Student and professor clash over religion
A student’s conflict with a Muslim professor led to the disciplinary proceedings
UPDATE: Rollins College has reinstated Marshall Polston, the Christian student suspended last week over conflict with a Muslim professor. His attorney said he plans to return to school next week.
“A student’s freedom of speech and expression are the cornerstones of liberty in a free society,” attorney Kenneth Lewis said in a statement Thursday night, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Lewis called for a full inquiry into the actions of the professor, Areej Zufari.
Rollins College President Grant Cornwell declined to comment on the situation due to student privacy laws. The reinstatement is the result of a disciplinary hearing for Polston held Tuesday.
The March 24 suspension came after months of conflict between Polston and Zufari.
In early March, Polston was asked to stop attending class and given an independent study. On March 23, a student reportedly saw Polston outside of Zufari’s classroom, leading Zufari to call campus security and end class early. She filed a police report and Polston was suspended the following day. Polston later produced video footage and a receipt showing he was at a Chipotle restaurant 30 miles from campus at the time of the class.
OUR EARLIER REPORT (3/30/17, 2:45 p.m.): A Christian college student was suspended last week after months of conflict with a Muslim professor. Marshall Polston, a 20-year-old sophomore, claims he was suspended for defending his faith. School officials at Rollins College, a small private school outside Orlando, Fla., maintain he was suspended because of threatening behavior toward the professor.
Areej Zufari, an adjunct professor of Middle Eastern humanities, filed a “protection against stalking” request against Polston on March 24, the same day school officials notified Polston of his suspension for violating of the college’s code of community standards.
Rollins’s Office of Community Standards and Responsibility held an administrative hearing for Polston on Tuesday, but the outcome is still pending.
Reports of the back and forth between Polston and Zufari paint a conflicting picture of what led up to the suspension.
Polston told the Central Florida Post that Zufari made several statements in class against the Christian faith, stating that Jesus Christ was not crucified and that His disciples did not believe He was God. Polston also claimed Zufari joked with another Muslim student who said gays and adulterers should have certain body parts cut off, in keeping with Sharia law.
Polston said he stood up for his faith and challenged Zufari about the Sharia law comment in class.
Zufari claimed Polston was disruptive. She emailed school officials after several incidents, saying Polston monopolized class time with “antagonizing interjections,” according to reporting by The Orlando Sentinel.
On March 8, following the heated discussions, Zufari gave Polston a failing grade, 52 percent, on an essay.
The next day, Polston sent Zufari an email, calling the grade a “ruthless program of hostility” due to her “agenda and overt bias,” and labeling Zufari “one of the most incompetent professors I have ever seen in my entire life,” according to a copy of the email Polston provided to The College Fix. He explained why he thought the grade was undeserved, saying he followed all the guidelines and specifically asked Zufari about the sources he used. Then he said he might have to speak to the dean, contact “national media personalities,” or take legal action.
After she received the email, Zufari filed a complaint against Polston with the dean of safety at Rollins and canceled her next class.
Polston was asked to stop attending class and given the option of an independent study in its place, according to released email correspondence. But on March 23, Zufari filed a police report alleging Polston showed up outside her classroom to harass her. Polston claims he was not on campus at the time of the incident.
Rollins suspended Polston the following day.
The college has not commented on the specifics of the case, but President Grant Cornwell said the school would “never ever ever” suspend a student for just disagreeing with a professor. Cornwell told The Orlando Sentinel other factors led to the suspension and noted the outcome of the disciplinary hearing is still pending.
Polston said he never threatened Zufari and calls the suspension unfair religious discrimination. He told The College Fix he went public with his story “because I know so many other students like me suffer under today’s liberal academic elite.”
Polston has hired an attorney and plans to fight the suspension.
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