Sanskrit Dept. in Disarray, Students, Officials Say

In the words of more than one University Hall administrator, the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies is a mess.

A former lecturer is suing three professors and the graduate school dean for unspecified damages, the Dean of the Graduate School has been made the Department's chair, some graduate students say they are considering leaving the Department and there is friction between two of the Department's three tenured professors.

In addition, graduate students say the other tenured professor is ill and some say they think the department's former chair has behaved unprofessionally.

At least four graduate students (out of approximately 25) say they may leave the department early, saying they are wasting some $30,000 on a "disgusting" education and that they have not even been told how to prepare for an essay and oral exam, or whether their dissertation prospectus models should be 10 or 30 pages long.

At a December meeting of graduate students, individual students complained that teaching fellow selection appears to reflect personal relationships more than merit, the more than half-dozen "fields of interest" listed in the official graduate school catalogue are "largely figments of the imagination."

These complaints are recorded in the meeting minutes, which have been filed as an exhibit in the former lecturer's law suit at Middlesex Superior Court.

Further, although masters and doctoral candidates are currently required to take an exam in translation of a passage from the Mahabharata, the students say there is no accredited course in the subject because, according to the minutes, the only pertinent class was designated by the Department's former chair as a "hobby" and unaccreditable.

That department chair, Wales Professor of Sanskrit Michael E. J. Witzel, has assailed those minutes as "misrepresentations, half-truths, insinuations, accusations and blatant untruths that cannot be left unanswered." Witzel's lawyer said Witzel would not be available to comment for this story.

Anne Palmers, a departmental administrator, said that Witzel is in Taipei and that she does not have phone numbers where he can be reached.

Two faculty positions remain vacant and students do not know who will set or mark their exams, nor do they "have anyone to go to help with the thesis prospectus," a graduate student said.

One graduate student charged in December, according to the meeting minutes, that "the faculty and administration, having time on their side, may be in no particular hurry to reestablish the health of the department. The students, however, who are spending in the order of $30,000 a year for their graduate education, can brook no delay."

The Lawsuit

The two-week old lawsuit of Enrica Garzilli, a former lecturer who says she was unfairly passed over for a lec- tureship and has now been ordered to surrenderher Harvard identification, has finally madepublic the department's troubles.

University Hall officials, including Dean ofthe Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, have refused tocomment on the record about the department or thelawsuit, citing its personal nature and the factit is currently in litigation.

Garzilli alleges in her suit that Professor ofComparative Religion and of Indian Studies DianaL. Eck and former Assistant Professor of SanskritJames W. Benson made demeaning and harmfulcomments about her in faculty departmentalmeetings and thus blocked her application to be alecturer.

An exhibit in her complaint is a November 1993letter to her attorney from the department'schair, Witzel in which Witzel apologized forBenson's "uncollegial, disruptive, and defamatoryoccurrences."

Garzilli's attorney, William P. Homans '41 hadwritten Witzel requesting that he prevent Benson'sallegations from damaging her career.

Witzel responded by telling faculty membersthat he wished to avoid a lawsuit and thedisruption it would cause.

In an act that shocked some graduate students,Witzel undertook an examination of both Garzilliand Benson.

He wrote in a statement also filed inGarzilli's lawsuit that the "defamed" Garzilli wasa scholar of the highest ability, while in asevere critique of Benson's work, he alleged that"the defamer"--Professor Benson--had publishednothing but his dissertation and one articledealing with the same topic as the thesis and thathis conclusions were simply a "summary" of thescholastic discussion.

Witzel also alleged in his critique that Bensonhad made "some derogatory remarks about women andItalian women and their scholarship in general."

A month later, Witzel withdrew his letter,stating he "had acted improperly in speculatingabout Professor Benson's motives and inrepresenting to [Garzilli's attorney] that Iconducted an official investigation of his viewson behalf of the department."

Benson, contacted last week at Oxford, tookserious issue with Witzel's remarks and said thata "whole bunch of us had documented them andgotten the University to force him to retractthem."

Benson was immediately critical of Garzilli theone time her name was mentioned in a briefinterview, interrupting a question about "Dr.Garzilli" with the remark, "No, she's not aDoctor. Her degree is Italian and is theequivalent of an M.A."

Garzilli said Monday that in her field, theItalian degree is equivalent to an American Ph.D.

Witzel wrote in an additional statement filedwith Garzilli's lawsuit that the results ofGarzilli's "Ph.D. exams" at the "La Sapienza"University of Rome had been almost perfect.

Benson said at first that he could tellhorrifying stories about the Sanskrit Departmentand that "there is nothing [he'd] rather do," butafter talking with a University hall administratorsaid he could not comment.

Garzilli also names Dean of the Graduate SchoolChristoph Wolff as a defendant in her suit, saying"it is more probable than not that ProfessorWitzel was forced by a senior officer of Harvard,the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts andSciences, Dean Wolff, to write the'withdrawal'..."

