DS View: Instructor Harassment

The most unprofessional thing I’ve experienced at UND happened last semester on the last day of the lab section of one of my intro-level science courses. Just before handing out the final lab exam — and just after turning in instructor evaluations for the course — my graduate student teaching assistant in charge of our lab gave a 7-10 minute long lecture on the importance of believing in the divinity of Jesus.

Of course, UND is a public university, and under no conditions would our TA’s speech be considered appropriate. In fact, the situation clearly violated harassment language found in the UND Code of Student Life.

Even without the Code of Student Life in place, this situation could never be considered necessary or permissible whatsoever by anyone who understands what it means to participate in a pupil-instructor relationship.

Our TA didn’t just tell us he was a Christian and enjoyed believing in Jesus; something like that wouldn’t come across as offensive to me at all.

Instead, he told an entire classroom (of mainly freshmen) they would go to Hell if they didn’t accept Jesus — and then described to us what Hell is like.

He even said the most anti-collegiate thing I’ve ever heard.  “It doesn’t matter what grade you get on this exam. It doesn’t matter what grade you get in any class, ever. The only decision that matters in your whole life is whether or not you accept Jesus.”

He then handed out the final exam.

More than anything, I can’t believe he risked his career to give that desperate, harassing pitch to the 20 or so half-asleep freshmen in this lab.

He said, “We’ve talked about (this subject) so much this semester, I just feel like I would be doing you an injustice by not teaching you about how important (Jesus) is.”

The reason we talked about that subject that semester is because I was paying the university to pay him to teach me about it. There’s absolutely no way that wasn’t clear when he agreed to accept the responsibility of teaching a roomful of college students about what he had been certified by UND to teach.

He didn’t offer Christianity as an option among others. He didn’t say he enjoyed loving Jesus.

He told his students they must become a Jesus-loving Christian or else they would go to Hell; no question about it.

One of the greatest things about public universities like UND is that neither students nor faculty need to worry about listening to anybody plug their religions in the classroom.

A friend of mine attends a Catholic university in Nebraska, and her professors do teach Christianity with the same amount of confidence they use in teaching history, mathematics or chemistry. But that’s fine, because she signed up for it.

At UND, we sign up to not experience that.

You can’t tell a group of freshmen they are going to Hell, then hand them an exam you said doesn’t matter that you’ll also grade later that day. To do so immediately after administering instructor evaluations so that students will have no way to report the incident is even more wrong.

No matter what religious or irreligious dogma he wanted to teach, he should never have done so to a captive audience of paying college students encouraged to trust his word as true.

Will Beaton is the Editor-in-Chief of The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected].