By any reasonable standard, organic chemistry Professor Maitland Jones, Jr. would be a star on any faculty. He literally wrote the book on the subject. His career began at age thirteen, washing test tubes in a Yale University laboratory. He taught at Princeton University for forty-three years. In 2007, he retired from Princeton and moved to New York City. Still wanting to teach without a professor’s responsibilities, he took an adjunct position at New York University (NYU).
The Perils of Professorship
Adjuncts occupy the bottom rung of university faculties with few of the privileges of a professorship. Universities hire them to teach a single class or set of classes. When the course ends, so do their jobs. If fired, they have no legal or professional recourse against the university. Most adjuncts have recently minted doctorates and use the position as a stepping stone to better positions.
Thus, NYU hired a giant in the field at a bargain price. The university renewed Dr. Maitland’s annual contract fifteen times. Then they fired him.
“Did Not Rise to the Standards We Require”
The libertarian magazine Reason quoted NYU spokesperson John Beckman.
“NYU had in Professor Maitland Jones, a faculty member with a one-year appointment…. In one of his organic chemistry classes… there were, among other troubling indicators, a very high rate of student withdrawals, a student petition signed by 82 students, course evaluations scores that were by far the worst not only among members of the Chemistry Department but among all the University’s undergraduate science courses, and multiple student complaints about his dismissiveness, unresponsiveness, condescension, and opacity about grading.”
The Washington Square News (“NYU’s Independent Student Newspaper”) quoted the university’s letter to Dr. Maitland.
“A review of your teaching performance demonstrated that it did not rise to the standards we require from our teaching faculty. As a result, you will not be offered a new contract.”
In other words, NYU fired him because the students complained. The class, it seems, was too difficult for his undergraduate pre-med students.
A Necessarily Difficult Course
Many of Professor Maitland’s students were intelligent young people that probably graduated at or near the top of their respective high school classes. NYU admits only 13 percent of high school seniors who apply. U.S. News rates them as “most selective.”
However, it takes more than intelligence to become a physician. It requires a combination of intelligence, diligence, exactitude, specific knowledge and compassion. Colleges are full of intelligent young people—most will never hang the letters “M.D.” at the end of their names.
The New York Post explained the importance of organic chemistry in training young would-be physicians.
“Organic chemistry is a very difficult subject. Doing well in the course in college has been a litmus test for medical-school suitability.… Its intellectual demands and need for disciplined study are surrogates for the discipline and problem-solving physicians must demonstrate throughout their careers.”
Copious Complaints from Lazy Students
The Post shared Dr. Maitland’s appraisal of the situation.
“[The students] weren’t coming to class. … They weren’t watching the videos, and they weren’t able to answer the questions.”
Professor Maitland gave a more detailed explanation in the professional journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“The [student] evaluation process has been sadly devalued. That once-very-useful process is now just another social-media opportunity to vent. And I think that’s a pity. Were I in the administration’s position, I would no longer lean on or pay much attention to, frankly, student evaluations. … Early on I found them very useful. Over time I think that usefulness has disappeared, and they’re often very nasty, sometimes profane, and they’re hard to look at.”
Was Termination Justified?
Thus, a once-stellar teaching career spanning fifty-eight years came to an abrupt close. The NYU administration that found Dr. Maitland’s methods and standards acceptable for fifteen years suddenly denied him a sixteenth term.
There is no evidence that Professor Maitland significantly changed his teaching style. Indeed, teachers do adapt their courses over time to include newly available material, make lessons more understandable or accommodate new classroom technologies.
The professor showed every indication that he did not use out-of-date materials. Indeed, he is a recognized authority and has revised his textbook five times since it was initially published. Although in his eighties, neither the university nor the students mentioned physical or mental shortcomings in their complaints.
A World Without Discipline, Authority or Truth
That leaves three factors, all quite likely in the mental amusement park of the modern university.
The first is that most of Dr. Maitland’s students endured two years of “education” under the Covid regime. Teachers on all levels had to adapt instruction to virtual settings without face-to-face contact. Many had little choice but to make courses less rigorous. Even the best students became less disciplined in a world where getting out of bed became optional. The shock of returning to past rigor could account for some of the bad ratings.
The university’s decision reflects the growing lack of respect for any authority in education. Each new generation is confident in its wisdom. Schools, parents, the marketplace and the media (especially social media) kowtow to students. Therefore, today’s students have real problems accepting anyone who does not share their prejudices or inclinations. They know how to show their displeasure on the teacher evaluation forums.
Finally, most students have drunk deeply of the “woke” disregard for objective truth. They know how to create and defend opinions. They learned to use “critical thinking skills.” In the modern classroom, facts are largely unimportant. Those necessary in some situations can be found on a computer, applied and then discarded.
In the medical field, that is not so. Life and death decisions are too urgent to permit such a leisurely process. Medical doctors must possess a vast degree of factual knowledge that is instantly available. The only way to have that knowledge is to learn it so well that it becomes automatic, as in Prof. Maitland’s difficult classes.
However, lazy attitudes die hard. Dr. Maitland is only the latest victim. Pray that none of this year’s students ever becomes your surgeon.
Photo Credit: © MichaelVi – stock.adobe.com