Remove Vijaya Ramachandran from undergraduate teaching roles at UT-Austin

Remove Vijaya Ramachandran from undergraduate teaching roles at UT-Austin

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Saveour Undergrads started this petition to The University of Texas at Austin and

In March 2020, I nearly committed suicide because of Vijaya Ramachandran.

I was in her Honors Algorithms (CS 331H) class because it was required by my degree plan. I thought it wouldn't be that bad of a class. Instead, the way she treated me and countless other students in the past was the most traumatic experience I've experienced in my five years in college.

From the beginning, something seemed off. She was cold towards me and clearly was warm to others, and showed favoritism towards the students in her class who already knew the material. I was not that good at algorithms, but I sincerely tried my hardest. I noticed she would call on every other person in the class by name, but she never bothered to learn mine, nor did she wish to talk to me when I had questions for her. I don't know what I ever did to warrant this.

It's no secret that she isn't known for being a good teacher (according to her course evaluation ratings and RateMyProfessor). But that doesn't make someone want to kill themselves. The problem was, her class rules were arbitrarily made up as we went along. The TAs she picked were extremely nitpicky, and made up rules as they went along while grading the homeworks, rules which we had never heard of until we received our homework grades back. This sort of unpredictable homework grading caused my fellow classmates and me a great deal of stress.

Once, she reassured me in class that the way I did a homework question would be acceptable. When we were marked off for the problem by the TAs for using that method, we were summarily denied a regrade by Professor Ramachandran without further explanation. We had used a method specified in the class textbook to do a problem, and the homework question's wording never limited ourselves from using it. I was left in disbelief. How was I supposed to know if I was "doing something wrong" if I am told of it after the fact?

With severe concern on how I was to survive this class, I studied for the first test, to no luck. After getting my test grade back, I was surprised by the quick "0/10"s scribbled on every problem, despite providing approximately correct solutions to solve each problem. It was clear that this class's grading would be the end of me if it wasn't addressed.

After this, I called my family and broke down crying, and I told them that I didn't want to live anymore.

I realized that if Professor Ramachandran wasn't going to make things right, I wouldn't be able to stay in her class anymore. So, knowing that I had nothing to lose, and fully prepared to drop her class if things went further south, I wrote a post on the class Piazza. It read:

"This class’s grading has been beyond unfair. Not only was there no partial credit given on the test for correct answers, I was penalized on the homework despite verbal reassurance it would not happen. By making up arbitrary grading policies, you have ruined my mental health by forcing me to try to bend over backwards to make sure I do exactly what you say. If the teaching staff does not apologize for this behavior and rectify my grades, I’m submitting a formal complaint against this class’s instructional staff and Q dropping this class. You have ruined my mental health and now I have to go to therapy. Thanks a ton"

The only thing she did was tell me to come talk to her in her office. (I had no time to do that.) She did not send me a private message. She only posted a generic public response, saying "if anyone has any problems, come talk to me in my office". Then, she reported me to the Behavioral Concerns Advice Line like I wasn't her problem anymore. Student Emergency Services contacted me and asked me to go see them. My academic counselor was contacted, and sent me boilerplate emails telling me to contact them if I wasn't okay and here's resources to help you blah blah blah.

I was beyond outraged by how I was ignored and told to go get help. Granted, I don't think the Piazza post was the best way to get their attention and change things, but I already knew that, and posted it anyway because she drove me to utter despair. It was clear that she was in no role to help, nor did she care about the situation. So, as promised, I proceeded to Q drop her class, because I could no longer learn from her, much less see or hear her ever again.

I went to the Counseling and Mental Health Center because I feared I might harm myself. I was so scarred by Professor Ramachandran that I never stepped foot in her class again. I was advised to medically withdraw for the semester, or if not, at least non-academically Q drop her class. I had to follow the litany of procedures needed to secure my non-academic Q. I had to register with Services for Students with Disabilities later on that semester. All thanks to her.

Because of what Vijaya Ramachandran did to me, I had no choice but to stop attending university. I feared that if I continued to be a student, I would harm my mental health even further, or worse, attempt suicide.

From conversations I've gathered with people knowledgeable of the long-term situation, this was far from the first time something like this has happened. Professor Ramachandran has made many students' past lives difficult. I am not the first victim who had to drop her class, and I fear if we do not do anything, I won't be the last either.

This was just my story, but many people also think she is a bad teacher. Later that semester, a person in our class sent a group message encouraging us to give her all 1's on her course evaluation. In my entire undergraduate career, I've never seen someone encourage such a drastic action. Her average ended up being around 2/5, whereas mediocre professors usually get around 4/5.

Here are excerpts taken from her RateMyProfessor reviews:

May 2, 2019: "For the love of god, take algo with ANYONE else. Ramachandran knows the material but lectures are hard to follow, grading is unrelenting, and the curve system is very unclear. Avoid at all costs"

May 23, 2020: "If you enjoy watching someone scribble on her slides in illegible handwriting this is the class for you. ...Grading wise we often got points off for unspoken assumptions. TA's also took off points once for python-like code when python is literally pseudo-code and that's what they wanted."

Oct 21, 2020: "Worst lecturer I've had in the 5 years I've in college; we literally unlearned concepts we used to know because of how bad her lectures were. Arbitrary and inconsistent homework and test grading. My mental health was so bad because of her class, I had to drop. Also she discriminates against certain students. Please, whatever you do, don't take her."

Feb 3, 2021: "Professor Ramachandran does a horrible job of explaining the course material. Most students are likely to take this class many semesters after having taken Discrete Math, and yet the content is taught as though every student got a 100 in that class. Be prepared to read 100's of pages in the textbook. And the homework would take me dozens of hours."

Since this incident, my mental health has never completely recovered. It is now just over a year since this happened, and nothing has changed. I never had the opportunity to register a formal complaint due to the Covid pandemic. This semester, she is still teaching CS 331 to undergrads. Next year, she is scheduled to teach CS 331H again. It is no secret that the mental health of UTCS undergrads is already extremely fragile. The recent Allen, TX murder suicide, committed by two UTCS undergrads, has only underscored the importance of protecting our undergrads' mental health. Because if we don't do something about this soon, I fear there will be worse outcomes to her future students. We need to make sure that we do not expose even more undergrads to toxic professors. We need this to end now. Vijaya Ramachandran cannot keep teaching undergrads at UT-Austin, and we cannot wait until a suicide happens to make changes.

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