Firing A Professor for a “Hard Class” Sets a Scary Precedent for the Future of Education

Illustration by Diane Kim

Alex Dinofia

Contributing Author

Recently, Maitland Jones Jr., an established New York University (NYU) professor, was forced to resign after 82 out of 350 of his students signed a petition demanding his dismissal. Jones was a distinguished professor of organic chemistry and many would credit him with writing one of the leading chemistry textbooks. world of chemistry. The chemistry department and higher education community were shocked by this news, leading to questions about accessibility and how such education will be perceived in the future.

The petition reads: “We urge you to recognize that a class with such a high percentage of dropouts and poor grades has failed to make student learning and well-being a priority, and reflects badly on the chemistry faculty as well as the institution as such.

When I first heard that Jones was fired because his classes were too difficult, I felt for him. Attending UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) shows just how difficult it can be to teach challenging courses. In my opinion, firing a professor because of the severity of a class seemed serious.

I spoke to Professor Wainwright, a statistics professor at UCSB, to shed some light on the difficulty of teaching a STEM course.

“In science in general, for someone to lose their job, it has to be a pattern,” Wainwright said. “That could have been the drop that broke the camel’s back.”

Jones publicly stated that he believes the stress of the pandemic played a big part in the students’ struggle. When classes went online, Jones and other professors recorded over 50 lecture videos that the university still uses today. Jones created two separate sections, one that focused on traditional sections and one that focused on problem solving to encourage different learning styles. However, even with the videos and flexibility, in 2020 students were still struggling and 30 out of 475 of them asked for additional help.

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This incident at New York University will have a lasting impact on schools across the country. Professors and university lecturers have raised concerns about the impact this could have on students, arguing that colleges are losing credibility. I would agree that colleges are beginning to treat students like paying customers. Students expect to get what they paid for when they pay to attend college.

Professor Wainwright provided a good analogy depicting this scenario. He said: “I see the service more like a gym membership, you pay to go to the gym. If you put in a lot of work and hire a personal trainer, you will benefit.”

I fear for the future of education. The balance of a student-professor relationship is very fragile. There needs to be some power dynamic to create a healthy learning environment. The idea that schools are marketplaces has corrupted schools at all levels. As part of the Gen Z student body, I see a growing passion for entitlement. Students usually blame the professor for bad grades. In fact, students should make as much effort as the professor to have their work reflected in their grades.

Other chemistry professors worry about the future of medicine. They worry that NYU might make the material easier for students. As a result, many fear that students who are not challenged enough in these courses will not be good doctors who can treat patients properly.

While there are two sides to a story, it is difficult to see the nature of the class from an outsider’s perspective. It’s not clear whether the students’ claims were justified, but I think there’s always some truth to a rumor. I would argue that at least some of his students were rightly frustrated. As a student, I know what it’s like to have minimal support from faculty. Especially in an extremely demanding chemistry course, students want to feel supported. Students should be sure to speak up if they feel they are not getting the help they need.

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Maya Deak, a UCSB sophomore currently enrolled in an organic chemistry class, broke down what her professor-student relationship looks like.

“My teacher offers several different office hours and resources to get help,” she said. “However, success in the class depends on making an effort on my own to utilize those resources.”

After Jones’ retirement, he spoke about how he will move forward. Jones has no plans to get his job back. However, he wants to take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

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