidential elections are recent proof that elections become most contentious when more oversight is needed in the governing process. From whom will the increased oversight come, if not from alumni? For this reason, The Dartmouth Review has endorsed the petition slate in the AoA election. Their names, below:

J. Michael Murphy '61
Bert Boles '80
Paul Mirengoff '71
F. Marian Chambers '76

Committee Members:
Frank Gado '58
Zach Hafer '99
Alexander X. Mooney '93
Richard Roberts '83
Marjory Grant Ross '81
John Steel '54
Charles J. Urstadt '49

More information on the petition candidates can be found here.

To vote, go here.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Busy Week on Dartlog...

In case you missed something:

College responds to Venkatesan debacle

The Review has obtained the following email from Dean Zimmerman to the students involved. If anyone attended this meeting, please leave a comment with the content of the proceedings.

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

Don't Make Me Teach! I'm so Ashamed!

Venkatesan wrote the following to Dartblog:

I am not at all bitter about poor teaching evaluations. I am a currently a Fellow at one of the most reputed research (emphasize research) institutions in the country and I am the product of the educational system of the finest research (emphasize research) academic institutions in the country. I am very confident in my ability to teach as well and know that I will perform well where I am right now (which is undisclosed) because basically it offers a healthy environment for academic discussion, debate and personal and professional growth…

One obvious question: Why was someone who was so obviously enamored of the research ethic teaching Writing 5? The evidence keeps mounting that the College dumps its worst professors in the Writing Program.

P.S. Dartblog also has two other posts up about this fiasco, here and here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Professor to Sue Students for Discrimination

Tuesday 3:45: Dartlog welcomes readers from IvyGate, Gawker, Above the Law, and other blogs. Dartlog is the weblog of The Dartmouth Review, Dartmouth's only independent newspaper. For more on the controversy surrounding Prof. Venkatesan, see our follow up posts here, here, here, and here (in chronological order). —A.S.

Wednesday 4:11: We now have an interview with Venkatesan online, here. —A.S.

We have just obtained the text of an email that Priya Venkatesan, who has taught Writing 5 classes this year, sent out to members of her 08W Writing 5 Class informing them of an impending lawsuit. Venkatesan is listed as a "Lecturer on Writing" for the Writing department, and is also a Dartmouth alum. The text is reproduced below, and we will update you as this story develops.

UPDATE: Two new emails have surfaced. The first clarifies that the legal action Venkatesan is referring to is a class action suit against the College, meaning there may be other professors involved. The second blitz then re-clarifies, saying that the student is being accused with violating Title VII, and that their charges include but "are not limited to, harassment." Bizarre.

Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2008 20:56:35 -0400 (EDT)
From: Priya.Venkatesan@Dartmouth.EDU
To: "WRIT.005.17.18-WI08":;, Priya.Venkatesan@Dartmouth.EDU
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.


Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. We are also interested in finding out what exactly "anti-federal discrimination laws" are.

Students named in the lawsuit (as well as "," which we assume she believes is have apparently received the following two blitzes as well:

--- Forwarded message from "Priya Venkatesan" ---

From: "Priya Venkatesan"
To: <[REDACTED]Dartmouth.EDU>,
Subject: Re: Class Action Suit
Date: Fri, 25 Apr 2008 [time redacted]

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
----- Original Message -----
From: Priya Venkatesan
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2008 [time redacted]
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
UPDATE: A particularly insightful student review of her 08W class from the SA guide:
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.

Additionally, your essays will (at most) receive 2 lines worth of feedback, along with a miserable letter grade.

All in all, there are much better ways to understand science, technology, and society than to suffer through ten weeks of emotional battering.

P.S. After the jump, find out why Venkatesan thinks French Narrative Theory is the best way to study biology. —A.S.

P.P.S. The Chair of the Writing Program has asked us to take down Venkatesan's photo. —A.S.

After finishing up my studies in literature, I entered a molecular biology lab at DMS with the intention of seeking parallels between scientific practice and literature. My interests in graduate school were mainly theoretical, as I textually analyzed certain aspects of scientific communication. However, for me, a question remained: Is there room for literary theory within the framework of the laboratory?

The full piece can be found here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Alumni Council letter to alums

This letter below was sent out to Dartmouth alumni yesterday. It is written by Rick Silverman '81, who is the president of the Alumni Council (not to be confused with the Association of Alumni, or the AoA). In the letter, Silverman brings up the AoA election, and reminds alumni that the Council disapproves of the AoA's lawsuit against the College. In his letter, Silverman cites the Alumni Council's amicus brief, submitted to the Grafton County Court. The misleading content of that brief was later countered by the AoA's own brief, also submitted to the court.

This AoA election, many know, will determine the fate of the lawsuit. The letter, after the jump.

