Sara Ackerman: NYU Student's Occupy Wall Street Drama Plays Out Over Mass E-mails

on January 09 2012 3:49 PM
Sara Ackerman, NYU senior, refused to go down to Occupy Wall Street
Student claims professor forced her to interview "the criminals, drug addicts, and mentally ill people" at Zucotti Park. Reuters

Here's one way to handle a student-teacher conflict. NYU senior Sara Ackerman, unhappy with a professor who she says forced her to do an ethnography on Occupy Wall Street, has told everyone in her department about her struggle - literally, at three in the morning.

Ackerman sent seven very long e-mails and a total of 4,000 words to everyone in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis demanding Professor Caitlin Zaloom resign after a long battle with the professor, school officials and even mental health experts. She said she refused to do the professor's OWS assignment because it required her to go down to Zucotti Park and interview the criminals, drug addicts, and mentally ill people, and of course, the few competent, mentally stable people for an ethnography. NYU Local published the e-mails in full - bolding, underlines and all - on their blog.

Before she turned to the department listserv, she said she complained several times to school officials and eventually tried to track down NYU President Sexton at his offices in Bobst Library. When he, according to Ackerman, sent her to the Mental Health exchange, she sent the first 2,800-word e-mail early Jan. 4.

She threatened that if NYU tried to pull 'the mental health card' again, I would go very public.

Her e-mails explained that she requested an alternative assignment and was eventually granted one by CAS Dean Kalb, but not before she had already gone down to Occupy Wall Street with 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. She went on to say she escaped an extremely dangerous - and even, life threatening - situation.

Ackerman told NYU Local that after she sent out the mass e-mails, she was offered an A grade if she promised to keep quiet. In a statement, NYU spokesman John Beckman denies the claim.

Federal law prohibits the University from talking about an individual student's academic or disciplinary record, so this is all a bit difficult to discuss, he wrote, but added: We received a complaint from a student about a particular fall class in the College of Arts and Science; we looked into the complaint and found the accusations were unwarranted. With all complaints, we try to come to some sort of common-sense resolution, but that does not involve offering 'A's', and we do not give grades or credit for work not completed.

Dean Kalb met with Ackerman and her mother at some point, and the issues at hand seem to go beyond the Occupy Wall Street assignment. In one e-mail, Ackerman complains that a guest lecturer refused to call on her after she raised her hand for a minute and 15 seconds, what she calls a long time to keep one's arm raised.

Ackerman said that when she was sent to mental health experts, 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.

If you have the time, the e-mails can be found here.

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