Last week, the NY Times, in its ongoing effort to cover every single academic controversy that might involve the Dreaded Wokeness, had an article about an NYU organic chemistry professor who was fired based on bad teaching reviews–it’s worth noting that the students didn’t want him fired. Anyway, some thoughts on the subject:
- This isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this: I’ve personally witnessed this in 1989 and 1998–an elderly orgo professor can’t understand why students are performing poorly, and the students are frustrated. The 1989 experience was all the more… interesting as said orgo professor literally died in class….
- A structural problem is many biology undergraduates spend their first two years taking non-biology courses: if they wanted to be chemists, they would’ve majored in chemistry. A serious problem, one that a biology professor told me about in 1991 is biology majors spend their first two years studying very little biology (four semesters of chemistry). Simply put, the motivation isn’t high. The biochemically-minded biologists usually end up taking ‘chemistry for chemists’, but other biologists really don’t want to be there. I’m all for eating your vegetables, but four semesters is a lot (put another way, I received a B.Sc., and four of the twenty-one science courses I took were chemistry. This needs to be reconsidered.
- These are often designed to be weed-out courses–and you don’t have to fail students, a low B or C grade will destroy a student’s GPA just fine. Given a limited number of good grades, students are forced to compete against each other. Underclassmen are at a real disadvantage in this competition. Again, this is very demotivational.
- Orgo is hard, because, unlike inorganic/general chemistry, students have never had any of it before. Everything is new, and if you fall behind, it’s really hard to catch up. Combine that with the two previous points, and that can lead to a lot of frustration, especially among underclassmen who might not have developed good study habits yet.
- At the risk of being mean, why is an 84 year old teaching students? I get that people can be energetic and vital well into old age (I hope I am!), but there might be some gaps here that are just hard to fill.
Just some observations.