Star professor sacked from NYU after students complain of poor grades

Dr. Maitland Jones is an internationally renowned figure in the field of organic chemistry with decades of experience in research and education.

During his extensive career, Jones and his research group have published over 225 papers.

Jones also pioneered a technique of teaching that focuses more on problem-solving than rote learning.  He also authored a highly regarded 1,300-page textbook, Organic Chemistry, which is currently in its fifth edition.

Jones received many accolades for his work.

After retiring from Princeton University in 2007, Jones began teaching organic chemistry at New York University on a contractual basis.

The accolades continued at NYU.

Jones was regarded among the "coolest" professors for offering "tough love" such that students completing his course would have "the best tools to use to become a chemist."

Alas, those days are over.

Jones was recently sacked from NYU.

Why?

Eighty-two of his 350 students signed a petition against him.

The petition read as follows:

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

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 petitioners claim that Jones reduced the number of midterm exams from three to two, but he did not offer extra credit, nor Zoom access to lectures for students with COVID-19, and taught with a condescending and demanding tone.

After sacking Jones, NYU officials offered to review students' grades and allow them to withdraw from the class retroactively as a "one-time exception granted to students by the dean of the college."

In a grievance to NYU, protesting his termination, Jones wrote that he had noticed a decline in standards for over a decade with a loss of focus among the students, even among those hoping to pursue medical careers.

Jones revealed that students were misreading exam questions at an astonishing rate.  Their grades fell despite reducing the difficulty of their exams.

Following the pandemic, Jones said that the students not only didn't study, but also didn't seem to know how to study.  Consequently, their grades suffered considerably.

To ease pandemic stress, Jones and two other professors recorded 52 organic chemistry lectures.  Jones said he personally paid more than $5,000 for the videos and that they are still used by the university.

Jones also said the students "weren't coming to class. ... [T]hey weren't watching the videos, and they weren't able to answer the questions."

Another chemistry professor at NYU said he discovered cheating during online tests.  But when he pushed students' grades down for their misconduct, they protested that "they were not given grades that would allow them to get into medical school."

Now about organic chemistry.

Organic chemistry is a difficult subject, requiring students to understand the complexities regarding the bonding of chemicals at an atomic level.  To excel in organic chemistry, an individual needs talent, diligence, and an extraordinary memory.  Hence, the subject can be seen as a litmus test for medical school suitability. 

Can teachers be needlessly harsh toward students?  They are humans and obviously can err.

But considering Jones's eminent record and the accolades he received as a teacher, NYU should have worked with Jones to find a solution.  Instead, they sacked Jones based on the petition from just 23.4 percent of his students.

They have hence demonstrated that their education has become a consumer service, making the student a customer and the employer, while the educator is relegated to being the subordinate.

The students have all the power, which leaves educators with no choice but to appease the students to retain employment.

The students receive nothing but flattery for prolonged periods of time.

Soon these students view opposing perspectives as threats. 

The students' powers have reached heights that it is they who decide who can and who cannot speak at their institution.  If the leadership at the institution insists on conducting the speech, they storm the auditorium and engage in unruly behavior for which they are never punished. 

This mindset is applied in the face of any hardship.  If a teacher calls them out for lacking effort, it is viewed as a personal affront.  If the teacher pushes them to the limit, it is viewed as an attack.

The appeasement has reached such heights that students complained that Jones's course ended "many a dream of medical school."

Students must realize that the function of an educational institution isn't to fulfill dreams.  It is a place of learning which demands considerable effort and ability.  It is also a place where abilities are evaluated and those lacking are excluded.  This isn't an act of discrimination, but an essential function.

If this is left unchecked, there will come a day when students decide on the syllabus and even what their grades will be.

The impact of lowering standards will be felt in the real world.

Let's take the field of medicine as an example.

A doctor who lacks talent, abilities, and diligence could misdiagnose a patient

At times, the patient could be subjected to unnecessary medication causing serious side-effects.  Unnecessary tests and medical procedures could be recommended.

At times, crucial symptoms are ignored because the doctor doesn't have the knowledge or the ability.  The treatment prescribed is insufficient.  The ailment worsens to a point where treatment is impossible.

In both scenarios, the results could be irreversible and could even be a matter of life and death.

Precious lives could be lost, and so could time and money.

What about the inability to deal with "difficult" people or stress?  The medical profession is stressful.  Doctors are always surrounded by people who are sick and suffering, which will cause stress.  At times, patients and their relatives complain and even launch verbal attacks on the doctor out of frustration.

A doctor must be mentally sound enough to rise above it and calmly explain to the patients and others who are agitated the reasons for his choice of treatment.

At times, in medical school, they have demanding teachers who are perfectionists and demand perfection from students.  In the end, a surgeon has no option but to be perfect.

The impact is not just professional, but personal.

When students are relentlessly pampered, they view a slight criticism or word of advice as an act of hostility.

Consequently, they go deeper and deeper into their echo chambers, excluding every contrarian's voice, one by one, until they are all alone.

The result is that we have a large group of unsocial and unemployable young individuals.

It is said that those who intend to destroy any civilization or nation begin by attacking its roots.  The roots here are educational institutes.  This is exactly what is happening to educational institutes in America.  The targets aren't the students, but the nation and all that it stands for.

Image: Newtown Graffiti via FlickrCC BY 2.0.

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