I appreciated PAW’s thorough analysis of the fate of Maitland Jones. While I never took his class, I would have benefited from trying. Nonetheless, I find discussion of his case ignores the deep connection between the failure of higher education to reach diverse audiences and the poor preparation and support for the actual teaching done by instructors.
In graduate school I taught an introductory engineering course and was provided no syllabus, standards, objectives, or guidance on what topics to cover. While this might be considered “academic freedom,” I likely did not appropriately prepare my students for more complex content they would encounter later, setting them up for failure.
We could charitably reframe the complaints of NYU students as a request for productive struggle. If serious, consistent effort in a course by qualified students yields no improvement, conditions may not be in place for a diverse set of learners to demonstrate mastery of that content. All alumni can recall a professor who had assessments that were not aligned to coursework, nonsensical essay assignments, or grades which emerged from thin air. These products of poor pedagogical systems leave many students, particularly first-generation college students, feeling confused, isolated, and frustrated.
The failure to prepare doctoral students in pedagogy, the lack of emphasis on teaching in the tenure review process at research universities, and the low emphasis on advising belies the academy’s beliefs about the ease of teaching. Most tragically, this keeps many talented students from seeing their efforts translate to understanding and excellence.