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Best Of 2022 - NYU Chemistry Professor Fired After Student Petition Says His Class Is "Too Difficult" and "At Fault For Their Failing Grades"

NYPOSTAn NYU chemistry professor says he was fired after students complained his class was too hard.

Maitland Jones Jr. says that, despite decades of experience, the $80K-a-year school catered to students who were failing his organic chemistry class and canned him, according an interview in the New York Times.

Eighty-two of Jones’ 350 students signed a petition against him last spring, saying Jones had made his class too difficult and was at fault for their failing grades.

In their petition, students said that “a class with such a high percentage of withdrawals and low grades has failed to make students’ learning and well-being a priority.” 

The students claimed Jones’ class “reflects poorly on the chemistry department as well as the institution as a whole” and said the prof addressed kids in a “condescending and demanding” tone.

CNNStudents who completed their high school years during the pandemic, Jones observed in the Times report, seem to have no idea how to study. 

And some of the student complaints laid out in the petition might strike those of us who went to college in the Before Times as a bit unrealistic: They noted that Jones did not offer extra credit and that he did not make his lectures available via Zoom.

I can write a "Pussification of America" rant about college kids with my eyes closed; and this one is easier than most.  Coddled, entitled Safe-Spacers circulating a petition that their teacher is too hard and doesn't provide enough extra credit or "put enough lectures on Zoom" at their $80K-a-year school is a layup — a "dominant-hand, pregame-layup-lines" layup.  But I want to focus on something a little different here. Something that I think is actually much worse than the whining of soft and spoiled Gen Z students — after all, they just started a petition and passed it around.  

What about the administrators — the adults — who accepted it, and fired the professor?

Notably, the petition did not call for, or make demands for, the firing of Professor Jones — in fact it was reported that "the students were surprised he was terminated."  I mean, let's be real: I'm sure they weren't too broken up about it.  I'm confident there was no "soul-searching" gathering of the signers, regretting the extreme consequences their actions caused. But it was the administration that took the petition and the classroom surveys and made the decision, on their own, to terminate Professor Jones. Probably they just assumed this would make the students most happy; almost certainly, they feared the backlash directed at them if they didn't take the strongest action possible. The "surprise" of the students wasn't them feeling bad — it was that they got what they wanted, so easily, without even asking for it.

And that's my point. That "fear of backlash" — the fear of students protesting on campus, the angry tweets and letters to the dean, and how all that would look to their donors and in the New York Times: it's the complete cowardice of "the adults" that gives Cancel Culture its power and makes it thrive. Not just at NYU and not just with this story, but everywhere, with all of them.

Spoiled, whiny, entitled, coddled, pampered: these adjectives have applied to many generations of 18-year-olds, not just Gen Z.  Anyone with a relatively charmed upbringing usually has at least a brief phase of feeling entitled, feeling like they know everything, that the dinosaurs with the power over them, their time has passed, they don't understand what it's like now.  This attitude was always just synonymous with "teenager," and 98% of us grew out of it, if not by the end of college, at least by our first experience with the cold hard real-world — the remaining 2% became journalists or progressive politicians. 

But we certainly whined and complained.  Why didn't we circulate petitions about the professors that were grading us too hard, or complain to deans about the ones who hurt our feelings when they were "condescending and demanding"?  Because we would have been laughed out of the fucking building. Humiliated and told to "grow up." Obviously what's changed is now, social media allows all those gripes and complaints to centralize in one place, where they can be directed at a target in the form of a public pressure campaign — and SO MANY administrators, leaders, companies and institutions have folded like a house of cards to the pressure that the whiners are emboldened to whine about more and more.

Getting cancelled sucks; the flood of hate that overwhelms your feed and shrinks you down so small, until it feels like the whole world is against you.  But that's something where — as difficult as it may be — ultimately you control how you let it affect you: if you believe in what you said, you can stand up for yourself, or if you made a mistake, you can log off and let it blow over. 

It's the effects out of your control that make Cancelling so pernicious: when the administration fires you to appease the mob, when your boss fires you because they're concerned about sponsors and PR, and so on — when "the adults in the room" don't tell the whiny and entitled teenagers and their supporters to "grow up" and laugh them out of the building.  Dave Portnoy always says he can't be cancelled, and he's right — that applies to a lot of people at Barstool, at least the old-school guys.  When your boss and company support you to have opinions that may not be popular or make jokes that wokesters may deem offensive, your "cancelling" is only as bad as you let it affect you.  But what about the majority of people, at the majority of jobs?  You may not care about personal attacks, but how comfortable are you going to be having opinions different from the mainstream when you could lose your livelihood and possibly your entire career if one of them angers the wrong group and your boss doesn't want to deal with the headache?

That is the biggest problem with Cancel Culture.  There's no question the mobs are louder, more self-righteous, that they use newer technology to dial pressure up to the max — but it's the cowardice of the supposed "adults" that give in to it and appease it that gives it power.  It's NYU firing a chemistry teacher for not smiling more and grading easier, it's universities all over the country terminating tenured professors for unpopular opinions in tweets.  It's MLB moving the All-Star Game over "voter suppression" laws that an Obama judge ruled yesterday suppressed zero voters. It's Hollywood blockbusters recasting lead parts because of outrage mobs formed over old Instagram follows. And on and on and on.

When the adults tell the Gen Z'ers that they can't get everything they want just because they demand it loudly, that they certainly can't dictate how they run their business, it's just the loud, self-righteous complaining that's always come from younger generations, and most likely always will.

That's why Professor Jones was fired.  Because it's easier to deal with one old man complaining about fairness than it is to tell a group of young feisty zoomers with itchy Twitter fingers that they're too fucking stupid for Orgo.


A CNN Opinion piece published today had the shockingly un-CNN-like headline "Fired Chemistry Professor's Example Shows What's Wrong With Academia."  The author, NY-based journalist Jill Filipovic, hits all the right points: that education experts have been pointing out grade inflation and lowered academic standards, that the pandemic "turbocharged existing problems", that remote learning was a "spectacular failure".  More importantly, she highlights the mounting evidence that "students today have become less resilient, more anxious, and less able to cope with life setbacks" (like failing Chemistry).  These are quantifiable facts, based on data —that they are seemingly agreed upon for opinion writers on both CNN and Fox is an encouraging sign that at least some shred of a shared reality still exists. Maybe let's build on that.

Oh and hire Professor Jones' old ass back you cowards.