N.Y.U. Organic Chemistry Professor Fired for Giving Tests That Were “Too Hard”


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New York University

Junhyoung (Edward) Kim, Staff Writer

After talking to several college students, I realized that students who take organic chemistry find the course extremely difficult, no matter what institution they are in. Despite its difficulty, the course’s popularity remains the same, since many medical schools require applicants to take organic chemistry. 

Having a premature knowledge about the infamous nature of organic chemistry, it was a surprise to me when I read a New York Times article titled, “At N.Y.U., Students Were Failing Organic Chemistry. Who Was to Blame?” Written by journalist Stephanie Saul, the article talks about Maitland Jones, Jr., former professor of organic chemistry at New York University.

Maitland Jones, Jr. was a professor known for being both one of the coolest and hardest professors. He was a man with a lot of experience, having first taught the subject at Princeton University and then at New York University. The former professor also wrote a 1,300-page chemistry textbook. However, when his class reemerged from the pandemic, 82 out of 350 of his students signed a petition against him. Support for the petition increased when Jones decreased the number of midterms from three to two, which meant that students had fewer chances to make up for a bad grade. The situation reached its apex when the average for his second midterm was 30%. As more complaints fired in, the dean gave Jones a short notice to Jones about the situation then proceeded to let the professor go. 

After the posting of this article, readers were split between two sides: those who were pro-Jones, and those who were pro-administration. According to the New York Times, Some of Jones’s students wrote that “they were not given grades that would allow them to get into medical school.” Jones, however, argued that “he noticed a loss of focus among the students.”

As a high school junior, I am no one to speak on this controversy. However, as a part of Gen-Z, I do have mixed feelings about this incident. I have also noticed that people have been actively trying to find a villian in this story. But I think the villain is rather illusory or nonexistent. 

According to The New York Times and other news outlets, Jones was someone who wanted to continue teaching. Jones’s passion for teaching motivated him to continue on the path of education even after he left Princeton University. Jones has also commented that he has been noticing a loss of focus among students in the past couple of years. Thus, I think that the argument that Jones began to fail his students because of his sense of “entitlement” and “superiority” is far away from the truth.

But I also do not believe that the students are to blame. According to the Times article, the students “never intended to get Jones fired; they just wanted better grades.” Unlike what Internet critics may think, I personally do not believe that this was an instance of Gen-Z throwing a tantrum. Rather, I believe that the combination of miscommunications and complaints directed towards the school’s administration led to this particular professor’s release.

Lindsey Jung (’25), a Tenafly High School alumni and a current New York University student, expressed her views regarding this circumstance. As she was not on campus this semester, she claimed she has an “unbiased, uninformed opinion”:  “NYU’s strong decision to fire Professor Jones leaves a gray area for untenured professors who may ease the difficulty of their class in fear of receiving a similar decision by NYU if students choose to protest against the class. The professor seemed pretty credible, so I don’t see why the professor or NYU couldn’t have implemented a better curve for the students instead of firing the professor. Obviously I’m a student, so I’m going to agree that it is right for some change to be implemented. Not only should the students feel like they have a voice, but for that many students to be failing a class is pretty crazy.”

She concluded by saying that, as a student in the NYU Stern School of Business, she doesn’t believe that there are going to be any changes for grading in her classes but is still curious about what impact it may have on her peers.

A series of questions written in the middle of the article also sparked some thoughts in my head: “Should universities ease pressure on students, many of whom are still coping with the pandemic’s effects on their mental health and schooling? How should universities respond to the increasing number of complaints by students against professors? Do students have too much power over contract faculty members, who do not have the protections of tenure?”

Ultimately, this incident may set a precedent for many other institutions. Jones states that he doesn’t want his job back but he “just want[s] to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.” Perhaps it’s time not just for the students but for the institutions to re-think how they evaluate their faculty. I believe that true education doesn’t come from college rankings or the average GPA of the undergraduate students; rather, I believe that further education means something much more than that.