NYU Prof fired for making organic chemistry class too difficult (for pre-meds?)


“at least one of Jones’s former students has come forward publicly. ‘Every semester, I tell my students the story of how NYU’s organic chemistry professor had a habit of publicly announcing the lowest exam grade and making snide comments at that person’s expense,’ tweeted Leslie Berntsen, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California. ‘In fall 2009, that person was me.’ She did note, however, that Jones never mentioned her by name.”

Students “complained that his organic chemistry course workload amounted to two-and-a-half hours of lectures on top of up to four hours of lab work weekly, which was too much when other courses were taken into account.”


There’s already another thread about this.

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Yep but the topic has shifted. This is the prof’s dismissal for cause.

I did not read much of the other stuff. But to directly hear here that he was overworking the students visa vie their full course load does matter. His attitude thrown in he was abusing the students.

As a chemistry major, chemistry is a terrible major for the reasons above, and it has, I’m guessing, little to do with the instructor.

For one, it is a straight up hard major. And almost every class in the major has a lab–which sometimes conflict with each other. So you have class in the morning and have labs all afternoon, instead of studying or working. So it is a bunch of extra work, and if you want to be more than a lab tech, you need a PhD and a post doc. I wouldn’t recommend it as a major.


Here is the American Chemical Society response published in C&EN.


“Jones’s dismissal highlights a common—and some say problematic—system of teaching organic chemistry in which chemistry majors and nonmajors take separate classes. The latter group, often heavily populated by premed students who are required to take the course, is seen as focused primarily on grades. Many who signed the petition at NYU were premed students.”

“To me, the issue here is not about the students writing a petition—it is about the administration’s overreaction. NYU deans chose not to take a nuanced approach to analyzing this situation.”


Didn’t care for organic chemistry in undgrad nor medical school. Never had a patient ask me about the Kreb’s Cycle. Just one of those hoops you need to jump through.


Medicine and chemistry are joined at the hip for many reasons. Historically the first chemistry departments were part of medical schools. Medicine rejected alchemy but liked the scientific method used by chemistry. Drug treatments and metabolism are chemical subjects.

Its hard to imagine a physician who thought a chemical name is a foreign language. They have reason for some chemistry. The elements, bonding, chemical properties, chemical analysis, chemical handling, synthesis, temperatures, gas laws, aminoacids, peptides, proteins, sugars, carbohydrates, etc.

I think most pre-meds do two years of chemistry. Perhaps that can be streamlined to one year. But no chemistry would be a big mistake.


I was a Chemistry major and this news article resonated with me. My Organic Chem Prof was insulted by having to teach undergrads rather than spend all his time on research. He did his best to entertain himself by creating obstacles to success. Note that his fail rate was much higher than other Organic Chem Professors.

Lucky me to have him for both semesters. I complained directly to him and was told that Organic Chem was a weed out class for pre-meds. Please note that for most of my other classes I was able to get out of taking finals at all because my grades were so high, including more advanced classes of chemistry after getting past Organic. I got a job working for a major petroleum refiner and started work before graduation took place. This jerk professor was getting his jollies off by intentionally trying to fail students.

Complaints reached the administration who looked at this prof’s bell curves compared to other prof’s. They eliminated his mid terms and finals, substituting finals from other prof’s. All we had in common with the other Prof’s classes was the texts and the tests. Suddenly the bell curves looked similar and my C’s became A’s. No more intentional sabotage via tests meant to trick, rather than measure aptitude.

There is often more behind the scenes of a story than the gen pop can see.



I was engineering for two years at U Houston. The Calculus II prof’s assistant pulled this on all of us. The prof was putty in his hands. I passed with a B through sheer memorization of trig functions. No knowledge gained.

Yes, in chemistry and probably the sciences the prestige is in research. And winning research grants that funds that research.

When it comes to research the tradition is: “Those that can, do, and those who can’t teach.”

I had a thesis advisor who enjoyed teaching and split his time. I’m sure there are exceptions.

We might also note that teaching pre-meds provides jobs for professors and the graduate students who work as teaching assistants. Faculty might prefer to spend their time on research but their departments probably would fight to keep those pre-med courses for the financial benefits.

In many chemistry departments this is a topic that gets some discussion. Many of the top researchers teach only a few courses per year. Increasingly they hire adjunct professors to teach paying them a pittance with no benefits so their researchers have more time for research.

I can speak with personal knowledge of Dr. Jones’ teaching Organic Chemistry, though it’s dated back to the mid 1980s, and he did not at all have the mindset you describe. He was an excellent teacher, in my opinion, very invested in telling a compelling story about chemistry in his lectures, and his tests were tough but fair: no trying trick anyone who was well prepared, though he did make you think and apply what you learned instead of just regurgitating memorized facts.

He stands out to me as one of the best teachers I had the pleasure of learning from in my undergraduate studies. I still remember him blowing my mind the way he taught us about fullerenes.

I got my degree in Biology, with healthy portion of liberal arts and writing classes to go with the science stuff. Took Orgo 1 and 2 from Dr. Jones as a freshman. Yes, after each test he would share the class’ results, with a scatter plot and curve, and high and low scores noted. Some people struggled mightily, but he never sought to embarrass any individual, rather sought to motivate the lower scorers to work harder and pull their grades up.


I had an Analytic Geometry class like this … that an Calculus were two of the major perils to entering Engineering freshman. Unfortunately, I found the material easy and kept getting 95-100 and the next highest score would be like 75 so I tended to blow any of the normal curves. When the other students figured out who was getting those scores, I became unpopular … and positively shunned when they found out I was still in High School.

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