Monday, May 05, 2008

Dartmouth's 'Hostile' Environment'

Here's a great piece in today's Wall Street Journal (off the site, so it's free).
Often it seems as though American higher education exists only to provide gag material for the outside world. The latest spectacle is an Ivy League professor threatening to sue her students because, she claims, their "anti-intellectualism" violated her civil rights.

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."

The trauma was so intense that in March Ms. Venkatesan quit Dartmouth and decamped for Northwestern. She declined to comment for this piece, pointing instead to the multiple interviews she conducted with the campus press.

Ms. Venkatesan lectured in freshman composition, intended to introduce undergraduates to the rigors of expository argument. "My students were very bully-ish, very aggressive, and very disrespectful," she told Tyler Brace of the Dartmouth Review. "They'd argue with your ideas." This caused "subversiveness," a principle English professors usually favor.

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."

Read the whole thing here.

I think Professor Venkatesan would like my students - they tend not to challenge ideas much (or participate in class much at all).

But seriously - this lady is destined to end up as the punchline on a bad joke. Can you imagine a professor being upset because students actually challenged his/her teachings in class? That's a perfect opportunity to get them engaged, discussing, and thinking critically. That's the stuff we work for.

I get the impression that that's not what she had in mind. I guess it's not just students who are "Snowflakes" (i.e. each special, unique in their own way, and deserving of kudos for every little accomplishment).

I'll leave it to my readers to come up with the "appropriate" responses.

Sorry - gotta go before I start ranting. Must. Drink. Coffee.

update: Mike Munger provides a nifty link to a treasure trove of info on this case from Ivygate. I really should get back to work, but this is like watching a train wreck, but with PoMo nonsence trown in as a bonus.

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