From: Rick Silverman '81
Date: Thu, Apr 24, 2008 at 2:14 PM
Subject: Dartmouth Alumni Council President's Message

Fellow Alumni:

As you know, the Dartmouth Alumni Association will hold its annual election
from April 28 through June 5 to select a new Executive Committee. This
year's election is highly contentious. Please take the time to understand
the positions of the candidates by visiting

The Alumni Council has been an active participant in the discussion of
College governance, and I'd like to update you on our activities.

In response to the lawsuit initiated by six members of the association
against the College last fall, the council filed an amicus brief opposing
the litigation. The brief argues that the association Executive Committee
lacks authority and standing to sue on behalf of alumni, and urges the court
to dismiss the lawsuit as contrary to the best interests of Dartmouth and
her alumni. The council suggests that issues concerning the College should
be resolved within the Dartmouth family, and not by the courts.

In December, the council voted 62 to 1 (with one abstention) to issue a
statement condemning Dartmouth Trustee Todd Zywicki '88 for inappropriate
and harmful remarks he made in October at a conference of the John William
Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can
view the text of the resolution and a transcript of Zywicki's speech at

President-elect John Daukas and I were also among a number of alumni who
testified, at a January hearing held by the New Hampshire legislature,
against a proposed bill designed to end Dartmouth's autonomous control of
its charter. Introduced by Representative Maureen Mooney, R-Merrimack, and
supported by Alumni Association Executive Committee member Alexander Mooney
'93, the bill would have repealed a 2003 law that gave Dartmouth the right
to amend its charter without state approval. That bill failed, thereby
maintaining the College's independence.

In addition to its work on governance issues, the council also

-Updated its mission statement to reflect its commitment to communication:
"to sustain a fully informed, representative, and engaged exchange of
information and sentiment between alumni and their College, and to enhance
and inspire alumni involvement that furthers the mission of the College"

-Made important changes to its constitution, which we feel will help the
council collect alumni sentiment more efficiently and share it effectively
with administrators and trustees, and similarly provide feedback from the
College to alumni. Learn more at

-Improved the Alumni Council Web site, adding a "Council President's Page,"
where I post details of important council activity

-Created an Alumni Liaison Committee (ALC), which will serve as the
communications hub for the council, administration, and trustees.

The Alumni Council and its members continue to work hard to keep you updated
on College issues and to gather and send your feedback to the administration
and the board. We appreciate the extensive communications we received in
response to the association's lawsuit and the statement made by Todd
Zywicki. To reach us, you can communicate with your council representative
(class, club, or affiliated group) directly, or you can email me at We look forward to hearing from you.

For Dartmouth,

Rick Silverman '81
President, Dartmouth Alumni Council

The BlarFlex Comic Gets Hate Mail

The opinion section of the Daily D published a series of letters to the editor which maligned the Daily D for allowing the comic to be published as it singled out Ms. Bonnie Lam and was in poor taste.

We agree with the letters' general sentiment and feel that despite the artists' first amendment rights to free speech, the comic should not have been published in the school newspaper. However, one letter singled out the Dartmouth Review: Bill Montgomery '52 called the Review the scum of print media. Of course we don't agree with this particular part of the letters to the editor.

We also managed to get a hold of a scanned copy of the comic.

TDR has managed to get a hold of the Daily D's intra-paper apology, after the jump. —A.S.

>Date: 25 Apr 2008
>From: Katherine L. O'Donnell
>Subject: Important
>To: (Recipient list suppressed)

Hello all,

I hope you are doing well. A few things I thought I'd address today:

First, I want to apologize to all of you personally for the inexcusable oversight that resulted in yesterday's BlarFlex comic making it to print. Everyone on the directorate was horrified that such an error could escape us, and I want to reassure you that my pledge in today's issue to review our editing processes was not a hollow one. I've met with each of the editors closely connected to the oversight, the cartoonist has been fired, and the directorate will be meeting to discuss it in detail early next week.

Beyond the personal mortification and disgust I felt at seeing the comic in print on Thursday, what made me saddest about the oversight was the thought that our staff members, who put so much into The D day in and day out, might feel ashamed of working for it. I would never want to put any of you in a position where you felt like you had to defend The D or The D had marginalized you personally, and the fact that many of you were put in that position over a truly indefensible lapse of judgment on our part is simply inexcusable.

Second, I want to make it clear that if any of you have any questions or concerns about any of this, PLEASE do not hesitate to contact me so we can talk about it.

Third, Grace, Zeke, the managing news editors, the opinion editors and I will be in the office at 4:30 on Sunday to discuss the matter with any of you who wish to come. I hope we can turn this unfortunate debacle into an event that will bring the editorial staff closer together.

Again, on behalf of the entire directorate, I sincerely apologize.


The Daily Dartmouth once again uses a misleading headline.

The article by William Schpero, titled "Conservative org. funds lawsuit," has to do with the Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE). The article even states that the CEHE has nothing to do with conservative efforts but somehow makes the conclusion that it is a conservative organization because it is funded in part by the John William Pope Foundation, a foundation that supports conservative causes.

