Professor Sues Students For Doubting Hairbrained ‘Theories’


By: Warner Todd Huston

She claims that her students violated her civil rights. She says student’s “anti-intellectualism” made her life a living hell. So, this ex-Dartmouth professor is threatening to sue her students for the temerity to have doubted her hairbrained theories on “ecofeminism” and the “French narrative theory.”

Oh, professor Priya Venkatesan was all in high dudgeon that students would dare question her efforts to “problematize” science all right. She was all discombobulated that her students were “irrational,” and “subversive” with their questions. She even thought them filled with “fascist demagoguery” — after all, isn’t it “fascist” to ask questions and not t just swallow whole what a professor dishes out? Why, it was so horrible for her that she felt she had to consult a physician for her symptoms of “intellectual distress.”

Joseph Rago of the Wall Street Journal has some more of the details.

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 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.

If it’s “subversiveness” to challenge a theory, then what exactly is college for? But, Venkatesan was having none of that silly exchange of ideas stuff.

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 canceled classes for a week. Thus the pending litigation.

But, I have to say that we really cannot blame Ms. Venkatesan. After all, this is where our institutions of higher “learning” are headed. Venkatesan can certainly be excused for imagining that such off the wall theories as feminist “thought” et al are to be accepted as gospel, never to be questioned. This is the atmosphere we have engendered in our so-called universities. Out with the old (white men) and in with the new (gender based) truths is the ticket for the learned these days.

It has become pervasive in our colleges that all that came before is to be erased and replaced by more politically correct, group-think concepts that will re-make our world into something ostensibly better, more liberal, freer… and if you disagree the pod people will surround you, point you out to mark you as an apostate, and screech to drown you out. A recent book by Anthony T. Kronman takes up this very subject. In Education’s End (Yale, 2008, $27.50), Kronman decries the loss of the search for the meaning of life in today’s universities and pegs that loss to the constant search for “originality.” In other words, folks looking to earn their Doctorates are so intensely interested in finding a “new” angle by which to view any subject in the humanities that any understanding of context and meaning has been eschewed for the search for that “new” take.

Individuality or originality becomes the goal as opposed to an attempt to understand the wider points of a philosophical system or the finer points of great literature, according to Kronman. Was the author gay? Did his sexual proclivity “inform” his views? Was he rich? Did that wealth infuse his work with a predetermined viewpoint? These sorts of investigations into minutia drills down well past the greater value of the work in question and makes such a focus somewhat pointless. It certainly makes useless any attempt to teach about great literature when the philosophical point of the work seems so entirely lost in the halls of academia.

It would be like discussing a great movie like Citizen Kane and focusing on costuming alone instead of dwelling on the theme of the movie and its greater implications of the era in which it was filmed. Much would be lost by such a narrow focus. But it sure would be “original” research.

As Liam Julian writes in the Weekly Standard:

We’ve moved away from using facts to deduce larger lessons and toward using facts to uncover even more facts, which makes it necessary to specialize in pinpointed topics… But according to Kronman it has forced the humanities to reject Oakeshott’s “conversation” (with thinkers present, past, and future) by championing all new paradigms and rejecting all the old. Thus, instead of interacting with Aristotle, students learn to overturn his modes of thinking, to derive their own ways of making sense of life. These new worldviews do not seek to build upon the foundations of history but to tear down those foundations and replace them.

I find this sentiment revealing of where we’ve gotten to in universities today. A classic education has been sacrificed to the God’s of political correctness. We no longer graduate well-educated people, but people who are so narrowly trained as to be mere technicians. We no longer offer the world generations of people who have been exposed to ideals that might enrich all our ethical lives by training leaders who know from where we’ve come and where it might behoove us to go.

From the outside looking in, we see “minority studies,” “gay studies,” or “women’s studies” and laugh at the foolishness of such “original” thinking. We see the twisted logic of Venkatesan’s “ecofeminism” and shake our heads at the idiocy of it all. Unfortunately, it seems that our institutions of higher learning have become bastions of the silly and feckless.

I did not get a classic education either. But, I wish I had had the opportunity. But, at least I have some inkling of what I might have been missing. Most kids today aren’t even aware that there is more to this existence of ours, or at least that there could be. The classic notions of the sublimity of our existence and the ideas and ideals of men are entirely lost on too many.

But, if one professor can sue her way to a greater understanding, I say more power to her. Now, if only someone could get through to her that it is she, rather than her students, that exhibits those traits of “fascist demagoguery” so woefully common in feminist thought and its mother, PCism.

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