The firing of a New York University (NYU) professor who was the subject of a petition from students who said his class was too hardcontinues to stoke controversy, as some parents and teachers say the incident points to a lowering of academic standards.
Maitland Jones Jr, a professor of organic chemistry, was fired by NYU after more than 80 students from his 350-student course signed a petition complaining about grades, teaching and help received during the Covid pandemic.
Jones, 84, received a message from the dean of science in August terminating his contract, the New York Times reported.
Chemistry professors opposing the decision wrote to several NYU deans, saying they were worried the case could undermine faculty freedom and weaken proven teaching practices.
“We are all on the same side of wanting students to succeed but we are using misaligned, and in many cases flawed, metrics to evaluate success,” Stephanie Lee, one of the professors who signed the letter, said in a tweet.
“One consequence of this misalignment is that our actions are becoming fear-driven.”
The student petition protested that Jones’s class was too hard and that students lacked resources and help. It did not say the professor should be fired.
“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 wellbeing a priority and reflects poorly on the chemistry department as well as the institution as a whole,” the petition read.
Jones, a widely accredited professor known for writing an organic chemistry textbook, told the Times he had been thinking of retiring but was worried what the NYU decision could mean for other professors and faculty.
An NYU spokesperson defended the firing, emphasizing high student withdrawals and bad course evaluations. The statement said the decision was also based on complaints about dismissiveness, unresponsiveness, condescension and lack of transparency about grading.
Some students believe the pandemic completely disrupted their ability to prepare for classes such as organic chemistry, a fundamental course for those hoping to go to medical school.
Some parents are pushing back. Several groups have said the NYU decision is indicative of a problem in a school system they believe is too lenient on students.
“When paying for an education at a reputable university, 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,” Elicia Brand, founder of Army of Parents, told Fox News.