OT? Students don't learn, fire the teacher

This article is a hot button for me. I have an M.S. in Organic Chemistry and well remember the many hours of study and lab work in every organic chem class beginning with my first one at age 17. I loved it, but many students failed.

When teaching community college chemistry for science majors in 2010, I noticed that the students had very poor memories. I would teach a class, assign (open book) homework and they would handle the chemicals in the lab…but they simply couldn’t remember what they had done when taking a closed-book exam. I think it’s a generational impact of Google and video games – short attention span, untrained long-term memory.

At NYU, the students complained and the college fired the teacher.

I think this is a Macroeconomic topic because a country which favors lack of learning over learning will be doomed in a world economy that relies on fast-moving technology.

And heaven help the patients of those students who become doctors and can’t remember the myriad details of anatomy. (I had a double major in Chemistry and Biology so I took Anatomy, Physiology, Microbiology, Biochemistry and Genetics in addition to the Chemistry courses. All heavy-duty memorization plus labs.).



If the Proff is causing you students (money) dump him. The same treatment everybody else gets. No sacred cows. he can get with the program or get lost. This does NOT mean I am taking sides with the students. Like every other situation it’s almost never “one thing” the way everybody wishes or pretends it is.

Training short term memory at the cost of longer term? Two things about that. It’s probably poppycaulk (won’t let me say the real word.) Long term memory is a human DNA trait. They will all remember what they are taught. (Taking into considerations all the other things involved therewith. Motivation, talent etc etc) Second, as thing change people change. When the world moved slowly people did too. There wasn’t much to know back then anyway. As things got more complicated we had to step it up. I remember the bleatings and effected laments of grown-ps that children’s attention spans were getting shorter because of Kukla Fran and Ollie. Then Sesame Street completely stole all their little minds and we all died. Except we didn’t.

I’d cut the kids some slack and tell Ma and Pa Kettle to try and keep up. As far as the professor goes… like I said, the world isn’t here for him. He’s obviously losing it. Change or blow, Pop.



It is interesting with the internet who complains and who doesn’t complain. Those not complaining have no voice.

About five years ago I tried to search to see if my main professor of the arts at UCONN was around, maybe find his email. Instead I found a site that rated professors. People were saying the nastiest things about him. Of course they probably got a lousy C grade or worse. They were possibly signing up for an easy A in an art class. That was not the case.

Given the opportunity people who fail will sink those who do well.

Given the opportunity with supply side economics those who do well will sink those who are not doing well. But those who do well have been living a lot of lies.

Since we want better information on this board I hope “disinformation” is something we see as lies and avoid in our economics. That would be enough for me.

Back to my prof who I loved studying with, he had retired. The students who did not do well in his classes who knows where they are in life but what you sow is what you reap.


Kids today can’t make change of a fie dollar bill without using a calculator. First of all, I’m not a big fan of the full professors who begrudge the time to teach undergraduates because it keeps them away from their “real” job - publishing papers. That said, I’ve employed numerous high school interns over the years and found them to frequently have little memory of the contents of the classes they took (to the point of one who had passed his standardized chemistry exam, the NYS Regents, but had forgotten the boiling temperature of water).

In retrospect, my most valuable employees were nearly all first (immigrant) or second generation Americans whose origins were from nearly every continent (I didn’t get many applicants from Antarctica). Most of the “real” Americans who worked for me ended up being terminated for either being wise guys, dishonest or just lacking of good work habits - all three of which were generally not found in the immigrants. Being as their salaries were being paid out of my pocket, I had little patience if I wasn’t getting my money’s worth and frequently “culled the flock” in order to concentrate only the best of those who worked for me. Those who survived were paid far more than other firms did for employees in the same position and I can probably count the number of employees who voluntarily left the firm on one hand. I felt that it was so expensive to replace a key employee, their extra salary was less than the cost of their loss.



I guess my comment is simple: you do not need organic chemistry to be a doctor. It’s probably a nice thing to have in your toolkit, but it’s truly not necessary. Now you have a school where everybody is saying “he’s too hard.” Well perhaps that’s because he’s giving everybody crappy grades, and that will affect the future course of their life as they apply to schools which don’t know that “Oh, that prof. He’s a jerk.”

