Middlebury Statement Regarding Chemistry Examination

April 10, 2019

Middlebury College announced that a chemistry professor who last month asked students in a written examination to calculate a lethal dose of hydrogen cyanide gas, the gas used in the Nazi gas chambers, has taken a leave from the College, effective immediately. Middlebury has initiated an investigation, under the terms of Middlebury’s faculty misconduct policy, to determine the full scope of potential violations of institutional policies and standards.

 “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. “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.” 

An inquiry into past examinations given by the professor, Jeff Byers, to check for other questions that might have violated the institution’s policies and standards uncovered a second objectionable question, given in an exam last year. It made reference to the Ku Klux Klan in a way that appeared to be humorous in intent, but which was gratuitous and offensive. Byers has issued an apology for his actions. 

“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. “We want to acknowledge the harm these actions have had on members of our community, particularly our students. Our values of personal respect, inclusivity, and nondiscrimination mandate that we must do everything possible to ensure that our campus and our classrooms are welcoming environments for learning.” 

Patton said Middlebury is actively exploring practices to reduce the risk that incidents like this might occur in the future.