Garzilli says in her complaint that "[i]n eachinstance of Dr. Garzilli's exclusion from ateaching appointment... the proximate cause of theexclusion was the opposition of Dr. Benson andProfessor Eck, without academic justification, andthe opposition and power, exercised by virtue oftheir positions in the University and in theDepartment, of Dean Wolff and Professor Bol, alsowithout academic justification."

Wolff refused to comment on the matter, as didassociate Dean Laura Fischer, who has helped himmanage the Department, referring all calls toUniversity Attorney Alan A. Ryan, Jr., who hasbeen assigned to the case.

Ryan declined to comment further than sayingGarzilli's case has little merit and he willaddress it in court.

Four graduate students said they believeWitzel's firm support of Garzilli has hurt hisstanding in the department.

One graduate student said, according toFebruary meeting minutes, that the department "isnow thought of all over the country as a locus ofgreat conflict and disorganization..."

Of the nine graduate students contacted by TheCrimson, four spoke against Witzel, four refusedto comment, and one spoke in his favor.

In addition, one undergraduate alumna calledThe Crimson and spoke against Witzel, and HowardResnick, a graduate student, called and voiced hissupport.

All of the graduate students who spoke againstWitzel spoke on condition of anonymity, sayingthey feared retaliation if their names werepublished.

Two graduate students interviewed said Witzelis not to blame for the department's disarray.

Carlos Lopez, president of the graduate studentcouncil, said that his experience in thedepartment has been excellent, although he saysthat there is some friction at the faculty level.

"I think a lot of things here are hearsayrumors that students are going on without lookingat the work," said Lopez, who is Witzel's advisee.

The graduate students are divided over Witzel,Lopez said, with about two thirds against him andone third in favor.

Most graduate students interviewed said thatonly three or four students, including Lopez, arein favor of Witzel.

Four graduate students interviewed by TheCrimson said that Witzel should lose his tenureand be removed from the University.

Garzilli was not the first person whom Witzelbrought into the department and with whom anunusual situation developed, students say.

Homans says that in the past he represented aman whom Witzel had allowed into the departmentand who was subsequently ordered to leave.

Students said they found the man disruptive anddid not understand why he was there.

The graduate students held a meeting inDecember and took notes which they sent to Wolff.The minutes said they did not record the names ofstudents who spoke for "fear of retribution."

Witzel later threatened to sue Sarah LeVine, agraduate student who recorded the minutes of themeeting.

In a newsletter to graduate students, Witzelwrote that "[u]nfortunately, an immediate concernis one that mostly is one of your own making. Irefer, of course, to the Graduate Student meetingof December 15 and the so-called 'minutes' thatyour volunteer 'reporter', Ms. S. LeVine, hasproduced."

"The 'minutes' do more damage to the Departmentthan the incessant rumor mongering of the past twoyears. In fact, great and irreparable damage hasalready been done," Witzel wrote.

Witzel also wrote that "[a]s agreed by DeanKnowles and me last Summer, I will, as of January30, return to teaching and research, after havingbeen an administrator since July 1987."

Witzel wrote in the next newsletter, inFebruary, that "several times I have asked you asa group and the 'reporter' as an individual toclarify or revoke them. Nothing has been doneabout this, though I know that some of you havewritten to the Deans about the matter. As the caseremains unresolved, and from all that I hear willremain so, I am no longer prepared to serve as theDirector of Graduate Studies."

According to LeVine at the February graduatestudents meeting, Wolff and the University's"Legal Counsel" told Witzel that he should not suea student, since students' freedom to criticizeteachers is protected within the University.

Eric D. Mortensen, a graduate studentmoderating the meeting, read a statement Witzelhad instructed be read, saying that "there is nolawsuit yet," and that he and Garzilli had"separate issues, procedures, aims, lawyers, andshould not be grouped together."

Witzel's statement also said that "his personalchampionship of Mrs. Garzilli is an attempt torectify the harm James Benson did to her in thepast, and to make up for the administration'sfailure to defend her at that time. This is anissue with a history."

Mortensen said, according to the minutes, that"the roles of scholar and professor wereindivisible."

"Thus in the view of some students the factthat, as a scholar, Professor Witzel did good workdid not exonerate him from, as a professor,intimidating students," the minutes continue. "Aprofessor should be encouraging his students'intellectual development, not threatening themwith libel suits!"

Mortensen wrote in a letter to graduatestudents that the matter of the December minutes"has caused folks to consult legal counsel, GlenWallis has formally resigned as yourrepresentative, there are students who are furious(or have at least "had it") with other students,folks are not speaking to each other, andaccusations and threats continue to fill theambiance of the Sanskrit scene at Harvard. This ismassively sad."

The Plaintiff

Although Witzel is not a party in the lawsuit,the case reflects the scholarly and personaldivisions in the Department.

In her suit, Garzilli alleges that Eck said ata Department meeting that "the 'Harvard community'does not want Dr. Garzilli."

