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Racism, harassment, bullying, threats and intimidation at Brandeis University.


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Not sure if this post will get taken down; but I'm wondering how they can get away with this, and how this does not damage this university or at least its Mathematics PhD program. This not typical of the US overall. I'm from India; I look very Indian and have an Indian accent. I have been in two other graduate environments in the US(after being forced to leave this place despite having a lot of peer reviewed work), and there is some weirdness here or there, but nothing remotely close to this. Generally people keep a facade of politeness, at the very least everywhere outside the New England area.

 

https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/155185/how-to-proceed-after-being-threatened-and-treated-poorly-by-university-faculty-a

The letter mentioned here, sent from the Dean of Graduate School of this university, was crafted by lawyers. I tried to send this letter to the mailing list of the math faculty of this university, although many of them already knew of these situations, and the Dean stepped in to say that if I tried to share this letter with the math faculty, it will be grounds for dismissal. I offered to talk through the matter with them in person, and they refused. In fact, they had got a fair idea of these matters, when I had actually reported these incidents to their so called Report It page, which actually went to the Dean's office.

     The Stackexchange post doesn't mention another PhD student who for a period of two years talked in a dehumanizing way with the international students in the department, like we were lepers. One Iranian student who had about a tenth of the interaction with this student as I was forced to have, said that if this was outside the US and someone was provoking and frothing and condescending like that, he would punch him in the face.

 

Below is also some examples of the behavior of a prominent faculty member in this department, incidentally a PhD student of one of the 2020 Abel Prize winners.

(i) Us talking about a simple enough problem, him asking me in a cordial way to think about it once I leave his office, and when I expectantly went back to tell him politely that I figured it out, he suddenly got very agitated and said very disparagingly, "OK, you win". (I've heard Math faculty at Harvard say somewhat competitive things when a mistake was pointed out in class, but of course they were still very respectful)

(ii) Constant pathological bullying when talking about Mathematics. It felt like entering a hazing ritual every time. In my second year, when I asked him for some very brief direction (this is not at all unreasonable judging by my interactions with literally every single other mathematician I've spoken with) in understanding Margulis' proof of Oppenheim conjecture, stating that my lack of understanding of Lie groups till that point was a mental barrier(even though all we really needed was to deal with SLn(R)); he started taunting me, saying among other things "Can you multiply matrices?" Later when I did go through the proof myself, he taunted me again, saying, why are you reading this?

(iii) Him being the head of the department, and me mentioning the dozens of instances of offensive racially motivated comments within the department from graduate students, teaching faculty, graduate students and teaching faculty in front of many people,(Possibly I kept bothering him a bit much), and him writing back to me at one point "This is not kindergarten and we are not kindergarten teachers, please sort your own issues".

(iv) Threatening expulsion constantly for a period of 6 months, acting as the head of the department, when an earlier so called advisor prevented me from writing down a paper in time whose arguments I had completed and when I was imploring this advisor to write a part of this supposedly joint paper however he wants (the part that was a bit subtle and I tried to explain endlessly and which he began to insist was wrong) and just let me go and work with someone else; but was told I myself had to again rewrite and reformulate everything I had roughly already written down and effectively take dictations from the guy and do nothing else for an extended period. He set a time frame of two and a half months for simply regurgitating and writing, when I had already finished this and wanted to move ahead on to other problems, and such a delay was harmful for my PhD. (He also shared with me emails where he discussed with his colleagues about including me in a grant proposal and wondering if having me as a minority from "Bengal" would boost their chances of getting the grant.)

        Even in the lawns and sidewalks of the university, X when he happened to bump into me would threaten expulsion as I was walking by. X later told me you should not at all write this paper, seemingly making it sound like good faith advice.

(v) While threatening expulsion, and the above seemingly good faith advice, also taunting me saying that I have no results to speak of, and to stay in the program, I should try to show 20 pages written down. A few months later, by when around 50 or more pages of material had been written down (despite the harassment), I asked him about this criterion again, and he said he is no longer judging my progress.

(vI) Telling me it is a loss of face for him that I would not be working with my earlier advisor any more (lots of PhD students in our department have changed advisors in their 4th and 5th years, so it is absolutely not uncommon), since he wrote to this advisor suggesting he advise me, just as I myself had been about to write to him. This advisor was not flooded with students at all, and the effect of me reaching out to him, versus X reaching out to him would have been the same.

(vii) I went to a dinner with a colloquium speaker, having missed his talk due to teaching commitments, and explained that to X at the dinner, and he replied saying in front of everyone, "Oh, that's why we can't throw you out now?". I would have been relieved in not going, but the speaker was an acquaintance of X, and I imagined he might have wanted me to be there, although later I learned that X generally doesn't care if his prospective students show up or not in such dinners, even if it is useful to the students to interact with the colloquium speaker.

(viii) An Asian student from a very good university came to give a talk and apparently mentioned later that it was extremely weird how X talked to her about her job applications, suggesting she will not do as well as X's student in getting jobs. I think she said she was offended, but of course she needn't be any part of this.

I was an Indian PhD student in Math here, who got threatened by lawyers employed by this university, with deceptive charges laid against me, when I told them I would speak out about incidents mentioned in this Stackexchange post (and much more, such as what another Indian PhD student wrote about getting harassed for a prolonged period by several people within the university): https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/155185/how-to-proceed-after-being-threatened-and-treated-poorly-by-university-faculty-a

The faculty member mentioned in the beginning of the Stackexchange post is different from the one about whom these tales are about. This is also a PhD program in the US that gets away without a qualifying exam, without any oral or candidacy exam, and graduate courses which with one exception in the last 5 years never had any graders assigned to them.

