A chemistry professor at Middlebury College has been placed on leave after he asked students to calculate the lethal dosage used in Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust.
Middlebury College Chemistry Professor Jeff Byers has been placed on leave after students revealed that he asked them to calculate the lethal dosage of poison gas that was used in gas chambers during the Holocaust. An investigation into Byers’ previous examinations revealed that he had also asked other bizarre questions such as one about the Ku Klux Klan.
“Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) is a poisonous gas, which Nazi Germany used to horrific ends in the gas chambers during The Holocaust. The lethal dose for humans is approximately 300. mg of HCN per kilogram of air when inhaled,” Byers’s question began. “Calculate the g of HCN that would give a lethal dose in the above room,” the second part of the question added.
In a statement, Middlebury President Laurie Patton wrote that Byers’ Holocaust question reflected a significant lapse in judgment. “This inexplicable failure of judgment trivializes one of the most horrific events in world history, violates core institutional values, and simply has no place on our campus,” Patton wrote. “We expect our faculty to teach and lead with thoughtfulness, good judgment, and maturity. To say we have fallen short in this instance is an understatement.”
Byers published an apology for the question on April 10. In the apology, which was published to the Middlebury College website, Byers said that his exam questions were careless and offensive.
I apologize and take full responsibility for my actions in administering two examinations in the last year containing questions that were clearly offensive, hurtful, and injurious to our students. I can offer no explanation for my actions other than carelessness and hubris. My students came to my class trusting that I would provide them with a supportive learning environment for a challenging curriculum. I failed them, and, in doing so, compromised their ability to focus on learning the subject matter I have devoted my career to teaching. I apologize without equivocation to the students, faculty, and staff of Middlebury College and to the parents and alumni who, rightly, have denounced my actions.
I accept that my behavior has diminished the trust put in me by the student body, the faculty, and the institution overall. I will spend the coming months reflecting deeply on the choices I have made.
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