When asked why Eck and Bol would want to harmGarzilli, as she alleges in her complaint, Homansresponded: "That's the $64,000 question. We havenever been able to figure out a motive."

"That's one of the problems with this lawsuit,"Homans said.

After the lawsuit was filed, Wolff toldGarzilli to surrender her Harvard identificationand keys, according to Homans.

Garzilli said Monday that she has not turnedher Harvard identification in, as Wolff told hershe could work in Pusey Library and she needs herID card to enter the library.

Garzilli said that she does not know what shewill do in the future. She said she has beenoffered a temporary professorship in Italy, butthat it does not pay enough to live on.

She said that she is filing her suit in searchof justice and academic reform.

When asked why many graduate students appear tohold her in little regard, Garzilli said it isbecause she is "a woman and a foreigner."

"I was one of the first feminists in mycountry," Garzilli said.

She said that Eck and Benson dislike Witzelbecause he is also a foreigner.

"It is cultural bashing," she said.

She said she has never yelled at graduatestudents, as some have alleged, and that in factthe reverse is true--graduate students, includingWallis, have yelled at her.

Wallis said he had never yelled at Garzilli.

When asked why she has not included graduatestudents in her suit, she said that she would notsue a graduate student.

"They are poor," she said.

Asked what she thought about Witzel's threat tosue LeVine, Garzilli said that the oppositesituation was the truth--that Witzel had neverthreatened to sue LeVine, and that LeVine had infact threatened to sue Witzel, a charge thatLeVine denied.

In a January 24 letter to LeVine, Witzel'slawyer, James Pollock, writes that the Decemberminutes "bring disrepute upon the name, reputationand standing of Professor Witzel both as a teacherand as an administrator. Accordingly, they fallinto the category of libel....The possibility ofmalice on your part is not to be ruled out giventhe unnecessarily hostile, unprofessional andnon-collegial demeanor you have shown in any faceto face dealings with Professor Witzel and thefact that your minutes omitted material presentedat the meeting, the inclusion of which would havelent balance to the record."

Pollock wrote that he "call[ed] upon [LeVine]to avoid unnecessary expense and other adverseconsequences from litigation by resolving thismatter by circulating to each person who receiveda copy" of the minutes a statement apologizing toWitzel.

Garzilli also said that one graduate studenthad side-checked her in the Department's office inan attempt to provoke her and that another hadtalked about her sex life in class and hadplagiarized a paper out of a book.

The two graduate students strenuously deniedGarzilli's claims, calling them ridiculous.Another graduate student said that Garzilli is"out of her mind" to claim such things.

Garzilli said that she was surprised thatpersonal differences interfere with academics atHarvard, but others said that it is Garzilliherself who is injecting personal differences intothe Department.

Homans said the lawsuit enters an unchartedarea of law.

On the one hand, the defendants must be able tojustify their actions, Homans said. The plaintiffdoes not have to show malice. But, on the other,the plaintiff is required to show that thestatements are unjustified, he said.

While Eck and Bol's motives may not bemalicious, some graduate students say Eck and Bolmay have reason not to wish to work with Garzilli.

Professor Bol, who is currently on sabbaticalin Japan, said he was brought in as an outside inan effort to restore order to the department.

Bol said he was "amazed" when he was told ofthe lawsuit, but declined to comment furtherwithout seeing the lawsuit.

Garzilli said she took her complaint toHarvard's Commission of Inquiry, which is chargedwith redirecting complaints and inquiries to thecorrect Harvard authority, but was told byProfessor of Philosophy Warren D. Goldfarb, thecommittee's chair, that there were no grounds forthe commission to become involved as both theDepartment of Sanskrit and Indian Studies and theOffice of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts andSciences (FAS) were already fully involved.

Ryan said that Homans has said he iswithdrawing his complaint and filing another one.Homans said last week he is filing an amendment toGarzilli's complaint, adding information aboutKnowles and Fischer.

Homans said it will take at least eight monthsfor the suit to come to trial once filed. He hasrequested a jury trial.

Sources have told The Crimson that the numberof outside graduate students being admitted to thedepartment has been lowered so as not to aggravatethe department's current troubles.

In addition, the sources predicted that Witzelwill not be put in a position of authority when hereturns in the fall.

Khan Professor of Iranian P. Oktor Skjaervowill be the Department's chair, beginning thisfall.

Graduate students say that Wolff and Fischermade some improvements to the Department thisspring, including advancing a faculty search toits current ad hoc stage.

Professor Leonard der Kuijp's appointment iscurrently in ad hoc, and he may be appointed afull professor in the department, graduatestudents say.

But some students said they fear that whenWitzel returns from Asia he will destabilize thedepartment.

"Nothing has really changed," one student said."When Witzel gets back, everything'll be back tousual."

Other students said that enough improvementshave been made that Skjaervo should be able toestablish order.CrimsonJonathan A. LewinThe graduate students' mailboxes in theSanskrit Department.