This fired chemistry professor’s example shows what’s wrong with academia

Jill Filipovic

The dismissal of a renowned chemistry professor from NYU after a spate of student complaints about his teaching has reinvigorated a series of long-standing questions about the modern academy: Are academic standards dropping? Are professors and administrators too beholden to students’ fragile emotions – and their parents’ tuition dollars? And what’s wrong with kids these days, anyway?

The basic outline is this: According to an article in the New York Times, Maitland Jones Jr. is one of the nation’s top organic chemistry professors. He was tenured at Princeton, wrote an influential textbook, retired and went on to teach at NYU on an annual contract basis, where he won awards for his teaching.

This year, though, he was sacked – after 82 of the 350 students in his course signed a petition because, they said, their low scores demonstrated that his class was too hard. A spokesman for the university told the Times in defense of their decision to terminate Jones’s contract that the professor had been the target of complaints about “dismissiveness, unresponsiveness, condescension and opacity about grading. It’s worth noting that according to the Times, students expressed surprise that Jones was fired, which their petition did not call for.

For his part, Jones says that he noticed a decline in student ability about a decade ago. He made his exams easier; an unusual number of students still did poorly on them. Then, the pandemic hit. “In the last two years, they fell off a cliff,” Jones wrote in a grievance letter to NYU. “We now see single digit scores and even zeros.” Jones isn’t alone in observing this dynamic. A great many experts in education have observed and quantified grade inflation and lowered academic standards. And the pandemic does seem to have turbocharged existing problems, while creating brand-new ones. Remote learning was a spectacular failure….