Opinion: NYU professor’s firing at the hands of disgruntled students sets bad precedent

January 18, 2023 — by Eric Shi
Photo by Eric Shi
 Students decided to pin almost all of the blame on their professor.
Organic Chemistry professor Maitland Jones was fired from the school because students petitioned that his class was “too hard.”

Maitland Jones, an 84-year-old Organic Chemistry professor who’d taught at New York University (NYU) for 15 years, was fired from the school on Oct. 6 because 82 out of his 350 total students signed a petition arguing his course was too difficult. 

Jones, however, is highly qualified for his field. In 1964, he  founded the Jones Research Lab at Princeton University and studied there until 2004. During his tenure, Jones published papers with 63 undergraduates, 30 graduate students and 34 postdoctoral fellows and visitors. Along with his expertise in organic chemistry, a course notoriously known for its difficulty, Jones had been teaching Organic Chemistry at NYU since 2007. 

Additionally, he wrote numerous influential textbooks on organic chemistry, including “Organic Chemistry Fifth Edition,” “Instructor’s Manual and Supplementary Problems Set for Organic Chemistry,” “Study Guide for Organic Chemistry,” “Study Guide for Organic Chemistry Third Edition” and “How to Survive and Thrive in Organic Chemistry for Dummies.”

 The logic of the students who succeeded in getting  Jones fired puts the entire college education system in a precarious situation. The firing is a loss to the academic rigor of the university and shows the downfall of university-level rigor overall. 

The fear of getting fired due to complaints will force other professors to lower the rigor of their classes to save their own skins. Instead, colleges should prepare these young adults for the real world instead of softening them. Especially in this medical field, students need sufficient training and skill to succeed in chemical work, as well as mental fortitude to learn from their own failures. 

Jones’ firing also has larger implications for the medical field as a whole. Organic chemistry is the backbone of the pharmaceutical industry, and this industry affects people’s lives daily. People are at risk when the next generation of doctors is so quick to give up and complain.

Although COVID-19 may have caused a learning gap for these medical students, classes shouldn’t be made easier. It is typical for students to struggle more in their classes post-COVID-19; this trend was seen in numerous of our own high school classes.Additionally, only 22% of his total students signed the petition against Jones, which makes it even more shocking that NYU conceded to such a small portion of student voices. It is not right to tell high-level teachers to soften their classes, lower the bar of entry to the medical field or tell students it is acceptable to fire their teacher when their work gets too difficult. 

Although professors should be held under some amount of scrutiny, there should be a limit to how easy it is for students to get them fired. In this case, it seemed the bar was too low. If a credentialed, internationally acclaimed professor at NYU can be removed over a relatively small number of student complaints, it’s time to reevaluate how much influence modern college students are having — and why administrators would cave into their demands. 

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