More: Is STEM — the last bastion of academic integrity — now in the crosshairs?

Old school science prof fired when students protest his “too hard” course.
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In a prior post, we reported on a letter signed by over 500 top scientists ringing an alarm bell re: the current direction in math & science education.

In a nutshell, their concerns:

  • Dumbed down courses to accommodate less well prepared and less ambitious students
  • Opposition to “right” answers and established protocols
  • Grade inflation across the grading range
  • Resistance to enforce minimum “passing” standards

Here’s a case on point…

New York University recently fired a professor after students complained that his class was too hard.

The instructor, 84-year-old Maitland Jones Jr., is a legend in his field who literally wrote the book on organic chemistry.

In a petition to the university, the students complained that Jones did not provide opportunities for extra credit and gave out grades in his orgo class that were “not an accurate reflection of the time and effort” that they had put into it.

Let’s unpack that …

> The prof is too “old school” and by implication, just too old to be teaching woke age students

> Grades should consider “time & effort” expended, not just on  subject mastery.

> “Extra credit”  should be allowed when the fundamental course material is not adequately mastered

> “Alternative performance indicators and constraints” should be considered in the grading process (think: “social promotions”)

The bottom line: It’s yourfault, not mine.

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So, how did NYU respond to the student’s petition?

NYU granted the students “the opportunity to retroactively withdraw from the class and thus spare their transcripts from the smear of a low (or failing) grade” …  and fired the legendary prof.

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Who’s right — the students or the prof?

A bit surprising (to me), based on a quick Goggle-scan of media reports, the popular support leans for the students.

For example, see NY Magazine: “The Whiny Grade-Grubbing NYU Students Have a Point

The essence of the pro-student argument…

> Prof. Jones is, in fact, too damn old.

“It’s not exactly hard to believe that an 84-year-old might not be the most engaging and accessible instructor for students who were born in 2004.” Source

> The pandemic handicapped students’ prior learning and eroded their study skills.

“The pandemic undermined the quality of an entire cohort’s education, and thus, of its academic development.

Ideally, students would be held back to repeat the year that they effectively lost to substandard schooling.

But of course, at universities that charge more than the U.S. median income for a year of instruction, this is not typically viable.” Source

> The performance measurement system is too rigid — too focused on right answers and outdated protocols.

“The story is illustrative of the burgeoning consumer-centric model of the university.

The students’ suggestion that grades should accurately reflect “the time and effort” put into the class, irrespective of whether that time and effort translated into subject mastery, does seem to support the entitlement of a consumer.” Source

> Organic Chemistry is too difficult, too reliant on  memorization skills and largely irrelevant — even for doctors.

“The substance of the organic-chemistry curriculum does not come up all that much in medical training or practice.

So, the subject should not be a precondition for medical training in the United States.” Source

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Suffice it too say, it’s probably good that I retired when I did…

One Response to “More: Is STEM — the last bastion of academic integrity — now in the crosshairs?”

  1. dkabell Says:

    Many years ago when I was teaching an IT course at UMBC I had a student team complain to the department chair about their project grade – they said “ they worked really hard” on their project. My response was that you don’t get graded on effort, you are graded on results. BTW, the project grade did not change and.

    We now have grade inflation rampant. On the other hand, there may still be some schools that actually grade on the curve. it’s now been about twenty years ago that my daughter was attending Boston University where her professors were “grading on the curve”. I am not sure I think this is the best way to grade, it’s brutal, but a class with almost all As typically does not reflect actual academic achievement either. Similar issue in the workplace with reviews when almost everyone gets “exceeds”. We need realistic and fair evaluations of achievement, not everyone gets a trophy.

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