At present, there are hundreds of different petitions on the website Change.org that call for the removal of professors at colleges and universities across the world. Some date back many years, and some are current, ranging in topics from instructors’ off-color language and views to the lack of quality in their courses.
And there are scores of others defending professors and calling for their reinstatement. One that has received a paltry 59 clicks—falling short of the goal of 100—surrounds one of the biggest stories to hit higher education this year. When Maitland Jones, a longtime organic chemistry professor at New York University, failed to have his contract renewed before the start of the academic year, it sparked a firestorm of debate. First reported by The New York Times, it was picked up by most media outlets because it came on the heels of a petition filed by 82 of his 350 students who claimed his course was too difficult and that he was inflexible. Jones had been at NYU for 15 years but lacked tenure, so NYU did not have to renew his deal.
The case has fueled discussions across social media about the role of administration in supporting faculty, the lack of protections for professors such as Jones and whether this generation of students has gotten, well, a little bit soft compared to their predecessors.
An agency that does a lot of quick-hit surveys, Intelligent.com, recently posed a battery of questions to an audience of 1,000 four-year college students to get their take on the rigors of course work and their professors. The results were eye-opening: 87% said professors make classes too challenging, and 10% said they actually filed complaints against professors for being too tough.
Do their cases have merit? In the same survey, 64% of respondents said that they work really hard. However, they admit to devoting less than 10 hours per week to studying and doing homework. The resulting report from Intelligent posed the question that might be on the minds of Boomer, Gen X and Millennial graduates who pulled all-nighters and spent long hours in libraries: “Are College Students Entitled?”
Consider these other survey results:
- One-quarter of those polled said they have asked professors to change their grade
- Nearly one-third have said they’ve cheated to try to boost their class scores
- Only 23% of respondents said the current grading systems should stand. The rest lean somewhat or mostly toward pass/fail.
On the issue of professors being too challenging, a robust 66% of all students who felt overburdened said “professors should have ‘definitely’ or ‘maybe’ been forced to make the class easier.” Those who took math and science courses, and to some extent foreign languages and history, felt more strongly about that than others.
Although it may be hard to draw conclusions from the results of a single survey, Gen Z is facing far different pressures than Boomers did when they attended college. One of the most ever-present is how many current students have to work longer hours or care for family while attending college. In turn, they may not have the luxury of all that “free time” as the previous generation. There may be other factors at play too, in their reasoning behind calling out professors.
“Gen Z has less resilience than other generations,” said Michael Katz, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley who teaches a course on Gen Z psychology and values. “It’s less that faculty are making their courses harder and more that students feel greater anxiety and overwhelmed when they perform worse than they expected. This puts them in a “fight or flight” state, and often they’re fighting to get grades changed or to discipline faculty members.”
Whether professors such as Jones will face more scrutiny is unclear, although institutions are clearly watching, especially those intent on keeping enrollments high, ensuring students are retained and getting them to completion.