The debate over the firing of NYU organic chemistry Prof. Maitland Jones Jr. misses the point: It’s neither that his tests were too hard nor that his Gen Z students were too entitled. It’s that introductory courses should be gateways into the STEM professions, especially for students underrepresented in these areas, not elimination rounds in a cutthroat competition in an imagined world of scarcity.
The pandemic has accelerated a workforce crisis in the STEM fields and a persistent gap in science, technology, engineering and math education. Across industries, the demand for college graduates in STEM outpaces supply. Yet millions of potential professionals from diverse backgrounds are not being tapped. In 2017, while Black, Latino and Native American students comprised 34% of prospective college STEM majors, only 18% of them actually earned a STEM degree.
The probability that a STEM-focused white male student who receives a C or better in all introductory courses will earn a degree in the field is 48%. But for a similar Black male student, the chances are 31%, while Black female students have just a 28% chance. Yet, there is little correlation between those introductory grades and career success or job performance. That early C has no bearing on how good a doctor a student will become. And when it comes to innovators, high grades are actually inversely correlated to success: As grades go down, invention goes up.
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