Don't want to do a class assignment? Better email the president of your university!
That was the thought process of one Sara Ackerman, an NYU undergraduate taking courses in the university's Social and Cultural Analysis Department. (Full disclosure: This reporter also attended NYU, and took three courses in the SCA department.) During the fall semester, Ackerman's professor Caitlin Zaloom assigned the class to do an ethnographic study of Occupy Wall Street. Ackerman objected to the assignment, on the grounds that she was being "forced" to interview "criminals, drug addicts, mentally ill people, and of course, the few competent, mentally stable people," and a feud was born.
The fight culminated in this epic 2,800-word open letter to NYU President John Sexton that Ackerman sent to the entire Social and Cultural Analysis department. You really want to read the whole thing. (We've removed Ackerman's original bolding italicization and underlining. Your eyes will thank us.)
From: Sara E AckermanThis is what the self-esteem movement has wrought. (via NYU Local)
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 03:17:57 -0500
To: Undergraduate students minoring, majoring or interested in SCA
ReplyTo: Sara E Ackerman
Cc: Undergraduate students minoring, majoring or interested in SCA
Subject: An Open Letter to John Sexton regarding Professor Caitlin Zaloom
Dear President Sexton,
Tonight, I showed up to Bobst Library at around 6:30 pm in a last-ditch effort to convince you to deal with Professor Zaloom via forcing her to resign, or firing her, and instead of coming to meet with me——I admit, I came unannounced, but you seem to have made yourself scarce these last few months, and I deemed the situation urgent—-Joanna from the Mental Health exchange called me.
I had told Sergeant Weitzman—-the NYU officer who filled out my report, and the man whom I asked to help to get me in touch with you—-that if NYU tried to pull 'the mental health card' again, I would go very public.
I would like to remind you that since Professor Zaloom alleged that I 'threatened her safety' (all by emailing her, challenging her in class, and meeting with her during office hours—-how dangerous!!!) (note: I am 5'1 and 105 pounds), and she ordered a PNG to be put on my head a few weeks ago, (by the way, I have confirmed eyewitness reports from certain SCA administrators that people begged Zaloom not to file the security report, as it was right before finals, and I had never threatened her but she did it anyway), I was immediately cleared by a social worker at the NYU Wellness Exchange after I was evaluated. I have the social worker's card, and she recommended that I call her if NYU ever tries to pull that again.
Furthermore, I have no history of mental health issues, I have never been written up by an NYU security guard, I have no criminal record, I have an above average GPA, impressive extracurricular activities, an amazing resume with great recommendations/references, 3 post-graduation job offers, and I have sustained wonderful relationships with many of my previous employers, and NYU professors, over the years.
Alas, it seems you still are not taking me seriously.
This is unfortunate.
Now, here is a very open, and very public letter to you, regarding what has been going on since October.
***To those of you who are new to the situation***:
——Feel free to disregard this email, or feel free to read on if you'd like to formulate your own opinion about the unappealing underbelly of NYU bureaucracy.——-
****Luckily, Professor Caitlin Zaloom's misconduct/unethical behavior can be easily mapped out, and organized in list form...
Oh wait, one other thing:
For starters, here is Associate Professor Caitlin Zaloom's ratemyprofessors page:
Here is her husband, Professor Eric Klinenberg:
~~~~~Now, here is that list, in no particular order~~~~~~:
1. Professor Caitlin Zaloom forced myself, and my classmates to do an ethnographic assignment on Occupy Wall Street a few months ago.
*No alternatives were offered, and we were instructed to interview only those people who were participating in the OWS movement— that means anyone, including criminals, drug addicts, mentally ill people, and of course, the few competent, mentally stable people that stationed themselves at Zuccotti Park
(**note: I did not meet any of the supposedly mentally sound, non-delusional people at Zucotti Park. All of the interviews that I conducted are on video, and clearly show that each person I interviewed—-and believe me, for my own safety, I tried to interview the most seemingly normal people there—-was either mentally disturbed or dangerous, scary or masked, or misogynistic and rude. I was cat-called at, gawked at, ogled, and called derogatory names.)
2. Before I actually went to OWS, I begged Professor Zaloom for an alternative, via her private office hours, in-class requests (by raising my hand, and making these requests in a polite, respectful, and productive way), and emails to her NYU email account.
*I have all of these emails printed out. I have also forwarded them to every member of my family, friends that I trust, and other 'people'.
Professor Zaloom ignored many of my emails, or just told me that I have to do the assignment no matter what.