 

Edited by Aritro
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  • Aritro changed the title to Racism, harassment, bullying, threats and intimidation at Brandeis University.

First, I am sorry to hear that you had to undergo all of these things. I can relate as an international student. 

Although I did not experience similar issues, my top suggestion would be talking to a reliable lawyer and transforming all the events/statements you mentioned into indisputable (and legal) evidence, similar with some answers in the link. If you want to confront with the faculty especially given that they already have a lawyer, you need concrete evidence and also a lawyer; and I am sorry if this sounds harsh: your ideas are not evidence. I learned this myself in my experiences. Then, I think you and your lawyer should have a plan.

I am also curious: as the original post was posted more than a year ago, I am wondering whether you've found some ways to deal with the things (and these new things in this post, I suppose?) - for example, a lawyer? How's this year (2021) going? 

I am afraid that I cannot offer more suggestions, but I hope you can find someone that can help you more. 

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I joined a different PhD program where the admission committee was completely aware of what happened in the past. I had shared all of this on social media, when another mathematician who had briefly known me saw it,  and later arranged for me to be admitted to this new program, for which I am very grateful. This is a fairly normal environment unlike the regrettable environment in Brandeis where the persistent hostility and the persistent borderline violent body language had become a reality for some of us very quickly upon arriving.

Edited by Aritro
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  • 1 month later...
On 1/10/2022 at 7:51 AM, Aritro said:

I joined a different PhD program where the admission committee was completely aware of what happened in the past. I had shared all of this on social media, when another mathematician who had briefly known me saw it,  and later arranged for me to be admitted to this new program, for which I am very grateful. This is a fairly normal environment unlike the regrettable environment in Brandeis where the persistent hostility and the persistent borderline violent body language had become a reality for some of us very quickly upon arriving.

I recall reading your original post and am glad to read this update. It was good of the new program to take you, and I hope that your social media posts tarnished Brandeis's reputation at least a little. I feel like there's Title IX regulations that aren't being followed in this situation, and if your fellow students still in the program are so inclined, it might be worth taking to court.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Since I am still on a graduate student stipend, it is very unlikely for me to be able to take this to court. Also, as mentioned earlier, there was an extremely provocative and threatening letter that I received from the then Dean of Graduate School of this third class university, Eric Chasalow, composed for him presumably by his goon squad of lawyers, that made it clear they were well prepared for any kind of legal case, building on some unkind and disparaging statements I had made over email about a couple of these faculty members. It was a typical entitled "Karen" type of letter, for the lack of a better analogy, and constantly threatened expulsion. Then they demanded that to stay in good standing, I write to them that I was the one who had bullied and threatened and harassed them, so presumably they can use that against me in court. I never did this.

    I did not mention this earlier, but this was not the end of my worries; the person I was working with around that time, was a shameless insecure goon who tried to sabotage my work at every possible step, coming up with the choicest of insults when I would say something interesting which he would not think of; at some other time he reacted extremely poorly when i informed him of a paper I had published in a respected journal in a different subject, and certain other topics where he had a serious inferiority complex. I was always outwardly extremely polite to him. I was well aware that this individual was not the brightest bulb in a typical room full of mathematicians, but I really wanted to get into the subject and chose the subject over a good advisor. It is designed to make me look bad, with the lack of proper evidence, but just based on his constant obfuscations, my health would have been completely ruined; I had come up with an interesting result which was an offshoot of the main thesis project, and he tried his best to not let me articulate that result to him, and I never managed to get it across to him, and he constantly gave me feedback saying this paper will get rejected, without giving context about what journal it would be and how far I can stretch the result. He said something really dumb in another problem and kept on with it for months on end, and it was really really sad. He wouldn't approve if I tried to rectify that mistake and work with the correct version and put those in my thesis. This is something I struggled to convince many of my friends in India but did convince some international students in the US; that the level of obfuscations he was making implying I can't complete certain very basic calculations (when he wouldn't let me speak), at one point deplorably calling a short code wrong without giving any concrete reason when I had verified with some very competent coders and had gone some way in analytically explaining the code results and wanted to keep at it (even if I could not analytically explain a couple of very subtle parts of the results of the code, interesting partial results should have gone into my thesis), would only be a product of deep seated cultural resentments which are fairly mainstream now. I was hoping to finish something in the summer of 2020, when repeatedly he didn't let me articulate it then or later, and in late Fall 2020 was shamelessly saying "I want to understand this better"; even when I gave him very sad looks which literally got masked out. He looked at an initial version of the argument which was a bit poorly written, and then constantly began to condescend on that writing. I still had some aspirations of completing this quickly and moving on to more interesting questions, but I couldn't take this any more. He was very clearly enjoying what he was doing. It is even sadder that this second rate mathematician managed to grift to become an editor of some major journals, even astoundingly being co-editor with Tim Gowers in a couple of journals, not to mention holding positions of power at a nearby university in Boston, and other mathematical organizations.

It is fairly well known generally that this often happens in second tier Math departments with many toxic people even if interspersed with some really good people.

      Maybe a legal case could be made against the reprobate named Olivier Bernardi, who wrote some very questionable things and outright threatened me over email with expulsion if I went to Campus Police, as mentioned in the Stackexchange post. I wrote to several local newspapers in the Boston area, and not a single one responded to me at that time. There are a couple of Indian journalists who did respond but never followed up; which means these things are extremely hard to highlight and publicise.

Edited by Aritro
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