A chemistry professor at New York University has been fired after students signed a petition against him for making his course hard and giving low test scores.
Maitland Jones Jr. taught organic chemistry for years at both Princeton and NYU and received awards for his career teaching a notoriously difficult subject, The New York Times reported.
But then 82 of his 350 students signed a petition complaining this his class was too difficult. Before the fall semester of 2022 began, NYU ended Jones’ contract.
The 84-year-old Jones protested the university’s decision, arguing that students were simply not putting in the work for his course. He had been noticing a lack of effort among students for many years, which naturally resulted in low grades and poor test scores.
Jones said students’ lack of effort become even worse when school was disrupted during the pandemic.
“In the last two years, [grades] fell off a cliff. … We now see single digit scores and even zeros,” Jones wrote to NYU, according to the Times.
He noted that once normal classes resumed in the spring of 2022, students were still not putting in the work.
“They weren’t coming to class, that’s for sure, because I can count the house. They weren’t watching the videos, and they weren’t able to answer the questions,” Jones told the Times.
However, the students who petitioned against Jones insisted that his class was too hard and ignored students’ “well-being.”
“We urge you to realize … that a class with such a high percentage of withdrawals and low grades has failed to make students’ learning and well-being a priority and reflects poorly on the chemistry department as well as the institution as a whole,” the petition read, according to the Times.
In response to the petition, the NYU administration not only fired Jones but also allowed students to withdraw from his class retroactively.
A fellow NYU chemistry professor sided with Jones in the situation.
“The deans are obviously going for some bottom line, and they want happy students who are saying great things about the university so more people apply and the U.S. News rankings keep going higher,” Paramjit Arora told the Times.
The decision to fire Jones because students thought his course was hard is pure folly.
Organic chemistry is meant to be hard. It is widely recognized as one of the undergraduate classes that determine whether an individual has what it takes to pursue a medical degree.
“If you look at your average organic chemistry problem, it’s all about diagnosing the problem and ruling things out. That’s how medicine is practiced,” professor Justin Du Bois of Stanford University told The Stanford Daily in 2017.
“We try very hard to structure our classes and our problems to enforce this kind of problem-solving skill. But it’s not easy — most kids come out of high school and think science is about sticking numbers into an equation and getting a black and white answer,” Du Bois added.
The world needs competent doctors. That means they must go through rigorous training.
The simple fact of the matter is that not everyone is cut out for the kind of hard work that medical school requires, no matter how much they dream of becoming a doctor. That’s just how the world works.
“Organic chemistry is the bane of medical students everywhere, precisely because it is such a hard class. But many doctors would argue that that’s the point: The class is designed to act as an effective gatekeeper, preventing underqualified students from entering the field of medicine,” Reason magazine pointed out.
If organic chemistry was watered down, if test scores were curved, if medical school requirements were made less rigorous, then there would be many more happy students. But doctors would probably be worse and the medical field, along with patients, would suffer.
Alice Dreger, a bioethicist and former professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, made this very point after she read the Times’ story on Jones and how he got fired.
“This article made my skin crawl. We aren’t going to end up with good doctors by letting undergrad pre-meds pass organic chem because universities want to protect their US News rankings. Gah!” Dreger tweeted.
This article made my skin crawl. We aren’t going to end up with good doctors by letting undergrad pre-meds pass organic chem because universities want to protect their US News rankings. Gah! https://t.co/ruPFtOQJVd
— Alice Dreger, Ph.D. (@AliceDreger) October 3, 2022
NYU’s decision to appease the students and fire Jones shows that the university is more interested in keeping students happy (which then boosts the institution’s public image) than in providing good education to equip future doctors.
That is a disgrace to the university and does not bode well for the future.
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