Opinion: Classroom excellence or no, Shankar must go

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.

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.

See the complete story at CT News Junkie.


10 responses to “Opinion: Classroom excellence or no, Shankar must go”

  1. EveT

    This may be a dumb question, but is this CCSU professor the same Ravi Shankar who was famous for his sitar playing in the late 60s? Or a relative of same?

    1. Mark Chapman


      No. That Ravi Shanker died in December 2012 at age 92.

  2. Suzanne

    This is very odd. The Dean responsible for informing the promoting board apparently says he did not know of Mr. Shankar’s legal record while, in the meantime, it is all over Google, in newspapers and a number of blogs. While Mr. Shankar appears to be an accomplished poet, perhaps he needs a little “alone time” and poetical reflection time in the Hartford Correctional Center to get his life on track. I can’t imagine a student being rewarded a fellowship, say, if that student showed a track record of legal violations. I can’t imagine either how the other English Department faculty, particularly those who possibly were passed over for a professor promotion, would feel. Maybe if they broke a few more laws they would get their just reward? Very strange.

  3. Kathleen Montgomery

    The Promotion and Tenure process in higher education judges a professor on scholarship, service and research and that’s pretty much it. The P and T Boards are made up of peers. Administrators, however, are responsible for enforcing the morals clause that is ever present regardless of what it is called in the contract. In the universities for whom I have worked, the use of the university’s computer for illegal purposes would find anyone kicked to the curb. I believe, then, that the question is not “Why was he promoted?” but rather “Why wasn’t he fired by administrators?”

  4. piberman

    Why is anyone surprised at the peculiar goings on in CT state colleges ? Nobody had any objections when the Yankee Institute reported a former UCON prof was collecting a $250,000 annual pension. Our Democratic Legislators are too busy raising spending for our public servants to be concerned with such “small stuff”. Colleges are where administrators and teachers earn their living. So why complain ? This is CT – land of good gov’t.

  5. John Hamlin

    Why should the standard for college professors be higher than for politicians? School administrators don’t want to do anything to jeopardize or challenge tenure.

  6. Maria Seegal

    All of these gratuitous comments are amazing and I suppose I’m biased because I studied with Professor Shankar who was by far the best teacher I had at Central. He cares about his students AND publishes books; most of the other blowhards do neither. He is an exceptional individual, and I just so happen to know that the entire initial episode was misreported – his credit card was erroneously charged nearly twenty grand in one hour and his side of the story has barely come out, except in the Central Recorder. Could it be that it’s because he’s a brown man in Connecticut? I’m sorry to introduce race into the conversation but while I was at Central (7 long mainly crappy years) there were other professors who had charges like assault third and multiple DWIs on their record but it was never reported the way this is. I mean we do live in a state where it’s about one hour from Greenwich to Hartford and the difference in lifestyle is rather striking. But anyway, I hope he writes a book about all this because I for one would like to see him vindicated.

  7. Suzanne

    I think the article is pretty clear about representing Mr. Shankar’s side of the story:

    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.

    The above caps are mine for emphasis. Note that this is all documented through police reports. There is a reason Mr. Shankar is in the Correctional Facility and it has nothing to do with color or competence as a faculty member. It does have to do with the quality and values an instructor holds as a member of the education community. For whatever reason and in spite of Mr. Shankar’s many achievements, he has made some bad choices which, if it were a student applying for a fellowship, would be dismissed and not raised to a higher status. It is a shame he has made the choices he has because as you describe him, he was an exemplary teacher. His actions, however, belie the privilege of professorship and should result in dismissal.

  8. Maria Seegal

    Suzanne – have you read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”? I recommend you read that book before you make your ignorant comments. Just because something is in a police report doesn’t make it true. The things that you listed were alleged – that’s why we have a judicial system to determine if they were true or not. And the things you mention – felony tampering, evading – were dropped. He WAS NOT CONVICTED of them. And what he was convicted of he pled “No Contest” too, which is under the Alfred Doctrine and not the same thing as a guilty plea. The above caps are mind for emphasis. Before you speak you might want to look at the statistics on mass incarceration for people of color in CT. About 7 times more than someone who is white and America has over 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. More than China or Russia. And cops are known to throw extra charges in when they are arresting people. I learned that in Central Sociology class. Rather than believe the media or a police report, the original of which, I doubt you’ve even seen, maybe you need to take issue with your own assumptions?

  9. Suzanne

    Perhaps I have placed too much faith in multiple news outlets with independent reporters (they are not cribbing off of each other to my knowledge – notice I am saying “to my knowledge” and not assuming anything) who cited a number of resources including police reports that ended up with Mr. Shankar in jail.

    You are citing one Sociology class and one book which, in the scheme of things, can reference any number of materials, both pro and con, regarding our judicial system and people of color.

    Notice too, that I specifically responded to your allegations by citing the article, specifically, which I then quoted (you are assuming multiple reporters did NOT read the police reports which, again to my knowledge, is a requirement to verifying sources when writing articles for news outlets) where Mr. Shankar admitted he had not only utilized university computers to buy tickets to scalp but that there was also corroboration by the IT person at the College that he then asked the hard drives of his computers to be erased because of his activities.

    I guess because he is a person of color in CT, we should cut him some slack? While I also studied in undergraduate university contemporary “Jim Crow” and, honestly, felt alarmed at what I observed as obvious profiling during traffic stops in the wealthier communities when I arrived here from California, I am not judge and jury and I would advise, neither are you.

    You took a class from him and, as I mentioned before after reading a bit about him, he seems to be an exemplary teacher. He is also troubled. I was surprised in reading his CV he was not teaching at a University of much greater distinction and wondered why?

    Whatever the admiration you have about this man, your objections will not help him anymore than my speculations. I don’t think he should have been made a professor while incarcerated. I do think he should get the help he needs to be the person who writes great poetry and books and teaches so well. This will not happen as long as he gets himself in trouble with the law, is incarcerated, and does not obtain the help he clearly needs. (Running from the scene of an accident after a DUI is not exclusive to people of color but, rather, would be unlawful for anyone just like the earlier incident cited.)

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