The firing of 84-year-old award-winning NYU organic chemistry professor Maitland Jones Jr. has definitely become a controversial topic since the New York Times broke the story on Tuesday.
If you missed it, here’s the recap:
According to the report, 82 of the 350 students enrolled in Jones’ organic chemistry course at NYU signed a petition complaining that the course was too difficult and that students lacked the resources and access to the help they needed. especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition objected to the lack of additional credit opportunities and the fact that the grades obtained by the students were “not an accurate reflection of the time and effort” the students claimed to have put into the course.
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It is important to note that the students did not explicitly call for his dismissal.
But that’s what happened.
The university’s response included the option to retroactively withdraw from the class, essentially saving their transcripts of any grades they had earned in Maitland’s class. Maitland also received a termination notice from the school — just before the start of the fall semester.
NYU defended its decision, pointing to a high number of withdrawals and less-than-stellar course ratings that emphasized things like disdain and condescension.
It’s no exaggeration to imagine that an 84-year-old professor may not be up to his teaching skills. In a world increasingly dependent on technology, it’s possible he used old-school pen-to-paper mechanics in his classroom and the kids struggled to get on board. It is also possible, and very likely, that the course itself was difficult.
It’s organic chemistry.
If the course is designed to weed out those who may not have the aptitude to succeed at the next level, I will take it. If medical schools want students to demonstrate proficiency in organic chemistry, I have to believe there is a legitimate reason.
It is only me. I am a layman. My areas of expertise are not in the medical field. Maybe organic chemistry is not necessary for students who want to become doctors. Maybe they shouldn’t even have to take this course. I don’t think that’s the case. And I don’t think students do either. Their complaint was not that the course was irrelevant to their future. Their complaint, basically, was that the teacher wasn’t nice enough and that the class was difficult.
It is quite another thing.
And that reveals something that is devastating for our country.
Our education system, top to bottom, has fallen into an unhealthy reflection of our legitimate view of American exceptionalism.
The rules for just about anything just don’t apply to us. And we have taught our children that it is true.
If the standard is too high, let’s just lower it. If the objective is too difficult, let’s just move the end zone.
Everyone receives a trophy. No one has the right to hurt anyone’s feelings. A student’s academic difficulties are not the result of his lack of preparation and effort, but rather the reflection of a bad teacher. A student’s behavior problems could never relate to a child who makes bad choices. It is more likely the result of a teacher “going out to get” a child.
And yet, this is the culture in which our children live. This is how they learned to understand life.
It is wise for NYU to acknowledge the reality that complaints about teacher style may be legitimate. He has been teaching for some time. He’s probably not the most engaging of teachers. But let’s remember that it’s not his job to entertain the students. It’s his job to teach organic chemistry. However, the equally important responsibility of the student is to study, reflect and be challenged by the material. It is the role of the student, particularly at the college level, to pursue the evolution of critical thinking and analytical skills.
Of course, maybe Maitland should have been more attentive to the students. I took a lot of courses at university and taught several of them. It is likely that his reaction time to requests for instant gratification from students left something to be desired. But the grades don’t reflect “the time and effort” put into the class. Grades, especially at this level and at an institution like NYU, should reflect mastery of content.
In this case, the students and their student loan money won out. Like a customer who ordered a well-done steak and then complained that it was overcooked, the university capitulated to the students, confirming that the customer, and in this case the student, is always right.
This does not bode well for our future.
Because the truth is that in organic chemistry, not everyone should receive a trophy.
Cortney Stewart is a graduate of Lecanto High with degrees in political science, international affairs, and cross-cultural studies who has lived and worked around the world.
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