I say this because I had one of those in High School. He had never given an “A” to anyone, even for a quarter. Never. I didn’t affect me, it wasn’t one of my big subjects anyway, but a friend had Straight A’s in every other class, forever. 800’s on both SAT’s. But he got his second choice college, while others got 1st choice.

I can sympathize, with the caveat that I don’t really know if this particular prof was a jerk or not, but I can see the possibility for either side to be correct.


It’s not just that generation either. When I was at Oracle 7+ years ago, working on the server-level SPARC processors (which they got when they bought Sun Microsystems), one of the engineers in passing told me that he never bookmarks anything in a browser anymore because it is too easy and simple and accurate just to Google it again. Mind you, these are people with master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering, focused on digital designs, of some of the most complex processors the industry has built. And we Google most everything.

As we say in software engineering: “every line of code creates 1.5 Stackoverflow queries”. :smiley:

(stack overflow.com is a site where programmers ask other programmers questions about programming)


My prof was not a jerk at all. He was an easy going guy an artist in NYC. But he was teaching analytics. Visual analytics are very different. Not all courses are analytics but at UCONN it matters. Skipping analytics to complain just tells me the students MIGHT have wanted to be in college to party. Have fun!

As far as destroying or whatever their future? What? My niece is at Cornell in her sophomore year. She has a 3.9 GPA. Her life is far from over. LOL Someone did not give her the usual A +. She led her class in Arlington MA from Kindergarten to Senior in high school. Her life is not over.

But yeah there are people counting their chickens without having the merit. That is how most of America operates. It is called capitalism where people cut corners to make factories run better. To make sales when the product is so so. To say whatever they want in the process. More power to them. But their lives are not over if they do not get into Harvard law.

The human brain maturates in different ways during the schooling age periods. That is not the professors’ fault. There can be a subject that is added where many students have to take the class and it is not in line with the students that would graduate with the degree, with their brain maturation in a disparate area of study I mean.

My dad was a doctor. His hand has a slight tremor so he did not become a surgeon as he had hoped. During rounds he discovered he was bad with dermatology. So that was nixed. Doctors do this endlessly among each other.

No one else thinks that weeding out is fair? Good luck getting a surgeon who is really bad just to prove a point. It is nonsense talk.

But with the internet complaining and taking up space at being bad is in form.

btw I am a very bad writer. I need to always edit. This format with the quick responding platform and editing options is a pleasure for me. I felt stymied when I could not make up some of being a really bad writer.

I can see both sides of this controversy. It’s the result of the toxic environment of the educational system in general.

It’s sad that the professor was faced with the Faustian bargain of having to choose between his job and his expectations of students.

On the other hand, the students had a history of excellence and hard work, and they were shocked by the difficulty of organic chemistry. While my background is engineering (which is known for being hard and full of weed-out classes), I’ve heard that the pre-med track makes engineering look like a cakewalk in comparison.

What makes the educational system a toxic environment in general is its message of “If you do exactly what I tell you to do, you have it made! If you fall short, you’re damaged goods!” This message promotes short-term motivation at the expense of long-term motivation. It obscures the reality that there will ALWAYS be uphill battles, and one would have no sense of purpose without them. (If all goes well, you get to upgrade to a better set of uphill battles.) It’s so frustrating to successfully jump through the hoops, only to fail at something or almost fail at something later.

Everyone has heard about the growth mentality vs. fixed mentality. Everyone sings the praises of the growth mentality, and nobody defends the fixed mentality. However, the educational system promotes the fixed mentality. The policies are MUCH louder than all the speeches about intellectual growth and development.

Sadly, the students who got that professor fired aren’t that different from how I was. The difference is that they followed through and I didn’t. Looking back, I’m alive because none of the professors or TAs I had were willing to go to prison. (In my defense, many of them were incoherent.) I regret the shoddy attitude I had at the time. I missed out on many opportunities, and I’m less intelligent today than I’d otherwise be because of it.

I responded poorly to the challenges of my engineering curriculum. Every semester, I felt like I was in danger of flunking out even though I now know I wasn’t. I felt like I wasn’t fully learning the material, and it felt like my professors and TAs were bailing me out because they felt sorry for me and didn’t want to deal with me for another semester. I avoided the courses that I heard were particularly hard, and I avoided the courses that were heavily based on classes I had the most difficulty with. I became increasingly disengaged each semester and was running on fumes by my last semester.

