Student claims professor promoted religious beliefs in class

Student claims professor promoted religious beliefs in class

Madison College is investigating claims that one of its professors promoted his own religious beliefs in class.

The claims come from Dan Roberts, a student who said the professor encouraged him to have “a personal relationship with a living God.”

Roberts enrolled in an ethics and leadership course last spring as a requirement for graduation but said he felt alienated during the course when his instructor, Hiep Van Dong, had a lesson plan focused more on religion than the secular education he expected from the college.

“Our text mentioned God a lot. They mentioned prayer a lot. They mentioned taking a personal responsibility but needing a higher power to succeed,” Roberts said.

Roberts is a former Christian turned atheist. The three-credit course, “leadership principles, practices and contemporary ethical implications to develop the leader within you,” taught by Van Dong, was designed to encourage ethical thinking and practices, according to Roberts.

Instead the former student said assignments and required reading from author John C. Maxwell, who wrote “Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn,” promoted religion and the idea of a Christian God.

“Having a text that pushes that having a higher power is necessary makes anyone who does not have a higher power, thinking that maybe they cannot be ethical, and that’s simply not true and that is very dismissive and uncomfortable,” he said.

Roberts emailed the instructor with his concerns. Van Dong allegedly replied, explaining his own faith in messages like, “I discovered it isn’t about do’s and don’ts, it is about a personal relationship with a living god.”

Emails provided by Roberts also show Van Dong explaining his intentions: “Basically, I was trying to encourage you to not forsake your faith and spirituality.”

The Freedom from Religion Foundation wants the college to take action, after they said Van Dong crossed the line by encouraging religion.

“Public school teachers should know that if a student describes how they left their religious upbringing, telling them to go back to religion is not an acceptable response,” FFRF legal fellow Ryan Jayne said.

“Such blatant religiosity has no place in a public institution,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said. “Madison College needs to put a check on Van Dong’s religious activities in class.”

Madison College Provost Turina Bakken said the college is committed to investigating the claims after finding out about the concerns on Monday.

“We will take any and all appropriate action of the learning environment for our students but also to protect our faculty,” Bakken said.

Bakken said Van Dong is a respected instructor with 16 years of experience at the college.

“To this point we have one letter that’s representing the experiences of one student, and we will have to let the process play out and do the right thing from there both for the faculty and the student to ensure that going forwards we put forward the most comfortable, effective learning experiences that we can,” she said.