Vermont prof. asked students: Calculate lethal dose for Nazi gas chambers

Professor Jeff Byers has taken a leave of absence from Middlebury College.

April 22, 2019 03:43
1 minute read.
The spire of Mead Memorial Chapel, completed in 1916, rises on the highest elevation of the campus

The spire of Mead Memorial Chapel, completed in 1916, rises on the highest elevation of the campus. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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A chemistry professor at a college in Vermont is under investigation for an exam question in which he asked his students to calculate the lethal dose of poisonous gas that was used in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust.

Professor Jeff Byers has taken a leave of absence from Middlebury College during the investigation under the college’s faculty misconduct policy.

“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,” said Middlebury President Laurie L. Patton in a statement issued earlier this month. “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.”

“Middlebury has, and always will, condemn any actions that are anti-Semitic or racist in intent or effect, just as we will any other acts of bias or discrimination,” said Patton.

A review by the college of other exams given by Byers found a second objectionable question asked on an exam during the last school year dealing humorously with the Ku Klux Klan.

Byers offered a written apology for the questions in a statement issued on April 10.

“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,” he said. He added that he will “spend the coming months reflecting deeply on the choices I have made.”

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