Rollins student, prof clashed for weeks in religion class
A Rollins College student who has accused his Muslim professor of religious discrimination has been clashing with his teacher since the semester started, court records show.
Areej Zufari, the professor, was so concerned about the behavior of Marshall Polston, 20, that she filed a “protection against stalking” request against him on Friday in Orange Circuit Court. Rollins has temporarily suspended Polston from school.
The injunction request includes a long email that Polston, a Christian, sent to the professor after he received a failing grade on an essay in the Middle Eastern humanities class.
“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.”
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday, Polston, an international affairs major from Orlando, said he felt like he had been religiously discriminated against and unfairly suspended. He said he disagreed with some of Zufari’s teachings on Christianity from the first day of class.
“I made absolutely no threats,” Polston said about his email.
Rollins president Grant Cornwell said the school would “never ever ever” suspend a student for simply disagreeing with a professor.
There had been other factors that led to his temporary suspension, Cornwell said, declining to release details. He said a disciplinary hearing for Polston was held Tuesday and may take several days to determine the outcome.
Cornwell called Zufari, an adjunct at Rollins and a full professor at Valencia College, a seasoned educator. She did not respond to requests for comment.
The injunction records show Zufari had problems with Polston since the semester began.
“He has disrupted class twice (we’ve only had two classes) with antagonizing interjections, contradicting me and monopolizing class time,” Zufari wrote in a Feb. 3 email with the subject line: Problem student. “His attitude is contemptuous.”
She wanted him out of her class.
School officials intervened to meet with Polston and his behavior improved over the next few weeks, emails included in the court file show.
But on March 8, Zufari gave him a 52 on his first essay and was concerned about his reaction, wrote Ken Miller, Rollins assistant vice president of public safety, in a email.
The next day, Polston emailed her.
“Since you’ve decided to carry a blitzkrieg out against me,” he wrote, “I may have to speak up in regards to your extreme bias and not necessarily to the class but to the dean.”
He wrote that he would contact “national media personalities that I’m good friends with” or take legal action.
Zufari was so concerned that she canceled class. Later that evening, a Rollins College associate dean went to let students know there was no class when she noticed Polston, according to an email she wrote Miller.
They struck up a conversation — about his email, his dispute with Zufari, different religions — and he mentioned guns several times, she said.
“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 to Miller on March 9.
On Tuesday, the dispute at the Winter Park private school was spreading quickly among conservatives on social media and on Fox News.
In the court file, Zufari wrote to one of the school administrators, “You know I would almost be laughing if I could summon the humor. In my real life, I’m actually a pretty boring person.”
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