Yes, I worked hard, followed the rules, and never cheated. I avoided all those illicit and “risky” behaviors that college students are known for. In spite of this, I still managed to set an example of how NOT to act. I’m lucky that none of my professors or TAs tried to make me take a breathalyzer test or drug test. (I didn’t drink or take drugs. So not being able to blame my attitude problems on such factors would have looked really bad.) I earned my engineering degree in 4 years like I was supposed to. On the surface, I looked like a model student. At a deeper level, I was a mediocre and disengaged student who only cared to do the bare minimum to get by.

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“I was a mediocre and disengaged student who only cared to do the bare minimum to get by.”

I think this is true of many students.
I was a highly motivated, extremely hard-working student who did extra work (such as additional labs) without being assigned them. I studied hard because I was fascinated by the subject matter, not just to earn a grade. Yes, I broke the class curve but anyone could have done as well if they had the same mental equipment, motivation and actually did the work. I also maintained myself at peak physical performance by working out every day for an hour and avoiding alcohol and drugs.

I deeply resent being dragged down into the mass of those who accomplished less but want their reported results to be the same as mine.

There is such a thing as reality. Any professional, whether scientist, engineer, doctor, lawyer, etc. needs to truly know the subject matter in order to analyze complex situations. Google is not enough. When I pay a professional, I want to know they are one of the true scholars, not a slacker who pulled out a pass.



What do they call a med student who graduates bottom of his class?



Me, too (well, except for maybe the alcohol part :slight_smile: ) (And the fascinated-by-the-material part, at least wrt O-Chem). (And, breaking the class curve).

(Ok, maybe not so close)

Inner-city public high school. One thousand freshmen, becoming four hundred odd graduating seniors; if you include the twenty-odd second-tier Cal State campuses (as opposed to the eight flagship UC schools) around thirty or so of us went directly on to four-year universities.

I did premed, choosing my UC by the simple criteria of The One Furthest From South Los Angeles.

No real idea what I was doing, much less that UC Davis had a reputation of having a particularly difficult organic chemistry year (source: a friend I made years later who was quoting his Dad, a biochem professor at a Big 10 university), and that the wisest of the premeds took O-chem during the summer at an easier institution.

Anyhow, I went in bare as a premed - choosing a biochemistry major on that criteria - sitting next to students who had gone to good-to-excellent public and private secondary schools.

I worked as hard than anyone I knew, and harder than almost everyone.

Retired after nearly thirty years as a triple-boarded hematologist/oncologist, I can report that:

  • No question it was a weeding course. First year chemistry had forced out the most casual, but O-chem (traditionally, sophomore year) took care of at least half of the rest.

  • And it might well have been me. O-chem 128A, B, C were among the few hardest undergraduate courses, with 128B the toughest of the three. A revered grandfather died that term… I got my only undergraduate ‘C’ in 128B…a conspicuous stain on my med school application two years hence

  • No question that almost all of the subject matter was useless as a medical student or a practicing physician. Perhaps 15% was peripherally useful (as opposed to biochemistry, a working knowledge of which is essential - particularly for the most cognitive medical specialties). But, as far as what O-chem is needed to practice first-rate medicine – the small amount that could be taught in perhaps ten or twenty instruction hours

  • with that said, O-chem was very useful in sorting out those who could and would put forth the concentrated effort to absorb and integrate a brutal amount of highly technical interrelated data in a concentrated period of time, and to then exhibit the ability to apply the lessons learned when encountering similar problems - under time pressure, an closed-book

  • For our great-great-grandparents, my understanding is that the study of ancient Greek followed Latin - apparently under the rationale in those pre-hard-science days the goal being nonetheless similar: that while every educated man* needed to know Latin, the harder Greek was reserved to hone, polish, strengthen, make supple – and to sort – the most adept young minds.

  • A different analogy: ‘H3ll Week’, the notorious period that begins Special Forces training and which has a 75% dropout rate

  • My thought then and now was: as regards the subject matter, it might as well have been Sanskrit, or nuclear physics, or even some complex obscure theology as organic chemistry - just so med schools generally agree among themselves on which one they will use - and, like many things, the specific choice was more an accident of history than any rational plan

  • But, some winnowing of MD wannabes is necessary. Pick something.

