Several teachers at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional sent a letter to parents of students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School after a video chat with Shiva Ayyadurai, known as Dr. Shiva, calling some of Ayyadurai’s comments “inappropriate.”
Born in India, Ayyadurai holds four degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including a Ph.D. in biological engineering, but he’s best known for his right-wing views and as the self-proclaimed inventor of email.
According to Politico, the New York Times, Buzzfeed, Boston Magazine, Right Wing Watch, and others, Ayyadurai has spread conspiracy theories about President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election and his own defeat in the Republican primary race for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts on Twitter before the social media platform suspended his account.
He also controversially claims to have invented email as a high school student in New Jersey in the late 1970s.
According to the New York Times, Ayyadurai has claimed that 4.2 percent of Trump’s votes were taken away by fans of the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which features the number 42 throughout the book.
During his talk with MVRHS students, Ayyadurai, who was invited as an independent guest speaker, said he wanted to focus on a conversation “beyond left and right.”
Reading from his biography, social studies teacher Joellen Meuse, who moderated the talk, introduced Ayyadurai as an inventor of email, a scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur, and Fulbright scholar.
“He’s beyond left and right, that’s what independent means,” Meuse said to the over 150 students and teachers listening to the talk. “Truth knows no party. That is what Dr. Shiva is about. That is from his bio.”
She added, “You may be the first non-Democrat in our building in a long time, so I think this may be interesting.”
The video also featured a ticker banner that read “Get Educated or Be Enslaved. truthfreedomhealth.com,” which leads to Ayyadurai’s website.
Ayyadurai posted the video talk on his Facebook page, unbeknownst to school staff, and clearly shows students and teachers from the civics course.
The talk covered a wide range of topics, including the economy, health, vaccines, pharmaceutical companies, abortion, and systems biology.
Ayyadurai criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, calling him a “complete government bureaucrat,” and “not really a scientist.”
He also voiced skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine. “To simply say, ‘I’m going to give you this one little jab, and then once you get this you’re fine,’ is just nonsense,” Ayyadurai said. The Centers for Disease Control website states that COVID-19 vaccines reduce “the risk of COVID-19 and its potentially severe complications.” The COVID-19 vaccines do not cure COVID-19, or prevent it.
Addressing student comments in the Zoom chat, Ayyadurai called a message racist that said “We all know you didn’t invent email.”
“It’s a very ignorant statement that ‘You didn’t invent email,’ because I did invent email. I never wanted credit for it, but we need to address it, because it goes to the heart of racism,” Ayyadurai said. “The elites in this country have created an environment that all great innovation must come from people who go to Martha’s Vineyard, people who go to MIT, people who go to Harvard. That it surely could not come from a 14-year-old boy working in Newark, New Jersey.”
He also called Wikipedia a racist organization. Wikipedia lists Ayyadurai as “an Indian-American engineer, politician, entrepreneur, anti-vaccine activist, and promoter of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and unfounded medical claims.”
On marriage, Ayyadurai said he did not believe in the modern concept of marriage. “I think it’s hard enough for two people to come together. I don’t want a third person in my life. If the definition of marriage is having the state issue a marriage certificate, I’m personally not into it, and it creates a lot of issues,” he said.
He also spoke about racism: “The way we overcome racism, the way we overcome any of these issues of our modern times, is to take a systems approach, where we start going to the heart of the issue beyond left and right,” he said.
At the end of the talk, Meuse said she was not aware the talk was being live-streamed on Facebook. In his Facebook post, Ayyadurai said he answered “15 profound questions from high school students at an elite high school in Martha’s Vineyard, MA.”
In a letter to parents, the civics and current issues teachers said the second theme of the class engages students on government, politics, and viewpoint diversity, with the goal of providing students with multiple viewpoints from across the political spectrum.
The letter says the course is designed to push students’ thinking in a way that “respects the dignity of our community.”
“These speakers are mostly mainstream party members, but our speaker today was not. We understood that his views are far outside the mainstream, but we also expected that, as a professional, he would follow basic standards of decorum,” the letter reads in part. “Students were very engaged, with lots of questions and interest. However, toward the end, some of his comments were inappropriate. In addition, he streamed the presentation on Facebook without our knowledge and permission. It has also come to our attention that he has previously expressed views that are offensive.
“We sincerely want to push students’ thinking — but always in a way that respects the dignity of our community. We view this as a ‘teachable moment,’ and will devote Friday’s class to unpacking student questions and feedback.”
Speaking to The Times by phone, MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy said the conversation with Ayyadurai went off the rails toward the end of the talk: “Up until everything went off the rails when he got annoyed. That is exactly what we don’t want modeled. That is not effective discourse, and I attribute that to him,” Dingledy said. “That’s honestly the part that disappoints me the most, plus the lack of permission in posting a video that he did without the consent of the students or the school.”
Dingledy said some parents and students were concerned. “They were concerned about the vetting of sources, they were concerned about whether or not this person should have been given a platform, and they were concerned about the posting,” she said.
On Friday, Dingledy said students and teachers discussed the talk, and unpacked how to check sources, limits of free speech, and appropriate discourse.
Dingledy added the school is going through its lawyers to explore having the video removed from Facebook. A review of Ayyadurai’s Facebook page showed the video has been removed.
“Given his own self-bio, how he responded to teenagers pushing him on issues is what I think is the absolute wrong lesson. There’s discourse, and then there’s going off the rails, and being unprofessional, and being offensive,” Dingledy said. “What I hope doesn’t happen is looking at this like we shouldn’t do it, and move in a different direction. Hopefully we can regroup, reflect, and bring the students along in the learning.”