A New York University (NYU) chemistry professor has been dismissed following student complaints that his class was too difficult.
Maitland Jones Jr., a renowned chemistry professor who had taught at Princeton University, and now NYU, has been fired after 82 of his 350 students signed a petition against him last spring, The New York Times reported. Jones’ chemistry course was simply too hard to pass, according to students.
“Students were misreading exam questions at an astonishing rate,” Jones wrote in a grievance to NYU obtained by the Times.
In the last two years, they fell off a cliff,” the professor said, remarking on the students’ post-pandemic performance. “We now see single digit scores and even zeros.”
“They weren’t coming to class, that’s for sure, because I can count the house,” Jones added, defending himself and saying that his students simply weren’t working as hard as they should have. “They weren’t watching the videos, and they weren’t able to answer the questions.”
Notably, however, Jones’ students were not advocating for his dismissal, and were surprised when the university terminated his contract just before the start of the fall semester. Zacharia Benslimane, former teaching assistant in Jones’ course and now Ph.D. student at Harvard, defended his former professor in an email to university officials.
“I think this petition was written more out of unhappiness with exam scores than an actual feeling of being treated unfairly,” wrote Benslimane. “I have noticed that many of the students who consistently complained about the class did not use the resources we afforded to them.”
The students criticized Jones in the petition, saying that he had reduced the number of midterm exams from two to zero, crushing the chances of many students to compensate for low grades.
“We urge you to realize,” the students’ petition said, “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.”
Ryan Xue, a former student of Jones who took the course, said he found the professor both likable and inspiring.
“This is a big lecture course, and it also has the reputation of being a weed-out class,” Xue told the Times, who transferred and is now a junior at Brown University. “So there are people who will not get the best grades. Some of the comments might have been very heavily influenced by what grade students have gotten.”
NYU spokesperson John Beckman said multiple students had complained about Jones’ “dismissiveness, unresponsiveness, condescension and opacity about grading.”
His course evaluation was also “by far the worst, not only among members of the chemistry department but among all the university’s undergraduate science courses.”