Firing of an NYU Chemistry Professor Is a Contentious One

Students had issues with Dr. Maitland Jones Jr.'s organic chemistry course
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 5, 2022 3:14 PM CDT
Firing of an NYU Chemistry Professor Is a Contentious One
A stock photo of organic chemistry notes.   (Getty Images / emilio100)

When it comes to organic chemistry, Dr. Maitland Jones Jr. wrote the book. Literally. The author of the 1,300-page textbook Organic Chemistry, which is now in its fifth edition, spent his career at Princeton before retiring and teaching the subject at New York University under a series of yearly contracts. But his name is in the press now not because of new accolades, but because NYU ended up terminating his contract after students complained about how rigorous his course was. As the New York Times explains, nearly exactly 25% of his 350 students signed a petition in the spring that specified the course—in which a bad grade can scuttle one's med-school desires—was too hard, resulting in unfairly poor grades that "are not an accurate reflection of the time and effort put into this class."

Most of the complaints seemed to center around what students claimed was a lack of visibility into grading and course averages and his allegedly "condescending and demanding" demeanor. As for just how hard it was, students say the average grade for the second midterm last spring was about 30. A rep for NYU tells NBC New York, "In short he was hired to teach, and wasn't successful." The school added that Jones stopped grading student work upon learning he wouldn't be returning. In the Times' reporting, the petition didn't request that Jones be fired, and that outcome surprised many.

His termination note came from the dean for science, who faulted Jones for not "ris[ing] to the standards we require from our teaching faculty"; some said Jones simply hadn't kept up with the needs of the current generation. NYU's independent student newspaper, Washington Square News, published an editorial in response to the Times piece, outlining fault after fault with it. It called the piece "misinformed, overly opinionated for a news story, incomplete in its reporting, and ignorant to the realities of being a student and young person today," arguing that the criticism about Jones dated back years, and that it was his handling of the course, not the course itself, that was the problem. (Read it in full here.)

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