The Margin: College students who got low grades complained about their ‘dismissive’ professor. Then NYU fired him.
An organic chemistry professor at New York University was fired after 82 of his 350 students signed a petition against him over their low grades and his instruction methods.
The professor, Maitland Jones, is 84 and has taught organic chemistry for decades, first at Princeton University and then at NYU. He also wrote a textbook called “Organic Chemistry” that’s now in its fifth edition. According to a Monday New York Times report, the petition read in part, “We are very concerned about our scores, and find that they are not an accurate reflection of the time and effort put into this class.”
“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 well-being a priority and reflects poorly on the chemistry department as well as the institution as a whole,” the petition continued.
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The letter also complained that Jones did not accommodate students who missed class time while sick with COVID, something that Jones denies — Jones said he spent $5,000 of his own money to make videos of his lectures for students, according to the NYT NYT,
“They weren’t coming to class,” Jones said about classroom attendance in the report. “That’s for sure because I can count the house.”
Elizabeth Spiers, a NYT opinion writer and journalism professor at NYU, reacted to the situation on Twitter TWTR,
“One of many problems with insanely expensive private education is that institutions have an incentive to treat the student as customer and not student who needs to learn certain things,” Spiers said.
“NYU had in Professor Maitland Jones a faculty member with a one-year appointment specifically to teach organic chemistry,” NYU spokesperson John Beckman said in a statement. “In one of his organic chemistry classes in the spring 2022 there were, among other troubling indicators, a very high rate of student withdrawals, a student petition signed by 82 students, course evaluation scores that were by far the worst not only among members of the Chemistry Department but among all the University’s undergraduate science courses, and multiple student complaints about his dismissiveness, unresponsiveness, condescension, and opacity about grading.”
Organic chemistry has long been seen as a difficult course and one that students looking to go to medical school must take.
The 82 students who signed the petition represented roughly 23% of Jones’s students, the Times indicated.
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A popular website where college students can review teachers called Rate My Professors tells a somewhat similar, yet imprecise look at how Jones’s students viewed him over the years.
Between the years 2003 and 2022, nearly 200 students posted reviews of Jones’s teaching at Princeton and NYU.
As a professor at Princeton, Jones has an overall quality score of 3.5/5 based on 13 total student ratings, and a 2.9/5 as an NYU professor based on 183 ratings. Jones has been tagged as a “tough grader” on Rate My Professor by his students. RMP has over 1.7 million professors in its database from over 7,500 schools.