A Christian student was suspended because of comments he made on social media to another student — not after he clashed with his Muslim professor, Rollins College's president said Monday.
Nevertheless, the professor, Areej Zufari, has resigned, President Grant Cornwell said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
"She resigned this semester because of the hateful threats and emails and phones messages she was getting," Cornwell said. "I think it's a terrible injustice, but I do respect her decision."
Reports on conservative websites and Fox News set off a firestorm after Marshall Polston, 20, of Orlando, said he stood up to adjunct professor Zufari for attacking Christianity in her humanities class.
But Zufari faced backlash over something she hadn't done, Cornwell said.
The school's discipline process began after a complaint about Polston writing "vulgar" and "mean-spirited" comments to another student on Facebook, Cornwell said. Ultimately, the school decided Polston's posts to the student weren't a specific threat, so he was reinstated, Cornwell said.
Polston could not be reached for comment, but his attorney, Kenneth Lewis, said the Facebook post was "nothing" and "a total joke." He said the classroom dispute was the real reason for the suspension.
It was the first time the school gave its reasons for suspending Polston and why he was allowed to return. Earlier, Rollins declined to comment, citing student privacy laws.
It's unclear if Zufari, who could not be reached for comment, will return to Rollins. She remains a full professor at Valencia College.
"This is too raw for us to make a speculation," Cornwell said. "This has been traumatic for her."
School officials at the small private liberal arts college in Winter Park also faced a wave of protests, receiving 10,000 angry emails and letters — most of which sided with Polston.
Court records show that for most of the semester, Zufari clashed with Polston in her humanities class, and she wanted to kick him out.
When she gave Polston a low score on an essay, he wrote her an email, criticizing her and threatening to contact his friends in the national media, according to court documents filed when Zufari sought an injunction for "protection against stalking" against Polston. Zufari withdrew the injunction request last week.
Cornwell said as part of the school investigation, officials interviewed other students in Zufari's class, who disputed Polston's allegations.
The school also reviewed Polston's essay and decided it was an appropriate grade.
"It is appropriate and important that Rollins is a campus community where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and practitioners of all faith traditions, in all of their variety, are encouraged to study and teach here," Cornwell wrote in a letter to students for the campus newspaper.