An NYU chemistry professor found himself in hot water when 82 students signed a petition, claiming he did not prioritize students' learning. Large numbers of students withdrew or failed his organic chemistry course. Jones responded that he did not want his job back but his firing set a scary precedent (Klesson, New York Post).
"Excuse me. Excuse me," I say, raising my hand.
I imagine myself seated at the back of a conference room in the proverbial peanut gallery, listening to department chairs and other "big wigs" ramble on and on. As someone who has worked in public education for most of my adult life, I can't help but ask the obvious, and therefore, most dangerous, questions during all-staff meetings.
"Are we really going to listen to the whinings of a generation of participation-award recipients who wore wrist guards and elbow pads while riding their bikes around a culdesac?"
The professor said the students weren't coming to class; he said they didn't read the exam questions carefully. Sounds like a student problem to me, not an instructional one. The students also claimed he was condescending. Perhaps, he was simply tired of them asking for easier grading or extra credit.
I interact with high-school-aged youth almost daily. It's my belief that many students nowadays lack grit. They want to receive information quickly. They prefer to exert the least amount of effort. Many students lack resolve, or firm determination to see something through to the end. They idolize influencers and the insta-famous. Hard work is no longer glamourized but instead is a ninety-second montage.
Growing up, I heard about Larry Bird shooting free throws in his driveway. I knew about Michael Jordan's intensity during practices. We watched these athletes' talents develop first in college and then in the NBA. Overnight success was uncommon. Even Star Search winners worked their butts off to get selected for the show. We now live in a day and age when an eight-year-old can make more money than a working adult because he plays with and reviews toys on youtube. (I'm talking about you Ryan Kaji.)
To the 82 petitioners, I say, "get over yourselves." Organic Chemistry is supposed to be a hard course. The instructor is an expert in his field. He authored a textbook for crying out loud and he taught at Princeton for decades before working at NYU, so we can assume he knows his stuff and how to teach. He's also eighty-four years old. I'm going to assume students were receiving traditional lecture-style instruction. He isn't likely to cater to explaining material in hip Gen-Z,-relatable ways. Instead of firing Jones, trainings on how to incorporate technology and online learning platforms should have been offered by the university.
Maybe they were. We don't know. It doesn't bode well for the quality of instruction at NYU if a small group of students can influence who stays and who goes, however.
The whole story seems a bit fishy if you ask me; as if some information is missing. Did one of the failing students come from a wealthy family? Did that family threaten to pull funding? Did the professor refuse to go along with conciliatory arrangements, like allowing students to retake previously failed exams?
I doubt this is the last we've heard of this. I wouldn't be surprised if the professor sued for wrongful termination.
"With the ever-growing number of teachers fleeing the profession, can we really afford to sack veteran educators who want to be in the classroom?" I ask, lowering my hand. "The defense rests."