The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Students criticize, defend SE teacher who resigned

By Bethany Peterson/editor-in-chief

A Muslim student said she “felt violated and discriminated against” when a SE instructor made what she felt were insulting comments about Islam in class.Another member of the same class said the actions of two Muslim students in the class were “scary.”Paul Derengowski, who taught a Great Religions of the World class on SE Campus, resigned Nov. 15 after two Muslim students complained to TCC administrators about how he taught Islam and the administrators questioned his class syllabus and teaching style.

The female Muslim student, who did not want her name published, said Derengowski started the section on Islam by asking what the students thought about Islam.

“A lot of people said ‘terrorist,’ and ‘9/11’ and all that,” she said.

Derengowski then began teaching the history of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

“He then referred to the Bible when he got the nerve to say that our Prophet Muhammad doesn’t even qualify to be a prophet,” she said.

When a student asked if the Quran was inspired by the Bible, Derengowski said it was possible, the female Muslim student said.

“He replied … ‘he probably was as good as Joseph Smith of the Mormons to just take all that information he learned from everyone and throw his name on it,’” she said.

Pamela Thomas, a student in the class, said the class had just started the section on Islam when the male Muslim student demanded Derengowski provide evidence to back his teaching.

“He just became irate,” Thomas said. “‘I’ve never heard this. Prove this to me,’ [he said]. That’s how Professor D started the next class, ‘Here is proof of what I was saying.’”

Ginger Hart, another student in the class, said the male Muslim student didn’t let Derengowski even show where the Quran and other Muslim authors supported his teaching.

“As soon as [Derengowski] opened the book, [the male Muslim student] said, ‘You need to throw that book away. That book is trash. Where do you get the right to teach religion?’”

The male Muslim student did not respond to messages seeking comment, but the female Muslim student said she didn’t think the way Derengowski taught the class about Islam was fair.

“We had three class periods that covered Christianity,” she said, “and not one single thing about the Crusades, which are a huge part of the history, not one ugly thing about the religion. But when it came to Islam, he made sure he insulted our prophet and mentioned all the violence it included.”

The female Muslim student described Derengowski’s words as “intimidating and hurtful.” Both Muslim students left before class was over.

“We did not threaten the teacher, nor did we cause any disruption,” she said. “We were rightfully debating the information he was giving.”

Thomas described the class discussion before the two students left as “spirited, no yelling, screaming and getting into your face.” At one point, Thomas said she was interrupted by the male student, but she told him to wait, it was her turn to talk, she said.

Hart said the two Muslim students were “very loud, very angry, very combative.”

“[The male Muslim student] was standing up at his desk, challenging Professor D with every sentence,” she said.

Hart said Derengowski did what he could to ease the situation.

“He allowed the initial class discussion, but when it got so loud, he put his foot down,” she said.

Daniel Thornton, also a student in the class, said Derengowski didn’t attack Islam.

“You could hear in his voice how skeptical he was about the religion, but that’s it,” he said.

Thomas said she felt threatened by the two Muslim students.

“Professor D filed a police report with campus police due to one of the students stating, ‘You should be scared’ as he left the classroom,” Thomas said. “I, too, felt my safety was at stake and stayed in the class an additional 30 minutes before leaving.”

The female Muslim student attempted to contact Josue Muñoz, SE Campus humanities dean, without success, she said. She then researched Derengowski online, slid all the material she found under Muñoz’s door and sent an email with her findings to all her classmates. That same night’s class was canceled.

When the class learned Derengowski had resigned, both Hart and Thomas tried to contact SE philosophy department chair Sharon Wettengel and the SE vice president of student developmental services Rusty Fox, but their e-mails were not returned. They did speak with Wettengel in person when she came to introduce the replacement teacher, but they were given no answers, Hart said.

Hart and Thomas both filed official complaints about the way TCC handled the situation.

“I told Sharon Wettengel and Rusty Fox in the complaint I filed with TCC I have been discriminated against,” Thomas said.

The class was assigned a new instructor and, while Hart understands he is in a very difficult position, she is not satisfied with the class and wonders what will happen with the final grade, she said.

The atmosphere between the Muslim students and the other class members is now tense, Hart said.

“This situation is not settled in any way in the class,” she said.

On Dec. 1, Derengowski replied to an email the replacement instructor sent about a grading curve the students had mentioned. The reply, which was sent to the entire class, ends: “Two students ruined not only the curve and the class but something I loved to do. So if anyone really wants to discuss fairness or unfairness, right or wrong, what’s ethical or unethical, then look to them.”

Derengowski’s knowledge of his subject is not the question in either Hart’s or the female Muslim student’s minds.

“I admired the fact that this man has a great deal of knowledge and learned a lot from him,” the female Muslim student said.

However, she didn’t agree with how much Derengowski’s religious viewpoint was included in his teaching.

“He referred to the Bible countless times to justify some of his teachings although there were two Muslim students and an atheist in class,” the female Muslim student said. “But it was more than an opinion he was giving. He was teaching his opinion rather than giving it.”

Derengowski told The Collegian last week that he tried to teach objectively so students could make educated decisions and that the class discussed “the good, the bad and the ugly” of each religion.

The content of Derengowski’s website and his other Internet postings also troubled the female Muslim student, she said.

“He clearly states his hatred for Islam over and over again,” she said. “Do employers not research people’s personal Facebook pages when looking to hire them? Did TCC not do the same with a professor who is trusted to touch such sensitive subjects with a proper and respective manner?”

Thomas said she has read Derengowski’s website.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” she said. “It’s a religion class. You take from it what you want and leave what you want. He never referenced his website in class. He gave us facts based on his study. Every class, he always had a book from his library on that religion.”

Derengowski’s syllabus did list Cultism, Scientology, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witness articles from his website, capro.info, as required reading.

Hart said Derengowski was fair in his classroom teaching.

“He does a very good job of presenting the historical facts of a religion,” she said. “His lectures are all based on facts. His opinion only comes in when someone asks a subjective question.”

Derengowski didn’t use the textbook to make the Islam lesson, the female Muslim student said.

“He brought his own sources,” she said. “There was nothing in the textbook about anything he taught that day.”

Thornton, who identified himself as an atheist, said he was not worried about being attacked when the class topic turned to atheism, though Derengowski resigned before the class could cover it.

“I stated all my opinions,” he said. “It was always very professional, our questions toward each other. I was not scared at all. I was kind of excited because I like a good debate.”

Muñoz did not return phone messages. Wettengel referred all questions to the college’s public relations department.

A group from human resources and administration are looking into the complaint, said Frank Griffis, director of public relations and marketing.

“Sometimes, these [investigations] do lead to changes,” he said.

Student complaints matter, Griffis said.

“Any time we have student complaints we take that seriously,” he said. “These students have made some serious accusations.”

 

 
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