Middle East studies in the News
Student Suspended for Clashing with Muslim Teacher 'Who Said Jesus' Crucifixion was a Hoax' Gets Reinstated [on Areej Zufari]
by Ashley Collman
A Florida college student who was suspended over his ideological clashes with a Muslim professor has been reinstated at the school.
Marshall Polston's attorney told the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday that a disciplinary committee has decided to lift the 20-year-old's suspension. He is expected to return to the Rollins College campus 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, while also calling for a 'full inquiry' into the actions of Professor Areej Zufari.
College President Grant Cornwell refused to comment on specifics of the hearing, but said that he, the trustees and deans at the school had received some 10,000 emails about Poston's suspension, which quickly gained traction on conservative media sites.
He said most of the emails were 'filled with hatred and violent imagery,' he said.
Meanwhile, Professor Zufari's sister has spoken out, saying she is anxious to get back to school.
'With the rise of fake news, it's an unfortunately sensationalized situation that spiraled out of control,' Noor Zufari said. 'The silver lining is Areej can continue her passion of education ... She is looking forward to getting back to her regular class schedule and being able to teach again.'
In addition to getting Polston suspended, Professor Zufari also filled out a protection against stalking request with the police over her student, who she said became increasingly threatening and unhinged over the semester.
Zufari and Polston, a 20-year-old international affairs major, have reportedly been clashing since the beginning of the semester in January.
According to an email the professor wrote to the school in February, she says Polston disrupted the first two classes with 'antagonizing interjections, contradicting me and monopolizing class time'.
'His attitude is contemptuous,' she said.
As a Christian, Polston said that Zufari's unorthodox lectures were unsettling.
In an interview with the Central Florida Post, Polston said that Zufari claimed Jesus' crucifixion was a hoax and that his disciples didn't believe he is 'God'.
'It was very off-putting and flat out odd,' he said. 'I've traveled the Middle East, lectured at the Salahaddin University, and immersed myself in Muslim culture for many years. Honestly, it reminded me of some of the more radical groups I researched when abroad.'
'Whether religious or not, I believe even those with limited knowledge of Christianity can agree that according to the text, Jesus was crucified and his followers did believe he was divine ... that he was "God". Regardless, to assert the contrary as academic fact is not supported by the evidence,' he added to The College Fix.
After their first few spats, school officials intervened and Zufari says Polston's behavior improved over the next few weeks.
But things got heated again on March 8, when she gave him a 52 per cent on his first essay.
She says she was concerned about his reaction, and just as she predicted - he lashed out at her in a long email the next day.
'Since you've decided to carry a blitzkrieg out against me, I may have to speak up in regards to your extreme bias and not necessarily to the class but to the dean,' Polston said.
'Quite frankly the grade you assigned to me exposes your true agenda which is to silence me in class.' the email said. 'You're one of the most incompetent professors I have ever seen in my life.'
He also threatened to contact 'national media personalities that I'm good friends with' or take legal action.
But Polston said he made 'absolutely no threats' in the email.
'I was upset, understandably. I've never gotten anything less than straight A's, so I was really interested in figuring out how to possibly improve or at least understand the grade.'
Zufari says she was so concerned about the email that she cancelled class the next day, and sent an associate dean to dismiss the students.
That dean spotted Polston and struck up a conversation about the issues he's been having with Zufari.
The dean left troubled, writing to the school's assistant vice president of safety that Polston talked about a gun several times during the conversation.
'At no point did he threaten anyone openly, but I was very uncomfortable by his continued reference to guns, generalized categories of people by religion and his obvious nervousness and disdain for the professor,' she wrote.
Four days later, Zufari reached out to the ACLU of Florida on Facebook, asking for advice about a student who is 'making my life hell this semester'
On March 13, Zufari reached out to the ACLU of Florida for advice on what to do with a student how as been 'making my life hell this semester'
'This one is spewing hatred at me, de-railing class, and just sent me a hateful email threatening me....
'The hate speech in the email would not be tolerated if it was targeting other minorities.
'So, what are my rights? This guy is making my life hell (I am very afraid of this guy.) And this situation is directly interfering with my ability to do my job.
'I want to know if there is a way to hold the individual responsible for his harassment and hate speech, she wrote.
Despite her previous concerns about Polston, Zufari resumed class the following week and engaged the class in a conversation about Muslim sharia law.
Polston says that during the class Zufari failed to punish a student, who is Muslim, when he made a hateful comment about gays.
'He stated that a good punishment for gays, adulterers, and thieves was the removal of a certain body part, as determined by Sharia law. It took a few seconds for me to realize that he actually said that, especially after what this community has faced with the tragic loss of life at Pulse,' Polston said.
Polston said that all Zufari did was tell the student he was 'in time-out' - despite calls from others in the class to report his behavior.
The school officially suspended Polston on March 24. A disciplinary hearing was held on Tuesday, and after the hearing the school decided to reinstate Polston
He claims that the comments were so disturbing that one of the his peers informed the FBI about the student.
After the class, Polston says that it wasn't the Muslim student - but himself - who Zuafri reported to the Dean of Safety.
'They made it clear that they had not gotten a report about what the student said, and were more concerned about the danger I was causing to the campus.
'What danger? A difference of opinion in a college classroom is nothing out of the ordinary and certainly not dangerous. It was surreal and degrading.
'The bad grade was upsetting, but they were literally refusing to acknowledge the dangers posed by someone who advocated chopping off body parts on campus,' Polston said.
Polston says he was then banned from returning to class, but Zufari says he walked by their meeting the next week and that's what pushed her to fill out the police report.
The claim was based on a student who allegedly saw Polston 'staring into the room' around 7:36pm on March 23. Campus safety were dispatched but could not locate Polston
Polston has denied the claims, providing a surveillance photo of him eating at a Chipotle just before 7pm - about a 30 to 40 minute drive away.
Zufari filed a 'protection against stalking' request against Polston on March 23, and the next day he was officially suspended from the school.
In a letter to Polston, administrators said his 'actions have constituted a threat of disruption within the operations of the College and jeopardize the safety and well-being of members of the College community'.
Rollins President Grant Cornwell told the Orlando Sentinel that the school wound 'never ever ever' suspend student simply for disagreeing with a professor. He said there were other factors that led to Polston's suspension, but he would not go into details.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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