In Response to: A Combustible Mix 

I took “Orgo” my sophomore year which was taught by Paul Schleyer, an excellent teacher. Schleyer left on a tour in the midst of second semester. A team of guest profs filled in for the balance of the year, one being Dr. Jones. Wow, who was this guy?

My junior year, as a starter on the varsity squash team, I somehow got connected to give Mait an afterwork squash hit. We had a great go, and he was a most gracious and enjoyable — victor! I later learned that he was equally talented on the tennis courts. It’s not often that you find such an all-around, capable, high-energy, and motivating person. What a gift to Princeton for so many years.

I had mixed feelings about the NY Times story. First, I was pleased to find that Mait had not retired at 65 to 70 but continued to serve the world with his great teaching and book publishing. But, I was distressed about his dismissal and the eroding student standards for hard sciences. When wokeness and statistical representation allow people to be chemists, doctors, engineers, architects, etc., with gaps in their capabilities, won’t subsequent accidents follow? And, who likes being in a position in which they don’t feel 110% masterful? 

I know this opinion will inflame the hard-core representation/quota crowd. If so, I’m sorry. But I will ask for what other educational track/scenarios should exist?  To pretend, more personally, that all kids who enter first grade — based on being 7 years old — should be able to learn at the same speed is wrong. Some will be overwhelmed and others quite bored. If you have a “privileged” ADHD, dyslexic kid in elementary school, should we pretend that your kid should be able to do a standard level of learning mastery? All kids are great! Shouldn’t they be educated at their respective speed to achieve full mastery? And, if some take a few more gap years before or during college, so be it.

Fast-forward, a diverse class is admitted to college averaging 18-19 years old. Why should we assume that they are equally able and equipped to take any course and do well? Should we just pretend that they all master every course and give them A’s and move them on? For hard math and science courses should we just dumb them down so everyone can pass? Or, should we — in some cases like Orgo — allow students to self-select into slow, medium, and fast-paced options?

Some students have always figured out their own workarounds. I had pre-med classmates who spent entire summer vacations just doing Orgo summer school (9-to-5, Monday through Friday) at hometown colleges to get it out of the way with a higher grade — all to get into more, better med schools. In the past decade, I have coached a few young men to take several gap years to work while acing one course per semester at a local community college to then transfer in as a sophomore into a bigger-time college and graduate at 25. Pretending that all kids are equally able to master tough courses and giving them fake grades for enrolling isn’t the answer.

Perhaps the positives that will come out of this negative NYU story will be new pathways to excellence in tough, hard courses for all students. 

D. Bruce Merrifield Jr. ’72
Snowmass Village, Colo.