OP-ED | Classroom Excellence Or No, Shankar Must Go
Back in the day when I was a high-school English teacher, administrators reminded every member of our faculty several times a year that we were role models for our students.
It was a refrain heard at every turn: How can we expect young people to follow the rules if we flout them ourselves? And I can guarantee you if any of us had been arrested three times and landed in jail, we would surely find ourselves unemployed.
Shockingly, if you’re an associate professor in a state university in Connecticut, the exact opposite happens. You not only get to keep your job teaching children and young adults, but you’ll be given a promotion while sitting in your cell or shooting some hoops with your fellow inmates.
For a couple of years now, I’ve shaken my head in disbelief at the case of Central Connecticut State University associate professor and poet-in-residence Ravi Shankar.
I understand that by most accounts Shankar is an otherwise excellent teacher. Andy Thibault, a contributing editor at the Register Citizen and an admirer of Shankar’s from their days together at the Connecticut Young Writers Trust, recently wrote a moving testimonial about Shankar after interviewing him at the Hartford Correctional Center.
As a person of some compassion who has himself made some regrettable mistakes, I realize that a single stint in the pokey isn’t necessarily the result of being a bad person. But Shankar’s prison stay is the culmination of a series of criminal acts unbefitting an educator of young people.
By now, Shankar’s list of convictions has been well documented. He was suspended with pay and arrested in 2011 on charges of ordering on a university computer $22,000 worth of tickets to a New Jersey soccer event, hoping to scalp them and cover tens of thousands in stock trading losses. When the scheme fell apart, according to a police affidavit, Shankar went to the cops and claimed he had only bought four tickets and that someone had stolen his Discover card to buy the rest.
After Shankar admitted that he had bought all the tickets in an effort to scalp them, police learned that he had falsely told a university IT specialist that the cops had recommended all his hard drives be wiped clean, leading to evidence-tampering charges — a felony in Connecticut.
In an unrelated incident, Shankar was later arrested in North Haven after he rear-ended a vehicle and fled the scene. So the professor also faced charges of driving under the influence, evading responsibility and operating an uninsured motor vehicle.
Shankar has been serving 90 days of intermittent “pre-trial confinement”—the result of a plea-bargain of probation violations related to the drunken driving and lying about the credit-card fraud scheme.
Shankar should go. The problem is the way the knuckleheaded collective bargaining agreement with the CCSU professors reads. Evaluations are based only on quality of teaching, “creative activity” such as publications, research and attendance at workshops—those kinds of things. But aside from public testimonials, taxpayers can’t see for themselves whether Shankar is a good teacher because state university professors’ evaluations are exempt from state Freedom of Information laws.
Many employment contracts I’ve signed have morals clauses that allow employers to fire workers who violate the law or bring shame and embarrassment to the institution. Not CCSU. Asked by The Courant whether arrests or convictions should be used in evaluations or promotion decisions, a CCSU union boss bristled: “That’s a question for the courts. How would I as a faculty member know what someone’s arrest record was?” Interesting. It’s a question for the courts to decide what criteria CCSU uses in promoting its professors?
As for the arrest records, you can Google the name or read the papers. If that’s too much trouble, you could make it a requirement for employees to report any arrests and subsequent convictions that befall them. Somehow, I doubt Shankar’s union would permit that.
The state Board of Regents For Higher Education initially sounded like they’d come to their senses and at least deny Shankar his promotion. But on May 19 the board issued a vapid statement so full of gobbledygook that no one understood except the flak who wrote it.
I’m grateful for the many students Shankar has inspired and successfully mentored over the years. But if I were his boss, I would thank him for his service and find a way to send him packing.