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."