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COURTS: Fired lecturer at UND got good student evaluations

By Tom Bryan
Herald Staff Writer

Source: Grand Forks Herald, January 12, 2001

Expelled UND lecturer Dr. Benjamin Thong was a knowledgeable and effective instructor who was fair and impartial in his dealings with freshman students, according to 14 students who evaluated Thong's teaching performance.

Despite Thong's abrupt dismissal from UND at the end of last semester, some of the students he taught were overwhelmingly satisfied with his classroom instruction, according to their semester's-end course evaluations, obtained by the Herald Wednesday.

Thong was fired Dec. 29 from his position at the University Learning Center and told by UND police to leave the campus and never return, his attorney said. Thong was hired in late August to teach six sections of Arts & Sciences 250, a remedial course designed to help freshman students learn how to study in a university setting.

UND officials said Thong was terminated because his job performance was substandard. They said he was hired on a probationary status -- under the label of "new staff personnel" -- and, therefore, he was afforded no opportunity for remediation after he was fired.

Monday, Thong's attorney filed a civil lawsuit against UND and two of it's employees, claiming Thong's ethnicity -- he is Vietnamese -- played a role in his dismissal from UND; the suit also claims Thong was denied certain due process rights when he was fired. Also Monday, a district judge in Grand Forks reviewed Thong's case and ordered UND to reinstate Thong to his former position, pending the outcome of a hearing at the end of this month.

UND reinstated Thong Tuesday and placed him on paid administrative leave.

Missing evals

At least some of Thong's students enjoyed Thong as an instructor and benefited from the course that he taught, according to their course evaluations.

The evaluation forms were drafted by Carolyn DeLorme, the former director of the learning center and the woman who eventually fired Thong.

The forms were given to most of the 75 students whom Thong instructed and tutored during the fall semester. Many of the evaluations were returned, but only 14 evaluations exist today, school officials told Thong's attorney David Thompson, who requested the forms from UND this week (Thompson provided the Herald with copies of the evaluations).

The whereabouts of the other 60 student evaluations is unknown, Thompson said.

"I assume that neither Ms. DeLorme nor Dr. Donald Piper (associate vice president of enrollment management) will assert that the remainder of these evaluations cannot be located, as such a thing strains believability," Thompson wrote in a letter to UND attorneys Tuesday.

Good reviews

Of the 14 student's whose evaluations still exist, all of them agree Thong was a knowledgeable instructor who aptly presented study and reading strategy information in class. All 14 students also agree Thong effectively heightened their interest in learning.

"(Thong) is very knowledgeable," one student wrote. "He knew what he was talking about.¤.¤.¤He made it interesting, so I'd want to go to class."

Yet another student wrote: "Mr. Thong was very knowledgeable.¤.¤.¤taught me good study skills."

One of the evaluation questions asked Thong's students: What did you like most about the class and why?

"(The) teacher," one student replied. "He's a good guy."

Other students said they most liked the study tips and test taking strategies Thong presented in class. One student said Thong went over difficult material several times, making it easier for them to absorb the information. Thong was thorough, another student replied. Some students appreciated the guest speakers Thong frequently brought into class, they indicated.

"(Thong) helped me learn how to learn," one student wrote.

Criticism of Thong

Very few, if any, negative student comments were made about Thong's performance as a lecturer. A few critical statements were written, however, criticism in those statements was directed more toward the content of the course and the course textbook, which was chosen by DeLorme before Thong was hired.

"Some of the material wasn't really helpful," one student noted.

"The class started-off a little slow," another replied.

"I knew most of the stuff, so it was easy, and sometimes boring," another wrote.

But no matter the student reviews, UND officials claim -- and this is the crux of the controversy -- that Thong was hired to do more than just teach at UND.

Thong's position required him to perform duties outside traditional classroom instruction, they said. He was expected to tutor, plan and conduct workshops, develop new course materials, assist in the evaluation of department programs and participate in curriculum development.

".¤.¤.¤Some (of those) things he never did," Julie Evans, UND general counsel, said Wednesday. ".¤.¤.¤It's unfortunate."

Nevertheless, Thompson said, he has proof that a high-ranking UND official told Thong, during the fall semester, that his only concern at UND was to teach. Therefore, if Thong was, in fact, a good teacher, Thompson said, he should never have been fired, nor asked to take part in an unexpected job review in late December.

Should he teach?

"Really, (Thong) should be teaching right now," Thompson said. "Putting him on paid leave is not what (Northeast Central District Judge Bruce Bohlman) ordered."

Concerned that Thong would be arrested by campus police if he returned to UND, Thompson said he wrote Evans, UND's attorney, this week after Bohlman ordered UND to reinstate Thong to his job, pending a Jan. 30 hearing.

"It is imperative that we make logistical arrangements for Dr. Thong's return to his position as soon as possible, as I understand that Arts & Sciences 250 classes begin tomorrow.¤.¤.¤" Thompson wrote in his letter to Evans.

Despite the letter, Thompson said, Thong has not yet been allowed to teach, but rather he has been reinstated to his position and placed on paid leave with full pay and benefits.

"It's not the same," Thompson said Thursday. "I do not believe UND has complied with the terms of the court order."