Chemistry 103 students this semester were in for a surprise when, after five weeks of stoichiometry, David Irving Professor of Chemistry Ricardo Klement tasked them with an unexpected problem on the mid-term: calculating the amount of Hydrogen Cyanide gas needed to fill a concentration room chamber with a lethal dose for humans.
Students in the class had mixed reactions. Many deemed the question, which made direct reference to the use of HCN gas by Nazis to kill Jews during the Holocaust, unfair or inappropriate, while others found that the question was in fact beneficial to their learning.
“To be honest, I didn’t see anything wrong with the problem, and I don’t understand how trivializing the most horrific collective experience in all of human history could offend anyone,” says Wilhelm Von Herschmitt ’21. “But I will say that Klement was a real Nazi when it came to grading.”
Controversy is nothing new to Klement’s teaching career at Middlebury; since 2017 he has maintained a “flipped classroom,” in which the students burn books instead of reading them, and only the improperly done homework assignments are marked with a star.
Despite these unproven methods, many in the department maintain that his teaching style is pedagogically sound, and the tactfulness of exams is irrelevant because, “science is objective or something like that.”
Not all students feel that way, though.
“When the SS came,” began Phil Theeju ’19.5, “oh, sorry, that’s what we call stoichiometry sets. Anyway, when the SS came, I did alright and thought I was going to get through the midterm OK, but then I found out I totally bombed it!”
When asked for his thoughts on the matter, a different professor, who wished to remain unnamed, said, “Vell, I do not really zee ze problem vith ze exam, az I expect all my students to show their work before reaching ze final solution.”