NYU students failing organic chemistry

Well-known chemistry professor fired due to student petition.


via Wikimedia Commons

New York University Building near Washington Square Park.

Maitland Jones Jr., an organic chemistry professor at New York University, was dismissed before this fall semester after students made a petition criticizing his organic chemistry course. 

  According to the New York Times, Jones has taught this particular course for many years, first at Princeton and then at New York University. Jones also wrote a textbook titled “Organic Chemistry,” and has received awards for his teaching; he was recognized as one of NYU’s coolest professors and one of the nation’s top organic chemistry professors. 

According to the New York Times, during the spring of this year, 82 of 350 students in Jones’s organic chemistry course signed a petition against him, saying that their low test scores reflected the difficulty of the class. The students also claimed that the course caused their dreams of getting into medical school to end. Before the start of the fall semester, NYU terminated Professor Jones’ contract. 

Per the New York Times, Jones said in an interview that he first noticed a “loss of focus” in his students about a decade in ago. Dr. Jones believes that students would misread questions at an “astonishing rate,” and grades would still be low even when he reduced the difficulty of his exams. Jones also thinks that the pandemic contributed to students’ low scores.

 “In the last two years, they fell off a cliff,” he wrote. “We now see single digit scores and even zeros.” 

Many professors have observed that the pandemic has caused grade inflation and lowered the standards of academic performance. The pandemic allowed professors and students to engage in courses online. Now that classes are back in person, many students still prefer  virtual classes. 

In the petition, NYI students made notes stating that Dr. Jones did not offer extra credit or make his lectures available via Zoom. Students also mentioned that Jones was harsh, sarcastic and dismissive.

Guilford College Organic Chemistry Professor Anne Glenn gave her thoughts on the situation. She pointed out that Jones was a “contingent faculty member.” This meant that Dr. Jones could be terminated at any time and was evaluated more by the students instead of  receiving peer evaluations by faculty members. Contingent professors can be terminated if students do not like the innovations they try to implement in the classroom.

“Organic Chemistry is very challenging,” said Glen. “…A lot of times students would have a chemistry background, but when they get into Organic Chemistry there is a lot of different material.”

Glen said that if students don’t understand the early material in the course, it will be extremely difficult to understand the rest of the material. She agreed that the pandemic has made it difficult for students to get back into the swing of in-person classes and recover from a year of online learning. 

“At larger schools, it could be hard to go out of your way to help students but at Guilford, the reason we are here is because we want to help students succeed,” said Glen.

Student-athlete Kiersten Walker of the swim team believes that Jones was not at fault, saying that everyone “is just getting back into the swing of school, and you can’t use your resources from home if you were in an online class and actually have to study.”

From Walker’s perspective, organic chemistry is passable, but students must apply themselves. She believes that it is a possibility that students could fail the course because of the professor, but she does not think that this has occurred at Guilford.