‘Grades have plummeted,’ and class and office hours attendance has ‘crashed,’ professor told The College Fix
A professor fired by New York University after students said his class was too difficult told The College Fix that students are not trying as hard, even as exams have become easier than before.
More than 80 students from Maitland Jones, Jr.’s 350-student chemistry course signed a petition claiming “that the high-stakes course — notorious for ending many a dream of medical school — was too hard, blaming Jones for their poor test scores,” according to The New York Times, which did not link to the petition.
The Fix asked Jones (pictured) in an email interview whether the number of failing grades in recent years has been unusually high. He responded on October 10 that grades have tanked even as he had made the exams easier to pass.
“If you include withdrawals with the few F’s I give in the course, yes,” Jones told The College Fix.
Though “the exams have become easier (the top of the class now routinely gets 100 on the exams),” he wrote, “the grades have plummeted.”
“Class attendance (about 33% mid year) and office hours attendance (3-10 and only the top students) has also crashed,” Jones wrote. “Is there a connection? You tell me!”
Jones also told The Fix that pandemic restrictions forced changes which made teaching more challenging.
“We had to go remote for some time, for example, and even when we returned it was masked, which makes conversation really tough,” he wrote.
Even more, Jones stated that he and his colleagues created more than 50 video lectures to assist his students learning remotely during the pandemic. He told The Fix he paid the videographer $5,200 out-of-pocket and was not reimbursed by NYU.
Jones had been working as an adjunct chemistry professor at NYU since 2007, the same year he retired from teaching at Princeton University, according to the New York Times. He had tenure at Princeton and is the author of an influential chemistry textbook.
Jones recounted to the The Fix that his grading standards had only been disputed one other time, in 2020.
“About 30 students complained that they were stressed by current events (upcoming election, BLM, Covid and extreme weather events) and wanted ‘accommodations,’” he wrote. To address this, he said that he co-hosted a virtual town hall, which he argued is “exactly what the administration should have done this year.” In line with prior comments that class participation and focus was declining, Jones recalls that “few attended” this event.
Paramjit Arora, Jones’ co-instructor at NYU, told The New York Times that the dean was trying to meet a “bottom line” in releasing Jones: “They want happy students who are saying great things about the university so more people apply and the U.S. News rankings keep going higher.”
However, when The Fix asked Jones whether a school official had ever discussed the potential impact of his students’ grades on NYU’s reputation, Jones responded with a simple “No.”
Jones said that moving on from NYU, he will focus more on his writing, with “another book idea in the works,” as well as his music, as he has produced several CDs and played nearly 100 jazz concerts.
The Fix reached out to Arora for clarification on the comment he made to The Times regarding the dean trying to meet a bottom line. It also reached out to Ryan Xue, who had taken Jones’ organic chemistry course and also spoke to The Times, to inquire about his experiences in the class and reasons for taking it.
Lastly, The Fix reached out to NYU chemistry department chair Mark Tuckerman to inquire about any background to the disputation of Jones’ grading standards, as well as what role, if any, he had in the school’s decision to release him.
“My recommendation to the administration was to appoint Prof. Jones for one more academic year (after which, he had expressed his intention to retire),” Tuckerman told The Fix via email on October 13. “If he had been reappointed, I would have assigned him to teach our Majors’ sections of organic chemistry only, where he performed better.”
“However, as Chair, I have no power to appoint or terminate anyone, so the decision not to reappoint Prof. Jones was made entirely by the administration against my recommendation,” Tuckerman continued.
MORE: College is worth it if you embrace hard choices
Editor’s note: This article has been amended to include Professor Tuckerman’s response.
IMAGE: Maitland Jones, Jr.
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