Of course, this isn't even the tip of the iceberg. The headline even more egregiously glosses over the fact that the CEHE is collecting funds from Dartmouth Alumni who want to remain anonymous as they don't want to be punished for their support of the lawsuit.

The Dartmouth Staff, you should be ashamed of yourselves for such polarizing double speak.

If you want proof of the Daily D's transgressions, the article is here.

College now has Rooms for Seniors

Construction on the new Visual Arts Center will not begin until June 2009, which means Brewster Hall and the Lodge will not be torn down before next year. All bets are still off after next year. The ORL blitz after the jump.

>From: Residential.Life@Dartmouth.EDU
>To: [redacted]
>Date: Fri, 25 Apr 2008 09:26:12 -0400
>Subject: All 09's Now Eligibile for Room Draw!

To All Undergraduate Students,

In February 2008, I sent all undergraduate students a letter outlining changes in housing eligibility for Room Draw that I felt compelled to make due to a decrease in on-campus housing capacity. Although many variables contributed to the decision, a key factor was the anticipated loss of Brewster Hall and The Lodge as undergraduate housing owing to the start of enabling and construction work for the new Visual Arts Center on Lebanon Street. The changes stated that:

~ A limited number of 09's would be able to select rooms at Room Draw and rising senior students were encouraged to seek off campus housing.
~ Fifth year Thayer BE students were not eligible for on-campus housing.
~ "Active older" students would not be able to participate in Room Draw but would be eligible for fall housing by applying through the waitlist.

Yesterday I learned that the Visual Arts Center project, while still moving forward, would not require the loss of Brewster Hall or The Lodge for the 2008-2009 academic year. These facilities will be available for undergraduate housing until June 15, 2009.

As a result of this information and the stellar work that Greek Letter organizations and Affinity Programs have done in filling their locations, and because of the high number of applications for the East Wheelock program, it is not necessary to limit the number of eligible rising seniors (09's) who may participate in Room Draw.

Despite these encouraging signals, our capacity to accommodate undergraduates is still somewhat smaller than in recent years. Therefore, I am leaving in place our decisions regarding fifth year Thayer BE and "active older" students. I do expect to have a waitlist, as we have every year. Students on the waitlist will be housed during the summer after other students who selected rooms at Room Draw change their plans for the fall, thus freeing up space. Any rising sophomores (2011's) who are on the waitlist are guaranteed housing, provided they apply by the June 2, 2008 deadline.

Originally Brewster was to be closed after the fall term and only students here for the fall term were allowed to select this location. This is no longer the case. Brewster and The Lodge will accommodate students for the full academic year and both residence halls will be available at Room Draw. Both communities will have UGAs. Brewster contains all singles and The Lodge provides one room doubles with full bathrooms. Updated floor plans for both locations will be available before the end of the day today on the ORL website.

I know that many of you have been concerned, angry and/or frustrated at the changes outlined in my earlier memo and some of you have already made plans based on that notification. I am sharing this new information as quickly as we learned about it ourselves. Though it may come too late to alleviate some of the anxiety already caused, I hope that for most this comes as welcome news.

For those who decided to locate housing off-campus, thank you. Our housing will still only accommodate ninety percent of the undergraduates enrolled, so I still expect approximately 380-400 students to reside off campus, which is normal.

If you have questions about the Room Draw process, please contact the staff in the Undergraduate Housing Office in the basement of North Mass: Rachael Class-Giguere, Murray MacDonald and Gwen Williams. A PDF of this memo is available at

Martin W. Redman
Dean of Residential Life

Comic Description (and Pictures)

It's looking increasingly likely that the Daily D won't be putting the aforementioned comic online. In the interest of bringing our readers as much news as possible on this front, here is Jake Baron's '10 description of the cartoon.
The central idea of the comic is that Dartmouth is now “outsourcing propaganda” to “somewhere in Asia,” where Ms. “Bone-Y-Ram” toils away “for Dartmouth Undying.” The comic depicts Ms. Lam’s face in a stereotypically Asian way, and the crudely drawn object representing Ms. Lam is unable to pronounce the English letter “L.” In the final frame, an object apparently representing a Dartmouth student asks “Who is Bone-Y-Ram,” to which an adjacent object replies, “Aonther self proclaimed hooker… I mean leader.”
Taking the piggy-backing one step further, I'm also fully endorsing Mr. Baron's conclusion:
Though I agree with the anti-Board Packing sentiment that the comic expresses, and though it goes without saying that the artists have the right to publish such work, it goes equally without saying that the work is tasteless, nasty, obnoxious, petty, and offensive.

I reject this comic in the strongest possible terms. I can only hope that the artists’ extreme imbecility will not derail the valiant anti-Board Packing efforts of the more level-headed thousands, courageous leaders all, who fight day in and day out to maintain Democracy at Dartmouth.
The full post, here.

UPDATE: Someone just sent in pictures of the comic taken with their cell phone. They're below the fold.

UPDATE 2: Katy O'Donnell's mea culpa, here.