New York University fired Maitland Jones Jr. because his organic chemistry course was “too hard.” The man wrote the textbook on the subject, now in its fifth edition, and had been a star teacher at Princeton. He went out of his way to tape his lectures, at his own cost, to mitigate some of the attendance problems attributed to the pandemic.
Yet students revolted because they feared, according to the New York Times, that “they were not given the grades that would allow them to get into medical school.”
The professor, meanwhile, saw a different problem: “They weren’t coming to class. … They weren’t watching the videos, and they weren’t able to answer the questions.” But the school terminated his employment rather than the students, who are on track to become physicians despite struggling to get into med school.
Every American should be worried because this kind of standard-lowering is becoming commonplace in medical school.
Organic chemistry is a very difficult subject. Doing well in the course in college has been a litmus test for medical-school suitability. It demands discipline, ability to think in three dimensions, memorizing complex structures, managing a series of chemical rules and solving intricate problems. Its intellectual demands and need for disciplined study are surrogates for the discipline and problem-solving physicians must demonstrate throughout their careers.
Jones could not be more correct in his judgment that his organic chemistry course should be tough. Entry into medical school these days is almost a guarantee that a student will one day have a medical degree and a license to practice medicine. Even struggling students are coached through to graduation. I know this as I was the associate dean for curriculum at Penn’s medical school. But until recently, the standards for admission were so high that one could be sure that at least students admitted had the potential to excel. Jones’ experience at NYU makes clear that assumption is no longer correct.
The leadership at most American medical schools have adopted many of the same tenets of critical race theory invading education for K-12 students. It calls for diversity above meritocracy and makes being sure a med-school class has racial diversity the No. 1 priority. That would be fine if meritocracy and diversity could be co-existent, but increasingly, they can’t. To get around this conundrum, admission standards are being abandoned; there has even been an initiative to do away with organic chemistry as a pre-med requirement, with schools like Harvard considering it.
The story of NYU and Professor Jones shows why. It will be much easier to fill the diversity quotas if organic chemistry and achievement tests are eliminated as admission requirements. Hence the recent decision to dilute the hard-science content of the MCAT, the achievement test generally required for medical school applicants.
Endless catering to the demands of students when it means diluting standards and reducing academic rigor is a prescription for disaster in American health care. Think about it: Would you want a surgeon doing your appendectomy who had admissions standards lowered and poor test performance disregarded to diversify his or her medical school class? Would you want that person caring for your family member during a stay in the ICU? Of course not.
We must never forget that the high standards required of future doctors reflect the complexity and high stakes of the work. They exist to protect future patients, period. That’s why physicians and patients alike should fight the imposition of diversity, equity and inclusion policies — which are inherently divisive and often discriminatory — in all aspects of medical care. The health and well-being of patients depends on pushing back and keeping standards high.
There are two applicants for every opening in American medical schools. We need to be sure students are accepted based on their academic potential and good character — and nothing else. This has been the standard up until the rise of woke medicine, and this is the standard we must still uphold. Anything less will damage our health care system, undermine the achievements of those minority students who truly deserve admission to medical school and allow in the sorts of unqualified students who couldn’t cut it in Professor Jones’ organic chemistry class at NYU.
I don’t want them as my future doctor, and neither should you.
Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, a former associate dean of curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, is chairman of Do No Harm.
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