In one particularly notable email, Professor Zaloom told me that my personal stance on OWS was making 'conceptual progress in the class difficult to sustain.'
The way I interpret this statement is that Professor Zaloom asked me to stop expressing my views in class—by the way,according to the American Constitution, and many academic policies, this is both my legal and academic right, but whatever, I guess that doesn't matter when you're Caitlin Zaloom—-because she realized I was right, or because she could not argue with me without recognizing that the assignment was completely illegitimate and a farce?
If you have any thoughts on this, please feel free to reach out! [REDACTED] is my mobile phone number and it will be on all night, as I will be waiting up until 9 am rolls around...
3. Although it went against my core values, moral beliefs, and also made me feel unsafe, I ultimately did go to Occupy Wall Street with my class group——-two other young girls, who are quite attractive and thin, and don't look particularly physically fit enough to take on a potential predator, rapist, paranoid schizophrenic, etc.——just to see if I was being as melodramatic as Professor Zaloom made me feel I was.
***I won't go into detail here, but let me just tell you that if anything, I had previously underestimated how awful Occupy Wall Street was, and I left the park feeling as though I had escaped an extremely dangerous—-and even, life-threatening—-situation.***
4. After sending various emails to Professor Zaloom's account, in which I expressed my discomfort with the assignment for legal, academic, ethical, moral, and safety reasons, and also mentioned these things in class, she finally agreed to meet with me one last time.
During this meeting, I offered to do an alternative in one of two ways:
a. I offered to do a different ethnography, on any topic Professor Zaloom finds to be particularly compelling.
b. I offered to write an essay on Occupy Wall Street, but not an ethnography, as I had no interest in going to, and was also genuinely afraid to go to, Occupy Wall Street.
Not only did Professor Zaloom refuse to give me an alternative, but she also threatened to give me an F on the assignment, should I choose not to complete it.
I pleaded with her, and Professor Zaloom continued to refuse.
I told her that if she absolutely could not offer an alternative, I would have no choice but to take the situation to the next level of NYU administration.
Professor Zaloom told me I could meet with Mary-Louise Pratt, head of the SCA department.
Please note that at this stage, Professor Zaloom thought it was more appropriate that I meet with Professor Pratt than for her to provide me with an alternative herself.
At no point during the meeting did I threaten Professor Zaloom, or question her position as a professor; I did not question her academic competence, nor her convictions, though I had begun to question her ethical compass, and her ability to gauge what is appropriate within an academic setting, and what is not.
The fact that Professor Zaloom thought it was appropriate to send students between the ages of 19-23 to a dangerous site is in and of itself, a horrifying thought, but beyond this, when I protested, and both openly and privately challenged the assignment, in a completely rational way, as well as in a legally and academically well-substantiated manner, Zaloom still refused to offer an alternative, and then cavalierly sent me to Professor Pratt.
I'll skip the parts in which I met with Professor Pratt-—who by the way, told me in her own words of course, that I am an intelligent, eloquent orator, with a strong grasp of the concepts and theories taught in SCA——because despite the fact that she complimented me, she too, sent me to someone else—-Dean Richard Kalb.
I will also skip the parts about Dean Kalb, as this email is about Professor Zaloom.
Let's fast-forward to the assignment that was assigned after the ethnographic assignment, which, by the way, I still have not completed.
Dean Kalb, and Riley Gallagher can answer why this is...
5. For the fourth assignment of the semester, we were required to conduct surveys, and Jen Heerwig, a graduate student in the sociology department, was meant to come and assist the class in learning how to gather quantitative data.
I would like to take this opportunity to note that I am an incredibly weak math student, and always have been, and as a result, Jen's guest lectures would have been very helpful for me, as I truly struggle with mathematical concepts—-this is something that I expressed in class, and to Dean Kalb, and Riley Gallagher when I met with them.
Moving on—-with regard to the timeline of Jen's lectures, I am using the syllabus that is on blackboard as a reference point, as I cannot be certain which days she came in, and how those dates relate to the dates on which I met with Dean Kalb, Riley Gallagher, Professor Pratt, and even Zaloom herself.
According to the syllabus that is currently on blackboard...
Jen first came to speak to the class on November 16, 2011
(*note: this was a few weeks after the OWS assignment incident—-at this point, I had arranged with Dean Kalb to do an alternative assignment on the NYPD's response to OWS. However, the alternative essay never did come to fruition—-please keep reading to find out why.).
