A chemistry professor reportedly fired after students complained his class was too hard is speaking out, warning college educators not to “coddle” pupils.
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Maitland Jones, Jr., taught organic chemistry at New York University for 15 years until the 84-year-old professor was fired before the start of the fall semester. More than 80 students from his pool of 350 signed a petition against him, complaining about his grading, lack of assistance, and other alleged issues.
The petition, which did not call for Jones’ firing, reportedly lamented the course was too hard and said help and resources were difficult to come by, The Guardian reported.
“We are very concerned about our scores, and find that they are not an accurate reflection of the time and effort put into this class,” the petition reportedly read. “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.”
While student voices were heard, Jones, too, is now getting to share his side of the story. Weeks after his firing made headlines, he penned a column in the Boston Globe.
“Organic chemistry is a difficult and important course. Those of us who teach it aim to produce critical thinkers, future diagnosticians, and scientists,” Jones wrote, adding his worries about current dynamics inside colleges. “Deans must learn to not coddle students for the sake of tuition and apply a little tough love. They must join the community in times of conflict to generate those teachable moments.”
He wrote that the current situation disincentivizes learning and transforms students into mere “tuition-paying clients,” with professors afraid to challenge pupils.
Tough standards and even failure, he argued, present teachable moments.
“Without those standards, we as a nation will not produce those individuals — doctors, engineers, scientists — citizens! — who will guide us toward a better future,” Jones wrote.
The professor had reportedly received tough evaluations from students, but he again maintained in his article the essentiality of challenging students, juxtaposing those critiques against his belief he was better preparing young people for the world before them.
A spokesperson for NYU said Jones had a high withdrawal rate in addition to negative reviews, according to The Guardian.
“NYU generally disagrees with and is disappointed by the way the matter with Professor Jones has been characterized publicly,” NYU President Andrew D. Hamilton told Fox News in a statement. “What this was about NYU’s expectations for high quality, effective teaching.”
He continued, “This professor was hired to teach this particular course, and wasn’t successful — that’s the sum of it.”
Regardless of Jones’ evaluations, some see the firing as evidence of lax standards and agree with the former professor’s grievances. Critics like fellow NYU chemistry Professor Stephanie Lee said the situation is more complex than some might realize.
I was one of the professors who signed the letter to the deans. The reality is more complicated, and in my opinion all of this discourse framing the situation as students. vs. faculty and faculty vs. admin is missing the point. 1/6 https://t.co/RL1O2xnWsw— Stephanie Lee (@leelab_nyu) October 4, 2022
Lee was among those who sent a letter to NYU deans expressing concern over the firing.
“I was one of the professors who signed the letter to the deans,” she tweeted earlier this month. “The reality is more complicated and in my opinion all of this discourse framing the situation as students vs. faculty and faculty vs. admin is missing the point.”
Lee continued, “We are all on the same side of wanting students to succeed but we are using misaligned, and, in many cases, flawed metrics to evaluate success. One consequence of this misalignment is that our actions are becoming fear-driven.”
Students fear that one low grade will derail their future careers. Faculty fear on one hand that we are sending our students out into the world unprepared & on the other that our jobs are only as secure as our course eval scores. 3/6— Stephanie Lee (@leelab_nyu) October 4, 2022
She said students fear low grades will harm their futures, while professors fear the results of sending pupils into the world unprepared. Educators also worry about their evaluations as well. Both dynamics are problematic, Lee explained.
There has been no shortage of critique outside of the university community as well.
“Because the stakes are so high and not all students are equipped to become doctors, sometimes you have to make ‘cuts,'” Ashley Jacobs, executive director of Parents Unite, an organization devoted to ideological diversity, told Fox News. “Instead of lowering standards, we should be raising them as well as our expectations. … The sage on the stage model seems to have been replaced by one that is supposed to entertain its customers in exchange for favorable reviews.”
NYU student newspaper Washington Square News reported Friday a group of faculty is imploring the university to open an investigation into the firing, noting the dismissal raises a plethora of important issues.
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