Unsafe at any grade

If you suspected that many professors at America’s top universities view their students at passive receptacles for the professor’s propagandizing, you thought rightly. When students at Dartmouth broke this unspoken compact, one that is antithetical to the traditional idea of a university as a place where students learn logical, analysis, and the ability to articulate and defend their ideas, one very sensitive professor did what she had to — she sued them:

Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of “French narrative theory” that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposé, which she promises will “name names.”


Ms. Venkatesan’s scholarly specialty is “science studies,” which, as she wrote in a journal article last year, “teaches that scientific knowledge has suspect access to truth.” She continues: “Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct.”

The agenda of Ms. Venkatesan’s seminar, then, was to “problematize” technology and the life sciences. Students told me that most of the “problems” owed to her impenetrable lectures and various eruptions when students indicated skepticism of literary theory. She counters that such skepticism was “intolerant of ideas” and “questioned my knowledge in very inappropriate ways.” Ms. Venkatesan, who is of South Asian descent, also alleges that critics were motivated by racism, though it is unclear why.

After a winter of discontent, the snapping point came while Ms. Venkatesan was lecturing on “ecofeminism,” which holds, in part, that scientific advancements benefit the patriarchy but leave women out. One student took issue, and reasonably so – actually, empirically so. But “these weren’t thoughtful statements,” Ms. Venkatesan protests. “They were irrational.” The class thought otherwise. Following what she calls the student’s “diatribe,” several of his classmates applauded.

Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior was “fascist demagoguery.” Then, after consulting a physician about “intellectual distress,” she cancelled classes for a week. Thus the pending litigation.

You can read the rest here — and then ponder the level to which America’s very expensive higher education has sunk.

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  • jj

    I assume I also would have slept through this woman’s alleged “lectures” – or, as the article suggests, spent time answering e-mails.

    But, she was teaching – if that’s the word – English at Dartmouth, and Composition at wherever else she went – Northwestern I believe.

    I find myself wondering what “French narrative theory” has to do with English literature. I am further wondering what “science studies” might have to do with either English or freshman composition. And of course the same wonder applies to “problematizing” technology, the life sciences, or “ecofeminism,” in relation to English or composition.

    I spent far too much time in school, grad school in particular, to put up with much of that kind of nonsense. It is apparent that this woman, though she may belong many places, certainly does not belong teaching English. She evidently does not understand in what the subject consists – and it could make you wonder what Dartmouth was thinking – if “thinking ” is the word – when they put her there.

    Difficult to believe she found a lawyer with so little to do that he/she/it was willing to take this on with a straight face.

    Good for the kids.

  • spiff580

    I always hated the general education requirments; most of those classes would be empty if not for that requirment.

    Another reason to go to a state college. At least at a state college you’re not paying big bucks for this type of silliness.


  • Allen

    “Scientific facts do not conform to a natural reality…” There are people who believe this bilge? That’s hysterical, her car only works because of a social construct. Gravity is a heteronormative concept. People used to laugh at people with these kinds of ideas, now we pay them to prattle away in public.

  • Zhombre

    I graduated from a state university with a degree in English in 1978 and made the decision not to pursue a postgrad degree and go the PhD route, even though a prof I had was willing to help me get into a prestigious school in Chicago. I’ve never regretted the decision. The academic environment, I felt, was deteriorating back then. I thought literature, which I loved, was being embalmed by graduate studies. Now, thirty years later, they’ve become even more atavistic and have devoured the corpse, vomiting out all these absurd literary theories mixed with political bile.

  • http://tastyinfidelicacies.blogspot.com Jewel

    My favorite quote concerning the militant left wing stranglehold on education comes from Frankie Schaffer, son of Francis Schaffer:

    From Sham Pearls for Real Swine: “Learning about literature, art and music via the post-modern marxist feminist is like learning about sex via rape.”

  • Tap

    “Scientific facts do not conform to a natural reality…”

    I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule of hers….like evolution.

  • echeccone

    “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.” – John McCarthy

  • echeccone

    McCarthy’s quote, by the way, applies equally to the “militant left wing stranglehold” on East Coast elite universities as well as to the anti-elite ignoramuses that deny everything from Darwinistic evolution to modern economic theory. This is not a right-left issue, people.

  • Gringo

    This is not a right-left issue, people.
    It is one thing to hear nonsense from someone with a high school education, and another thing to hear it from someone with a Ph.D. Seems to me that there are more educated fools on the left side, more uneducated fools on the right side.

    What’s even worse is that the educated fool who subjected Dartmouth students to her nonsense has a master’s degree in genetics!

  • Mike Devx

    “Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior was “fascist demagoguery.” Then, after consulting a physician about “intellectual distress,” she cancelled classes for a week.”

    What in the WORLD is “fascist demagoguery”?

    Besides, a group of listeners whom disagree with you, that is.

    Oh, the distress! (and oh my, the response… including the lawsuit!)

    If I said, to my students, that the foundation of liberty and freedom was property rights, and they rose up en masse and said, “No! No! No! The foundation of liberty and freedom is to have free health where others pay, to buy your house on loan and have freedom from having to pay, and to have food at prices you demand to be fair! And to use energy in whatever way you deemi fit”…

    Well, I might reply that the foundation of security and peace is to have comfort with food, housing, and energy. Bit what has that to do with freedom and liberty? What would be their response?

    I would not sue. I might just walk away from them. But it seems to me that we Americans are at the point where we EXPECT security and peace in the form of comfortable delivery of food, housing, energy, and health services. I UNDERSTAND this! Don’t you? Life has been so very easy that it seems reasonable to demand these things. But they are demanded only in crisis. And what shall be the result?

    At the risk of alienating my colleagues here, I fear that Republicans have lost sight of the fact that their goal is to ensure the pursuit of happiness for ALL the American people, not just the best fit of those people. This is dangerous ground, to succor and comfort only the elite. We are at risk if we do not return to core American principal values, which ensure that what makes all Americans great makes all of America great. There’s a difference. I might be unsure here, but I challenge those who would disagree with that to explain their differences, so that we may judge all our words as worth what is actually written.

  • Mike Devx

    By “actually written” I mean to not just rely on a saying from the past – but to EXPLAIN IT.

    I’m not interested in statements that solely state, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” I know that and I can defend it. But if you state it… can you defend it? Especially in economics, which is what this election appears to be about? Can you not merely state the platitudes but forcefully defend them?

    The platitudes won’t get us anywhere. DEFEND the statements, in my mind. Don’t just state them.