By: Megan Hastings
Media Production Editor
New York University fired respected professor Maitland Jones Jr. in October of this year after 80 of his 350 students signed a petition claiming that his class was too hard. An NYU professor since 2007, Jones’ organic chemistry class became noticeably harder for students during the COVID-19 lockdown. Most of the complaints from his students were regarding low exam scores during the 2022 online school season. While the petition never called for Jones to be fired, NYU terminated his position in order to maintain its academic rankings.
A fundamental course for medical school, organic chemistry is a class designed to be tough. According to Jones, he made accommodations for students during the pandemic. However, he claims the students in the class lacked the effort and engagement necessary to pass the class even after additional help. Other chemistry professors expressed their concerns that it would undermine faculty freedom and weaken teaching practices. NYU’s firing of Jones is especially worrying for teachers because Jones himself was revered at the college. After 40 years of teaching and writing a textbook on the subject of organic chemistry, some question whether or not it was a good decision to let Jones go. Even parents have complained that the school is too lenient. Elicia Brand, the founder of parent advocacy group, Army of Parents, said that “we should expect quality professors to intellectually challenge our students, helping them to grow by pushing them to stretch beyond what is convenient and comfortable.”
Fellow professor, Alice Dreger, defended Jones and refuted the idea that the class was unfairly hard. In a tweet following Jones’ termination, Dreger said: “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.”
Addressing the claims that the university fired Jones to maintain their academic rankings, NYU spokesman John Beckman explained, “NYU has lots of hard courses and lots of tough graders among the faculty –– they don’t end up with outcomes like this. Surely, among the many things a university should stand up for…one of them should be good teaching.” NYU later called out Jones for neglecting to grade the remaining student work for the class which brought up the concerns. The college believes this is a petty jab from Jones, who was an efficient worker.
This is not the first time NYU fired a respected teacher after students voiced their concerns, and other professors have come out to complain about the university’s treatment. NYU clinical faculty member Elisabeth Fay took to Twitter to explain that Jones’ situation is not isolated. Thousands of NYU faculty are at-will workers, meaning they can be fired without due process. The future of careers and education is in the hands of the university’s faculty, which worries teachers, parents, and students alike.
(Sources: CNN, The Chronicle, The New York Times, The Washington Post)
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