An anonymous reader quotes a report from the New York Times: In the field of organic chemistry, Maitland Jones Jr. has a storied reputation. He taught the subject for decades, first at Princeton and then at New York University, and wrote an influential textbook. He received awards for his teaching, as well as recognition as one of N.Y.U.’s coolest professors. But last spring, as the campus emerged from pandemic restrictions, 82 of his 350 students signed a petition against him. Students said the high-stakes course — notorious for ending many a dream of medical school — was too hard, blaming Dr. Jones for their poor test scores. The professor defended his standards. But just before the start of the fall semester, university deans terminated Dr. Jones’s contract. The officials also had tried to placate the students by offering to review their grades and allowing them to withdraw from the class retroactively. The chemistry department’s chairman, Mark E. Tuckerman, said the unusual offer to withdraw was a “one-time exception granted to students by the dean of the college.”
Marc A. Walters, director of undergraduate studies in the chemistry department, summed up the situation in an email to Dr. Jones, before his firing. He said the plan would “extend a gentle but firm hand to the students and those who pay the tuition bills,” an apparent reference to parents. The university’s handling of the petition provoked equal and opposite reactions from both the chemistry faculty, who protested the decisions, and pro-Jones students, who sent glowing letters of endorsement. “The deans are obviously going for some bottom line, and they want happy students who are saying great things about the university so more people apply and the U.S. News rankings keep going higher,” said Paramjit Arora, a chemistry professor who has worked closely with Dr. Jones. “In short, this one unhappy chemistry class could be a case study of the pressures on higher education as it tries to handle its Gen-Z student body,” writes NYT’s Stephanie Saul.
“Should universities ease pressure on students, many of whom are still coping with the pandemic’s effects on their mental health and schooling? How should universities respond to the increasing number of complaints by students against professors? Do students have too much power over contract faculty members, who do not have the protections of tenure? And how hard should organic chemistry be anyway?”
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