Are Professors Too Hard on Students?


An NYU Organic Chemistry professor was recently not rehired from his position because students had consistently made complaints stating that the class was “too hard.” Apparently, he was told he “failed to reach the university’s teaching standards.” Poor student evaluations and a number of withdrawals led NYU to state “he was hired to teach and wasn’t successful.”

He had previously taught at Princeton for 43 years and wrote a textbook on the subject. 

Students claimed they would not be able to get into law school. The professor retorted by stating to the New York Post,  “They weren’t coming to class. … They weren’t watching the videos, and they weren’t able to answer the questions.” 

Columnists across America were quick to rally to the instructor’s side. The New York Post stated how “it should frighten all America” and the LA Times stated “You don’t ‘get’ a grade. You earn one.”

The question of whether professors are too hard on their students, or is there another explanation as to why they may not be doing their best, is running rampant among academia. 

College is designed in such a way as to improve the lives of students and prepare them for a future career. Professors are there to assist the student as a mentor and an advocate for learning. Not only do they do that, but they actively work as a guide to success.

Success isn’t given so easily though, and in many cases, a student will have to earn it. The same principle applies to the classroom.

In the classroom, students are expected to do their work diligently and participate in class activities or discussions. By doing so, students should be able to benefit from being active participants.

Although this is the main goal for any classroom, it may not be achieved due to a variety of reasons. Former students of Mercy College have shared their thoughts on the matter explaining why this may occur.

Lisa Nunez, a Mercy College alumni, expressed how some of her classes were difficult, especially at a time when there was limited technology. She’d describe the challenge of finding useful resources for even the simplest of assignments, and this would extend the duration that it took for her to complete homework.

As a result, she’d often times stay up late and have to allocate a lot of her free time to complete her work. This was an inevitable stressor, and it added a lot of pressure on her, but she was able to overcome those hurdles by applying herself to the best of her ability.

“Applying yourself is key to success in college, there’s no better feeling than getting your homework all done and being able to relax,” Nunez stated.

She’d also mentioned that there really wasn’t any other choice for her but to apply herself because she wanted a better future. Nunez wanted to do better than her parents and advance her education for the right reasons.

Not all students will have the same viewpoint or reap the benefits of college because of stressors such as a heavy workload or struggling to manage a healthy work-life balance. They’d rather choose to blame it on the professor or the material which isn’t always a fair point of judgment.

According to another former student of Mercy College, Douglas Mendoza, he would often find his classes to be fair and somewhat challenging depending on who was teaching the class.

“The classes that I took would be challenging but some were easier, usually because of the professor.”

Mendoza would go on to say that some professors would know how to handle a room more better than others and be able to help students like himself in more attentive ways. “At times, when you’d ask less helpful professors for assistance or further explanation, they couldn’t break certain material down for us to comprehend easily.”

He’d reiterate that point by expressing how much of a chore it was to get a grasp of the material, especially for classes more geared to the intricacies of business, which is what Mendoza studied.

Schooling is different in all places and experience is subjective. Students like Nunez may feel like college is all about applying oneself. While students like Mendoza may look at things a bit differently because not every professor is one and the same.

Each viewpoint is valid and can be put to the test, but there may be elements to the matter at hand in which students cannot control. As of late, elements such as COVID, transitioning from the pandemic to normalcy, and attempting to not lose focus on Zoom classes may be part of the problem.

The problems of the past are not the same problems students are actively working through today. This generation may or may not have it harder, but that can only be determined through experience. There’s no definitive answer as to whether professors are the ones making classes hard.

Certain professors may have the tendency to be more difficult than others, especially if the material is extensive, but that doesn’t eliminate external forces from creating a more challenging or demanding school environment.

Professors and students alike will have to make an effort to create a welcoming, accessible, and pleasant experience in college, but if one or the other fails to do so, you may have a recipe for disaster in the modern academic classroom.

As for the instructor’s reviews, he stated that the process is now more like a social media post to vent, he told the Chronicle. He said good students are better served by getting a 92 and should work on the missing eight points and learning that material instead of wanting a scaled-up 100. Not all students are like that these days, but enough to affect academia. 

In his email notifying students that he was not rehired, he offered them some guidance for the last time. 

“Now a piece of unsolicited advice: It is very difficult to be self-critical. It is hard to accept personal responsibility when we meet failure, as each of us will at some point, but it is an essential life skill you would be wise to develop.”