Professor Removed From Organic Chemistry Teaching Position

Professor Removed From Organic Chemistry Teaching Position
Professor Ned D. Heindel (Courtesy of the Lehigh University website)

According to close information made available to Jaysciencetech. It was exactly the first week of the class. More than 150 students are seated in an organic chemistry lecture, feeling extremely excited about the semester. The next lecture, they notice a few more students in the room. More so. by the time they notice, 85 more faces in the room, classes have been in session for more than a month.

An organic chemistry section was permanently moved to another class section by the chemistry department since two weeks.
On Sept. 27, professor Suzanne Fernandez received an email asking if 85 students are and  in professor Ned Heindel’s section, the only  organic chemistry section, could be permanently moved into her classroom for the rest of the semester. The notice was not expected.

The classes were combined due to student complaints regarding the quality of Heindel’s teaching. Fernandez, who has taught full-time at Lehigh for two years, said she noticed more students in her class throughout the month of September, prior to her receiving the email.

David Vicic, the chairman of the chemistry department, said combining the two course sections was entirely a student choice.

“I think the students solved the problem by themselves,” Vicic said. “Professor Fernandez has been the main instructor for organic chemistry. She has it down to a science, so maybe that’s why students have gravitated toward her.”

Vicic said professors sometimes emphasize different parts of the material, and this raises students’ concerns of missing critical class content. Both professors contribute to writing exams for the course. However, when the professors focus on different material, the students’ performance on those exams may vary.

Heindel began teaching organic chemistry this year as a replacement for professor Keith Schray. Heindel did not respond to requests from The Brown and White for comment.

Vicic said Heindel is doing his best to learn from the experience.

“I think (Heindel) is disappointed,” Vicic said. “I think he spent time preparing materials that emphasized what he thought was important.”

Emilia Galka, ‘18, said although she feels Fernandez’s teaching style is more effective, she still likes Heindel as a person. Galka was registered in Heindel’s lecture but attended Fernandez’s lecture prior to the combination of the two sections.

“I thought he was great,” said Galka. “I heard people went to his office hours, and they said he was really good at explaining things, so maybe he just isn’t good in a large classroom setting.”

Galka said Heindel simply wasn’t able to cover the material at an appropriate rate before the first exam.

While Fernandez said she didn’t tell her class the average of the first exam, grade discrepancies between the two sections made it necessary to find a fair solution for all students.

Fernandez is offering a make-up test of the first exam to all students Nov. 2, two days after the second midterm. While students’ opinions on the make-up exam are mixed, Galka said the option is a fair solution to balance the grades.

“I wish (the test) was a week later, but I feel like the concepts we learned are things we’ve been using all along,” Galka said. “Everyone gets to take it, so it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt in any way. Plus, if you do worse on the re-test, you can keep your original grade.”

Vicic said in order to handle the logistics of office hours with such a large class, Heindel will continue to help with all aspects of the course, except for lectures. Fernandez currently offers 11 open office hours per week for students seeking help.

Vicic said situations such as these likely exist within all departments at Lehigh. He said it is important to document negative evaluations of professors.

“It’s an interesting problem,” Vicic said. “You don’t want to reward professors for bad behavior and say, ‘Well, you can’t teach this class so we’ll just have someone else do it.’ You have to hold them accountable and make sure they continue to get better.”

Vicic said he thinks Heindel was emphasizing practical applications, while Fernandez may have been emphasizing different aspects of the course. The main issue arose when students were expected to take the same exam.

One solution is for each professor to write their own exams covering the material from their respective lectures, Vicic said. This way, professors can retain their own teaching styles.

Vicic said he hopes when Heindel teaches the class again, he’ll be aware of what the students need in order to do well and learn material not only practical in nature, but relevant for their exams.