Since early October, when the story broke about New York University firing organic chemistry teacher Maitland Jones because a student petition claimed his course was too hard, there has been a growing push back from the college’s faculty as well as at least one pro-free speech organization.
The petition itself was signed by 82 of Jones’ 350 students (less than a quarter of the class) and complained that “too many [students] were failing and that this was unacceptable” and that the course’s challenges caused “emotional and mental health” issues.
The course in question however is organic chemistry, traditionally designed as a very tough entry-level course in order to weed out students not capable of becoming doctors or doing the real work necessary in the hard sciences. Under normal circumstances one third to one half of all students who take the course fail, which means this petition was likely signed by those who were failing.
Rather than push themselves, these spoiled students wanted the course made easier. They might then have passed, but if they became doctors later in life their patients would certainly be under risk.
What made Jones’ firing more horrifying however is that the university instigated the action. The students themselves hadn’t asked for his firing, they only wanted his course made easier.
“This article made my skin crawl,” tweeted Alice Dreger, a bioethicist and former professor of medical humanities. “We aren’t going to end up with good doctors by letting undergrad pre-meds pass organic chem because universities want to protect their US News rankings.”
Dreger’s comment came soon after Jones was fired by Jones’ boss, Gregory Gabadadze, NYU’s dean for science. It was quickly followed by a host of objections by other professors at NYU as well as elsewhere, condemning the cowardice of the college. Typical was this comment by NYU Clinical associate professor Elisabeth Fay:
The student petition isn’t the scary thing, it’s the NYU administration’s response: clinical Prof. Maitland Jones was informed of his “non-renewal” less than a month before the start of fall semester — no due process, no opportunity to grieve.
Fay point is that NYU did not simply panic in its response to the petition, its actions apparently violated Jones’ contract.
In his grievance letter, Jones referenced NYU’s Faculty Handbook, which outlines that if a full-time professor’s contract finishes on Aug. 31, they must be notified of their termination no later than one year prior. Jones was informed that his contract would not be renewed on Aug. 2 — less than one month before it was set to expire.
…In addition to Jones’ complaints about how the university handled his dismissal, he also claimed that he was never shown the student petition made to protest his teaching methods. “Despite the assertion made about my teaching, I have never been given the slightest opportunity to know the actual substance, if any, of any complaints about my performance, and I would stress that without giving me that opportunity, the university has no way of knowing whether anything said against me is really true,” Jones wrote. “Whatever evidence might exist for a decision to deny me reappointment, I have been given no chance to see it, refute it, or challenge whether it really entails what one thinks it entails.”
The university’s response was to unilaterally reject Jones’ request for a grievance hearing, claiming his contract allowed it to do so.
[Heidi] White — the faculty member with a senior role in the dispute review process — said that NYU administrators did not provide justification in classifying Jones as “other faculty.” She said that the reasoning remains unclear. White is also a member of the University Senate, serving as a senator on the Continuing-Contract Faculty Senators Council and as chair of that council’s Grievance Committee and its Personnel Policies & Contract Issues Committee. “I confess, I’m baffled as to how the administration could have reached that conclusion,” White said. “To me, it looks like a blunder.”
The bottom line however is that the science department at NYU has decided it must lower its standards because some students threw a temper tantrum. It is now glad to produce incompetent doctors and scientists.
This week the battle escalated. On October 21st, the organization FIRE (The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) sent a detailed protest letter to NYU, outlining the facts of the case and demanding “a substantive response” by tomorrow that states NYU will “recommit to upholding faculty rights and offer to return Professor Jones to the classroom.”
Since FIRE routinely helps to instigate legal action in such cases when the oppressed do not get immediate satisfaction, this letter is essentially putting NYU on notice. If it does not correct its mistake, it will be sued.
More important, would you want your doctor to be trained at New York University if it does not change path? Right now the school has admitted it has low standards and is willing to pass medical students who can’t handle basic organic chemistry. I certainly wouldn’t want to be treated by such a doctor.
It also seems to me that if NYU does not reconsider, a lot of medical practices should do to NYU what judges are now doing to Yale Law School, refusing to hire its graduates because the university is clearly not educating them properly.
Finally, if I was a medical student at NYU, I think it would be wise to reconsider staying there. Not only do you not know if you will truly get a good education there, if you graduate your degree will be forever stained as substandard.