Samuel See, an assistant professor of English at Yale known by many as a compassionate teacher and gifted scholar, was found dead on Nov. 24 in a New Haven jail cell, according to spokespeople for the State Judicial Branch and the New Haven Police Department. He was 34.
See, who came to Yale in July 2009, was on leave this semester from the English Department, where he focused on British and American modernist literature and sexuality studies. On Nov. 27, the NHPD and the Connecticut Judicial Branch — the state department that administers the detainment facility at 1 Union Ave. where See died — issued press statements outlining the circumstances of the unexpected death, the causes of which are still under investigation.
Colleagues at Yale and at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where See received his Ph.D., said the scholar’s passing was a loss not only to the academic field in which he excelled but to the many students he inspired as a teacher and advisor.
“He was a committed teacher and an innovative scholar with a sparkling intelligence and an open, generous heart,” said Langdon Hammer ’80 GRD ’89, chair of Yale’s English Department. “He deeply touched all of us who worked with him here at Yale.”
John Rogers ’84 GRD ’89, the director of undergraduate studies for the department, said in a Thursday email to the News that See greatly shaped the intellectual lives of dozens of Yale students during his time at the University.
See’s professors and colleagues at UCLA shared the sense of grief that swept the Yale English Department over the Thanksgiving holiday. Christopher Looby, an English professor at UCLA, said in a Friday email that See’s death came as tragic news to those who admired him as a charismatic teacher and imaginative scholar. UCLA English professor Michael North said he was bewildered by the news.
Students close to See recalled a devoted and eager professor who inspired them to think deeply about literature and to master the mechanics of analytical writing.
“He was an intensely rigorous professor — one of the best I had,” said Andrew Sotiriou ’13, who took See’s “Tragedy” course. “The rigor in that program was greater than so many upper-level seminars that I took. And I think that was the course, but also that was definitely his persona.”
Sotiriou, who said he stayed in frequent contact with See even after completing the course, remembered See as a sweet but intense man who sometimes seemed to struggle under the pressures of academia.
Emily Wanger ’13, a former City editor for the News, said she chose to major in English because of the class she took with See — a professor she said “embodied the ideals of a truly great teacher: passionate about teaching and learning, simultaneously patient and exacting with regard to students’ work, and sincere in his willingness to mentor his students.”
Lindsey Uniat ’15, a staff reporter for the News, similarly traced her decision to major in English to a class with See titled “Writing about Literature.” She said See took a deep interest in his students — not just in their academic work, but in their extracurricular interests. She recalled an hours-long conversation with See over lunch in Jonathan Edwards College, and said she frequently went to his office to discuss coursework as well as her other interests.
“I only hope that the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his death do not … influence how he is remembered,” Uniat said. “The man described in the news articles does not sound at all like the Professor See I knew.”
Biographical information about See remained sparse in the week following his death. He received his B.A. in English from California State University, Bakersfield in 2001, going on to receive two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in the subject. Both Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Yale spokesperson Tom Conroy said they did not know details about family members by whom See is survived.
See’s husband, Sunder Ganglani, could not be reached for comment. The couple was married in May 2013 but subsequently became estranged, each registering a protective order against the other. The violation of those orders is what precipitated the domestic dispute last weekend that sent See to jail.
Ganglani served as a teaching assistant at the University while studying at the Yale School of Drama and currently works in New York City as an artist, according to his LinkedIn page. He posted a message on his Facebook page on Nov. 25, the day following the death of his husband, asking friends for company and declaring that “there is nothing that can take love away.”
At the time of his death, See had begun work on a book manuscript entitled “Queer Natures: Feeling Degenerate in Literary Modernism.”