Instructor’s classroom ‘hostile,’ district report finds
By Bethany Peterson/editor-in-chief
Former adjunct Paul Derengowski created a hostile learning environment for two Muslim students, a TCC investigation found.
The investigation, conducted by the college’s human resources office, looked at five student complaints, two from Muslim students accusing Derengowski of biased teaching and discrimination and three complaining the Muslim students behaved inappropriately and that TCC mishandled the situation. Student survey responses, Derengowski’s comments to administrators before he resigned, his resignation letter and other articles posted on his website
listed as required reading on his syllabus were also considered.
The investigation concluded Derengowski broke TCC’s code of ethics and violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by posting the two Muslim students’ names on his website, according to a report of the investigation’s conclusions.
The two Muslim students did not threaten Derengowski or violate TCC’s student conduct policy, the report said. However, the two students were informed of proper classroom behaviors.
The report is unfair and untrue, Derengowski said.
“I think it’s ridiculous to lay all the blame at my feet and let the Muslim students skate,” he said. “And the way they [the report] blew off the other students.”
Derengowski taught Great Religions of the World on SE Campus last semester. Part of the class included a mock trial of the Muslim shooter at Fort Hood, the report said. Derengowski assigned two male Muslim students to play roles in the mock trial, making one of them the defense lawyer while the rest of the class served as the jury. One of the male Muslim students dropped the class before the trial.
The other male Muslim student told academic chair Sharon Wettengel that when he talked with Derengowski about a research project on Buddhism, Derengowski turned the conversation and told him he was lost if he did not believe in Christianity.
When the class reached the lecture section on Islam Nov. 3, the report said two remaining Muslim students, a male and a female, questioned part of his lecture regarding the history of the Prophet Muhammad. By the Nov. 8 class, they claimed Derengowski was not teaching Islam fairly and was discriminating against them. Both Muslim students left class early and registered complaints against Derengowski.
Derengowski went to the police after class, saying he feared the male student might become violent, according to the police report.
On Nov. 15, Derengowski met with SE humanities dean Josué Muñoz, Wettengel and vice president of teaching and learning Barbara Coan, according to a memo written by Coan. They discussed reading requirements for Derengowski’s class, classroom management and student behavior.
It was determined Derengowski would meet with the students and try to resolve the dispute, remove his personal website from the required reading material and create a safe learning environment, the memo said.
“[We] met after Mr. Derengowski left the room and determined that he had created a hostile learning environment in which students did not feel safe to express their opinions and, in fact, were targeted, as members of ‘cults,’” Coan said in the memo.
“It was determined that the class should be canceled for Tuesday, Nov. 15, and that [human resources] could be contacted regarding removal of Mr. Derengowski from the class. We also wanted to meet with the two students who had been disruptive in class to be sure they understood that their behavior was unacceptable.”
When Muñoz and Wettengel went to tell Derengowski the class was canceled for the night, Derengowski suggested it would be better for a substitute to finish the semester in his place, Muñoz said in an email to Coan. Derengowski was told his suggestion would be considered, and Muñoz and Wettengel walked away.
Derengowski followed them to Wettengel’s office and told them he had decided to resign, Muñoz said.
Muñoz went to Derengowski’s class to inform students that class was canceled. On Nov. 17, another instructor took over the class for the rest of the semester.
Ginger Hart and Pamela Thomas
told The Collegian last semester they tried to contact administrators after learning Derengowski had resigned.
They and another student filed complaints saying the two Muslim students had disrupted class and/or threatened the teacher. One student complained TCC administration mishandled the situation.
On Nov. 23, Ricardo Coronado, associate vice chancellor of human resources told Bill Lanier, director of employee relations, to review the case.
Wettengel met with the two Muslim students separately Dec. 17 to hear their complaints and explain proper classroom behavior and the complaint process.
On Dec. 4, questionnaires were sent to all of Derengowski’s students. Of the 28 in the class and the 10 that had previously dropped, 10 responded. A request was also sent to Derengowski for explanation of his accusations. No reply was received.
Thomas, a student in the class, disagreed with the report.
“Their decision is disgusting and based on lies by the Muslim students,” she said.
Thomas specifically took issue with the report’s version of the mock trial. The entire class participated in the mock trial, she said. One male Muslim student was assigned as the defense lawyer and the other to play the Muslim shooter. Neither student objected to their role, Thomas said.
“Both [male Muslim students] were joking with each other and laughing as they portrayed the parts they were assigned,” she said.
Thomas said the Muslim students created a hostile classroom.
“The Muslim students created the hostile environment by their outbursts and disrespect for the students and professor in the class,” she said.
Lanier and Coronado referred all questions to Angela Robinson, vice chancellor of administration and general counsel, who did not respond to emails or phone calls.