As far as the elderly adjunct NYU professor: my reading of the entire article is that the truth lies in between…but probably a little more on his side than the students’ (and, the article makes clear - the students didn’t want him fired anyway. That decision lies squarely with quavering administrators)

– sutton
(*and a few women, this being the reality of 18th century Western Europe)


I can’t let this go by without some qualification. One may not need organic to be a doctor, but the course makes one a better doctor. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that organic chemistry is an important component of biochemistry and pharmacology, two subjects where it is becoming increasingly important for doctors to be conversant with. New drugs come on the market all the time and an increasing number of Americans are taking multiple prescriptions for multiple chronic diseases. As a result, diagnoses and treatments are becoming more complicated. You want a doctor capable of understanding the research literature to evaluate the best treatment option among the several that may be available. Organic Chemistry provides a big chunk of the vocabulary needed to understand that literature.

The second is a bit more abstract. As an active geneticist I know that much of what is being taught to undergrads in my area is going to be obsolete in a few years. Doesn’t really matter because more important than the information provided is the training of the mind to think in more sophisticated ways. I took organic chemistry, and what I recall from the course that made it both difficult and fascinating was that it was a combination of formal rules and intuition. Organic molecules follow rules of physics that make their interactions predictable but they are sufficiently complex that multiple factors must be considered to uncover the predicted outcome. That is quite similar to the type of thinking required to make a diagnosis from symptoms, test results, and family history. Sometimes diagnoses are basic and can be done by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. But when it gets complicated, it is good to have someone trained at unraveling more complex problems.

Organic chemistry is hard because it demands a more sophisticated level of thinking than most students are used to. Good doctors have to be able to think at that same level.

Therein lies the more important issue to me. Why is such a critical preMed course being taught by an adjunct professor on a yearly contract?


This topic takes us into should teachers be rewarded for their results.

The best teachers tend to go to the best schools. Those are often in the suburbs.

Meanwhile teaching in the inner city where students need is greatest seems unpopular. Only the dedicated are willing to risk crime driving into the inner city.

They are forever telling us test scores correlate with zipcode. The poor have many social problems that interfere with quality education. They also tend to have weaker schools when schools are funded by property tax.

We need our best teachers at these inner city schools. Perhaps they should get hazardous duty pay. But also a generous allocation of resources to keep schools safe. Security. Mental health professionals to help.

We know many routes out of poverty are available to those who stay in and get a high school diploma. Its worth our while to make that happen more often. Poverty leads to a life on welfare using up social services or in prison. Much better to get them into the middle class. Education is one of the best opportunities.


And yet many medical schools, including some of the best and most productive don’t require organic chemistry at all. Not as an undergraduate, not in medical school, not ever.

One must wonder and the philosophy that says “we must have this really difficult course, which we acknowledge students don’t need, to help weed out those “non highly motivated and contentious” students from the rest of them. Heck, why not require them to calculate artillery ballistic trajectories to 9 digits, or learn Sanskrit. I’m sure that would weed out the laggards too.

Phooey. If you’re on a career track to be a doctor, offer courses that are necessary to be a doctor. If you are in one of the narrow specialties that require some background in organic chemistry, then require organic chemistry.

Anything else is nonsense, on a par with hazing rituals to join a fraternity.


The hazing continues after med school, with newly minted MDs forced to work 80-100 hours a week for terrible wages during their residency. The only explanation I’ve ever heard is that “I had to go through it, so they need to as well.”

How many mistakes are these exhausted young doctors making? I’m sure most of them are caught by their attending, but does it make any sense at all to put people through these meaningless rituals? Residency is certainly a necessary part of medical education, but the long hours and low pay are not.

And before someone starts talking about the benefit of watching the patient’s progress over time, that can certainly be done just as well with something more civilized, such as 4 or 5 10-hour days in a row. You don’t need to personally watch a patient 24/7 to learn how they are progressing. The attending isn’t doing that. They learn how their patients are doing by getting reports from their residents and the nursing staff.



I think you will find that the great majority (>90%) of U.S. medical schools require at least one semester of organic chemistry. Even in the few that don’t have any organic requirement I strongly suspect that they will give an advantage to the applicant that did well in organic versus one that tried to avoid the topic.