During Jen's first lecture, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, actively participated, learned a lot, and found Jen to be a very clear, and coherent educator who was open to questions, and enthusiastic about engaging with students, and meeting their academic needs. Jen answered many of my questions, and in my opinion, helped to facilitate the class discussion on data collection for our imminent assignment.
Between Jen's first lecture, and second lecture, the situation with Professor Zaloom continued to become increasingly contentious.
I won't go into detail, again, because you can just direct all questions to Dean Richard Kalb, the man who has been consistently in-the-know about Professor Zaloom's discrimination, unethical behavior, and legally questionable actions, and still did nothing substantial to help me, despite my requests, and pleas for assistance.
DuringJen's 2nd and 3rd lectures, she mostly refused to call on me, even when I was the only student raising my hand.
Other times, I kept my hand up for about 75 seconds—-a long time to keep one's arm raised, by the way—-and Jen still did not call on me, or she dismissed my questions, thoughts, and opinions.
Furthermore, when Jen did call on me, she was incredibly hostile, rude, and condescending—-she acted in a completely different manner than she had before, and she seemed to change her behavior only towards me.
**In my opinion, and from my perspective, Jen continued to treat everyone else in the class in a respectful, kind, and open way.
When I pointed this out, in a completely rational, tame, and respectful way, both Zaloom and Jen dismissed my thoughts—-cutting off my right to the first amendment, yet again.
Again, I won't go into details about it here, but these were the 2 lectures that I walked out of—-and right into Dean Kalb's office, where I begged him to do something for me.
In short, Dean Kalb told me that I could withdraw, take an incomplete, do the paper, or just basically, essentially, give up, and give in.
Again, Riley Gallagher bore witness to all of this, and if I do have to bring NYU to court, she will be legally obligated to testify about Dean Kalb's response to my pleas for help, and assistance.
Here, I will stop, because the rest of what happened involves myself, my family, Dean Richard Kalb, and many other people whom have been negatively impacted by this hurtful, contentious, illegal, academically unethical, and dangerous situation.
****President Sexton, you have already been alerted to all other details of the situation via the emails I have been cc'ing you on over the last 3 months, and you have yet to do anything for me.****
Now would be a good time to step in—-unless of course, you still think that I am bluffing about going to the press—remember, I know people—close family friends, in fact—who work for:
2. The NY Observer
4. The Washington Post
I have already written the op-ed, and a draft has been approved by one of the reputable newspapers listed above.
In this op-ed, I name you, Dean Richard Kalb, and Mary-Louise Pratt——all those people who are meant to have some power to check on Professor Zaloom, and all of you have profoundly failed in this regard.
It goes without saying that Professor Caitlin Zaloom is named—-I haven't yet decided if I will name Klinenberg.
I have cc'd every CAS dean on this email, as well as any CAS professors whose classes I have taken in the past, and whose opinions I deeply respect, and admire.
I have also cc'd Jen Heerwig—-I don't particularly care about what she has to say, as taking on an immature grad student on a power-trip really doesn't fall high on my list of priorities.
However, I would like to remind you that I have 2 classmates who are willing to testify about Jen's discriminatory behavior that I have described above.
So Jen, please think carefully if you are questioned, as this may very well go to court.
Lastly, I have over 1,000 friends on facebook, and if Professor Zaloom does not resign, or is not fired by 9 am tomorrow morning, I will publish every single email exchange we have had, on my facebook account.
I will also print out this letter, and hand it to students outside of Bobst library.
Again though, because you have wasted so much of my vacation time, and impinged on my study time during finals week by not helping me, this still is not enough.
Starting right now, I will post a status regarding this situation on my facebook wall—-I will not name any names, but after 9 am tomorrow, I will start naming people and I will publicize that Professor Zaloom was a spousal hire—-
I have someone who works for NYU who has confirmed this, and she is willing to reveal her identity, though I personally think this is pointless. I don't need anyone to get in to trouble for no reason—-I have enough evidence on my own, thank you.
It is a little after 11:00 pm on Tuesday, January 3, 2012
If Professor Caitlin Zaloom has not resigned or been fired by Wednesday, January 4, 2012, at 9:00 am, I will publish the op-ed on Thursday.
Again, because you wasted my time these last few weeks, and have also, in turn, forced me to extend the deadline for the op-ed to be published, I will have to make up for that 'publicity' in some other way—-this will be via hourly facebook status updates, which will keep all identities of those involved anonymous until tomorrow, January 4, 2012, at 9:00 am.
All the best,