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TCC professor's lecture on Islam stirs controversy

Muslim students question lecture; professor recommends expulsion

12/12/2011 11:01 PM

11/12/2014 2:28 PM

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FORT WORTH -- The evening of Nov. 8 is being described as infamous by some students in Paul Derengowski's Great Religions of the World class at Tarrant County College's Southeast Campus.

That's when the second of the professor's two lectures on Islam ended in a headline-grabbing controversy. Two Muslim students questioned Derengowski's source material and objectivity. The students later aired their concerns to the college administration -- a move that resulted in Derengowski's Nov. 15 resignation and prompted other students to file grievances that question the college's handling of the situation.

Derengowski says the college took the politically correct route by focusing on his lesson rather than disciplining the students, who he said berated him and disrupted his class.

"My recommendation was expulsion," he said, explaining that the only way he would return to TCC is if the college apologizes, expels the students with failing grades and allows him to resume his lessons without stipulations that he be neutral.

The Muslim students believed that Derengowski, who on his website lists Islam as a cult, was disparaging their religion. Randa Bedair, one of the students involved, told the Star-Telegram that she was trying to stay out of the limelight and declined to comment. The male student could not be reached for comment.

The case is an example for some in the Muslim community of how religious history or philosophy classes need to be handled through a neutral and impartial lens. When a professor's objectivity is questioned, it detracts from the lesson, they said.

"In terms of religion, we need to be religious neutral in terms of giving edicts about what you think religion is," said Mustafaa Carroll, executive of CAIR Texas, an affiliate of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

The Derengowski case is pending an investigation, said Frank Griffis, TCC spokesman. He said TCC won't provide information while college officials are looking into it.

Derengowski's course objectives state that after completing the class students will be able to explain and discuss major tenets of major world religions, provide firsthand understanding of two religions not tied to the student's current orientation, and "think critically about the truth, and the truth claims made by some of the major religions around the world, as well as some of the religious aberrations."

Derengowski has been teaching at TCC's southeast campus for about three and half years. His biggest course was Great World Religions, but he has also taught Bible History I and II and Introduction to Philosophy.

For several years, he has also operated a website called CAPRO.info, which is part of his Christian Apologetics Project.

His website includes his interpretation of history and his evaluation of various religious doctrines, including Islam, which he has listed as a cult along with Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, Freemasonry and Mormonism. He describes cults as counterfeit religions with dictatorial leaders and aberrant views on sex. He cites the examples of cults using sex to manipulate and says examples can be found "in nearly every other cult which are sometimes seen as respectable, conservative, or peaceful religious institutions, whether it be Islam, Mormonism, or Roman Catholicism."

He said his website is a project of more than 20 years that doesn't conflict with his ability to teach his class.

Derengowski said he lays everything about his work and faith on the table, but doesn't tell his students to follow his personal beliefs.

But critics said listing Islam as a cult can be interpreted as belittling the religion. "For some reason people feel they have a license to make disparaging remarks about Muslims," Carroll said.

During the recent class controversy, Derengowski also found himself having to explain images of the World Trade Center towers in flames on 9-11 and a young boy with a gun that are on the Islam section of his website.

"It's history," he said.

The Nov. 8 classroom controversy erupted when Derengowski began explaining his source material for events about a Muslim raid during the prophet Muhammad's era. The Muslim students -- Bedair and a male student -- wanted to know the source material. Derengowski said his references included the Quran and a book about the life of Muhammad. That discussion ended with the two students apparently leaving and with the remaining students discussing how fearful they were about the developments.

Pamela Thomas, a student in the class, said she felt threatened during the incident. She filed a complaint against TCC because of the college's "lack of handling" of the situation.

"They haven't talked to anybody," Thomas said.

Another student, Ginger Hart, also filed a complaint, citing similar issues as Thomas.

"TCC approved the syllabus, so why is it an issue when we get to Islam?" Hart said. "TCC didn't want to deal with a Muslim outcry."

The class also resulted in Derengowski's filing a campus police report. Derengowski said he was upset about an e-mail circulated that depicts him as a bigot. A few days later, Derengowski met with campus administrative leaders about the issue. He said the meeting revolved around his teaching and his website. He said his syllabus was "nixed" by the administration as they stressed a need for neutrality.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianestar

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