One big reason why organic has the reputation it does is because it is typically the first advanced chemistry/biology course taken by premeds. Upper level preMed courses like Genetics, Cell Biology, Organismic physiology, etc are typically as challenging as organic. Having taught genetics I can say that those student who have taken organic generally have an easier time with the course. Much easier to understand the structure and properties of DNA and RNA with an organic chemistry background. The relevance of organic chemistry to biochemistry, physiology, and pharmacology seems even more obvious.

There is a medical career track with a much more streamlined curriculum of the type you suggested. It’s called physician assistant, or PA, where one can skip a lot of the courses you believe are unnecessary.

Given a choice would you rather be treated by a PA or an MD?

That has changed. 80 hours/week is the max limit. Should point out that physicians on average work 50+ hours/week with 20% working 60-80 hours/week.


Most of the time, I’d rather have 20 minutes of a PA’s or NP’s time than 10 minutes of an MD’s time. I don’t really need an MD to tell me I have sinusitis or a sprained ankle and prescribe the appropriate treatments. Or to suture a small laceration. Or advise me on birth control. (Well, probably not me, but my wife or girlfriend - although as a man I should be there both to learn and support.) If a PA or NP can do these basic diagnoses, that works out just fine.

When things get complicated, that’s when the additional training, knowledge, and experience of an MD comes in. And I think any good PA or NP will know when to call in the cavalry. That’s one of the skills they need.

Good to know. Only 10 hours a day, 8 days a week. :wink: More realistically, 13 hours a day, 6 days a week, with the remaining 11 hours a day equally divided between sleep, meals, and off the clock charting. That leaves one day off a week to handle the rest of life. Useless little things like family and friends and writing checks for your huge student loans. And catching up on sleep. :grinning:



One of the worst doctors I ever heard of billed twice what his peers in the group did. He worked from 4 AM till 11 PM with no time off. He was well off and his wife was rich. He just had too many personal problems. He died upon his retirement at age 65. He was disease ridden by then.

Dad worked 50 hours per week. He did two internship, Dublin and here in the states. The US would not accept his Irish internship.

I’m sure they do. Whether that is a good idea is an entirely different thing. If it is not germane to the regular practice of most doctors, if it is nothing but a “weeding mechanism”, if it doesn’t help them diagnose, there what’s the point, except “we’ve always done it this way”?

Maybe it is with some disciplines, as you note. Then how about moving it further down the line, so people interested in those disciplines get it but those for whom it holds little/no practical value don’t?

Word. I’d rather have more medical personnel trained to do 95% of what is needed than many fewer trained to do something esoteric that’s not.

As for the “24 hours” thing, I was a recipient of that. After my bike accident (me: bike, him: Oldsmobile) my attending in the ER was in hour 23 of a 24 hour shift. How unsurprising that he misdiagnosed my concussion. How lucky for me that my sister ran a department at that hospital and caught the issue after-the-fact.

I have attempted to engage more than one doctor over whether this rigorous “hazing” is a good idea, but they never want to talk about it. I think it’s “I had to do it, so they should too”, but it could be that they think I’m trying to set up a malpractice suit, I suppose. I’m not. It’s 40 years later!


I also maintained myself in peak physical performance…

Somewhat off-topic but, in this context, do you use a performance related “wearable”. One that gives you, say, an estimated VO2MAX or some proxy for it?

I’m on a few of the support boards that accompany my Peloton and this topic came up on a board for those of us who’re Chronologically Enriched…and, with most who’re wearing one, the numbers are pretty low in spite of the exercise they claim to be doing. Tried explaining how part of the reason is that they’re late bloomers in the exercise arena and as great as that is, what they’re doing might not be adequate to compensate for being a Sedentarian for the previous 4 or 5 decades. I’m surmising that yours would be right up there too.

Rekindled a new interest here what with my recent surprise diagnosis of coronary artery disease with absolutely no symptoms or reduced capacity for exercise …or to my VO2MAX.

We just took another trip back to the UK for a medical meeting (Dublin then on to England). After a couple of days back down at sea level, thought I’d eyeball the feature on my Garmin and it alleged that my VO2MAX had risen to a level that pegged me at the fitness age of a 20 year old. Back at ~6200ft, I’ve aged another 15 years🤣

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