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Chemistry professor at Vermont college on leave after putting Nazi gas chamber question on exam

The question asked students to figure out the amount of poison gas needed to commit a war crime

Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

A professor at Vermont liberal arts school Middlebury College has taken a leave of absence after backlash over an exam question that seemed to ask students to put themselves in the shoes of Nazi murderers.

Here's what we know

According to a screenshot provided by the student run newspaper The Middleburry Campus, the question reads:

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 gas per kilogram of air when inhaled....Calculate the g of HCN that would give a lethal dose in the above room (5 points).

Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Other groups including Roma, Jehovah's witnesses, people with disabilities, and homosexuals were also brutally targeted.

While at least some students who took the test found it offensive, the controversy only really gained traction after the story was ridiculed by the school's student-run satirical newspaper, The Local Noodle. The Noodle itself faced backlash for joking that the professor was "a 'Real Nazi' about grading."

"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," Middlebury College President Laurie L. Patton said in an official statement, from April 10. "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."

The school also said that an inquiry had uncovered another exam question by the same professor which "made reference to the Ku Klux Klan in a way that appeared to be humorous in intent, but which was gratuitous and offensive."

"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," Patton added in the statement.

One last thing…
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