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OP-ED | Classroom Excellence Or No, Shankar Must Go

by Terry D. Cowgill | May 30, 2014 5:30am
(11) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

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.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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(11) Comments

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | May 30, 2014  7:50am

DrHunterSThompson

Not so fast, Mr. Executioner. Shankar is a college professor, not an elementary or secondary school teacher. Back on the day professors would sit around the shanty with the good Doctor, twist up a fatty and put a good buzz on.

There is a whole lot more to education that reading a text book and sitting in an uncomfortable chair for 90 minutes with the Stepford community. Shankar is by all accounts a marvelous professor,rave him be, let him teach and mentor.

But, yeah - it is a bit bizarre to some I am sure that he got promoted while killin it in the slammer.  Ain’t America a beautiful thing ?!

HST

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | May 30, 2014  11:09am

DrHunterSThompson

Typos everywhere! My apologies to the former English teacher for my lack of proofing.

HST

posted by: RogueReporterCT | May 30, 2014  2:12pm

RogueReporterCT

You took the words right of my mouth, Dr. Thompson, so riddle me this: Whatever did happen to Oscar Zeta Acosta aka the “Fat Samoan Lawyer” you took with you to Las Vegas? Hmmm? Is he teaching somewhere under a false name??

posted by: Terry D. Cowgill | May 30, 2014  2:13pm

Terry D. Cowgill

No problem, good doctor. As a newspaper editor, I’ve seen far, far worse in the typo department.

I’m not sure I see a whole lot of difference between teaching high schoolers and young adults—at least for purposes of this discussion.

As an educator, you have a responsibility to set the right example and play by the rules, lest impressionable young minds get the wrong impression.

Shankar’s is not a case of slipping and falling once, but a pattern of behavior that is sure to repeat itself.

My feeling is if you’re a teacher and you can’t be a role model for young people, then you should find something else to do for a living.

That said, mine is only one man’s opinion, so take it for what it’s worth.

posted by: Joebigjoe | May 31, 2014  8:09pm

He needs to go.

Hey when Michael Bloomberg even says there are too many liberal professors in higher education, then losing this “poet” won’t hurt.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | June 1, 2014  4:08pm

DrHunterSThompson

Terry,

I understand where you are coming from. My simple point, just an opinion, is that college professors need not be role models, just good at what they teach. Having said that, the Shankar promotion is no doubt wrong given the circumstances.

HST

posted by: Swimupstream | June 2, 2014  7:11am

Terry - I’m curious how you know exactly what happened here?  Everything you state is according to “a police affidavit” and was thrown out in court (I hate to tell you this but I’ve encountered police in this state and they ain’t exactly truthful - they add charges like “interference” or “breach of peace” to hope something sticks and are pretty racist to boot). The Professor was not convicted of any felony, which seems to be the standard to which the BOR and the Union holds their professors, whether or not you agree with it.  Beyond that he seems to have published more books than his colleagues have published articles and is universally beloved. Shouldn’t that matter more than his “tenured” fellow workers who don’t do squat and collect a fat paycheck?  Also, please tell us, since you are think of yourself as a “person of some compassion” (a real Dalai Lama Lite I guess), did you reach out to the Professor to get his side of the story? There are two sides and I’ve only heard one so far. I have a feeling the actual facts are different than what has been reported.

posted by: robn | June 2, 2014  10:49am

HST,

A lot can happen between Stepford and Rikers but once you’re behind bars the question is no longer one about libertine behavior, but illegal behavior. All professionals, including college professors, are examples for students. Their behavior can be liberal or conservative or gonzo indeed, but it shouldn’t be illegal.

posted by: Terry D. Cowgill | June 3, 2014  7:20am

Terry D. Cowgill

@Swimupstream >> Is it too high a bar to set for our educators to demand that they stay out of jail?

If you would like Shankar’s side of the story, go to Andy Thibault’s testimonial for him, which is linked above and here:

http://www.registercitizen.com/opinion/20140516/cool-justice-8216my-duty-as-an-educator-does-not-end-while-i8217m-in-here8217

All Shankar does is apologize and then decline to comment any further on advice of counsel—predictable under the circumstances.

posted by: bob8/57 | June 3, 2014  3:45pm

bob8/57

Too many pundits, too few poets.

posted by: robn | June 3, 2014  4:22pm

Ravi Shankar’s fault
putting crimes before haikus
this must mean something