Undoubtedly, you've heard about this story, but if you haven't, here's a rather depressing story from the New York Times about the NYU administration's firing of Maitland Jones Jr. from teaching one of their large organic chemistry lectures:
In the field of organic chemistry, Maitland Jones Jr. has a storied reputation. He taught the subject for decades, first at Princeton and then at New York University, and wrote an influential textbook. He received awards for his teaching, as well as recognition as one of N.Y.U.’s coolest professors.
But last spring, as the campus emerged from pandemic restrictions, 82 of his 350 students signed a petition against him.
Students said the high-stakes course — notorious for ending many a dream of medical school — was too hard, blaming Dr. Jones for their poor test scores.
The professor defended his standards. But just before the start of the fall semester, university deans terminated Dr. Jones’s contract.
Derek does a great job of covering the issues from a philosophical side, and so I urge you to read his post. I have two items to add. One of them is a factual question that I would like answered, and the other is yet another philosophical cud-chewer.
Most of the discussion of this article (God help us) has been on Twitter, and there have been a lot of opinions and not many new facts to add. It's clear that the students had legitimate questions about the style and format of grading; I'm not a chemistry professor, and so I don't have an informed opinion there. But there have been at least two instances of former students claiming that Professor Jones would specifically announce and make fun of the low score (or the low scorer) of the exam.
If true, this is pretty appalling. If Professor Jones was saying "someone got a 5% and boy are they a dummy!", that seems quite cruel. If Professor Jones was saying "John Smith got a 5%, and boy are they a dummy", that is clearly a FERPA violation and a fireable offense. The claims are unclear as to if it was either the strong or weak version. Either one is bad, in my opinion. I'd really like this question run all the way down to the letter, but that will probably never happen.
For the philosophical question, it is fascinating to me how large organic chemistry seems to loom as a barrier for pre-meds. First, they seem to view the class as unnecessary gate-keeping and there are a shocking amount of people who claim that organic chemistry has nothing to do with medicine. I will basically not entertain responses on the second point, i.e. I think organic chemistry is extremely relevant, and those who say otherwise are basically entertaining a future with physicians who are scientifically illiterate. But here's my real question: if I accept the premise that organic chemistry is the gate for gate-keeping, where do the anti-organic folks propose to move the gate? Biochemistry? The first year of med school? Physics?
(As a practical matter, the seemingly unique American practice of having a 4-year undergraduate degree that is lightly or heavily sprinkled with science and then another 4 years of medical school seems a bit indulgent, but I rather like the idea that physicians get a good solid liberal education.)
So there's my question, readers - what's the best way to educate physicians other than the current way? Is there a scientific field (I dunno, biology? engineering?) that is better suited?