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Islam (and Conflict) in Class

December 14, 2011

Paul Derengowski had been teaching his world religions class as an adjunct at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Tex., for three years without incident. All that changed in November, when two Muslim students decided to challenge the way he taught the Islam section of the course.

The students disrupted his class and then walked out Nov. 8. Derengowski, an adjunct professor, filed a report with campus police and later met with college administrators to suggest that the college suspend them with a failing grade as punishment for the disruption, which he said involved repeated in-your-face interruptions that scared the other students in the class. When administrators did not act on his recommendation, he resigned.

Derengowski said he was teaching only what had been approved by college administrators, but supporters of the students have suggested that the instructor may not be the most open-minded about Islam. They have noted that he runs a website called the Christian Apologetics Project, where he lists Islam as a cult along with Mormonism and Scientology. The two students are not talking to reporters.

The professor said he resigned, in part, because the college administration failed to follow the rules as described in the student handbook when it comes to those disrupting classes.

The problem started, he said, when he was teaching a section on the early life of the Prophet Muhammad. “I was quoting directly from the Koran and yet they objected to that,” Derengowski said. “It was an hour’s worth of disruption.”

He stressed that he did not bring his personal beliefs about Islam to the classroom.

The students were in his face, he said, preventing him from teaching his class. The two students also told him that his Ph.D. studies were not credible. Another point they made: He was only focusing on the negative issues in Islam.

Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights organization for Muslims, said professors at public colleges and universities should have a religiously neutral agenda. “He does have every right [to his beliefs] but it is good to have ideals that are inclusive,” Carroll said.

He said public servants and educators hold a very special role in a multicultural, pluralistic society. “We need to be a cautious in a diverse group,” he said. “This professor also listed Islam as a cult -- a religion with 1.7 billion followers.”

A student who was part of the class this semester said Derengowski’s class was unbiased in her view. Ginger Ruiz said on the night of the disruption, the two students told the professor that he did not have the right to read from the Koran and that he should throw away his books. “The other students were afraid. All this was making them uncomfortable and nervous,” Ruiz said. “I feel that the professor has strong opinions, but he was not teaching from his opinions.”

Ruiz, who has filed a student grievance with the college to complain about how the administrators handled the incident, said the class has been reworked and there is no Islamic component to it. “I fault the TCC administration for how they handled this and because of it, a man is out of a job,” she said.

Ruiz said a section of Derengowski’s website was even listed on the syllabus -- so his views were not hidden from the college.

But when she was asked if she would feel offended by the professor’s opinion if she were a Muslim, she said: “I think I would. But I would take my complaints to the administrators and anyone else who listened. I would not have disrupted a class.”

The college did not return phone calls or e-mails Tuesday, but an official told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the college is investigating the incident.

 

 

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