A Muslim professor at a small Florida college has resigned after a bitter dispute with a Christian student which included theological dust-ups, angry emails, a police report, a suspension for the student — and a reversal of the suspension — all of which made national headlines.
The professor, Areej Zufari, wanted 20-year-old sophomore Marshall Polston out of her Middle Eastern humanities class at Rollins College after doing battle with him for most of the spring semester. Polston accused her of saying Jesus' crucifixion is a hoax and that his disciples didn't believe he is God — but that wasn't his only issue.
In an email to Zufari after receiving a failing grade on an essay, Polston wrote "you report me to the dean for correcting you while you were indoctrinating students with false information. On the other hand a Muslim student in class cracks a joke about chopping someone's body parts off and you do nothing."
The controversy spread beyond the private liberal arts school in Winter Park, which received thousands of angry messages about the professor.
The school's President Grant Cornwell told the Orlando Sentinel that Zufari quit "because of the hateful threats and emails and phones messages she was getting. I think it's a terrible injustice, but I do respect her decision."
In addition, Cornwall told the paper that Polston's suspension in late March — which was rescinded after a week — wasn't over his theological dispute with Zufari but because of his "vulgar" and "mean-spirited" Facebook comments to another student. The president added to the Sentinel that since Polston's posts didn't constitute a specific threat, he was reinstated.
However, Polston's reinstatement letter from Rollins College says his behavior was connected to more than just a single student, noting he had been "aggressive, disrespectful, and at times, vulgar in multiple verbal and electronic communications with faculty, staff and students."
Cornwall's revelation about Polston's "vulgar" and "mean-spirited" Facebook comments was the the first time the school gave its reason for the suspension, the Sentinel reported, adding that the school wouldn't comment earlier, citing student privacy laws.
But at the time, Cornwall did insist the school "never ever ever" would suspend a student simply for disagreeing with a professor.
Polston's attorney Kenneth Lewis told the Sentinel the Facebook post was "nothing" and "a total joke" — and that the classroom dispute was the real reason for his client's suspension.
Before Polston's suspension, Zufari sought an injunction against him for "protection against stalking," the paper said, citing court records — but she withdrew the injunction request last week.
Cornwell added to the Sentinel that school officials interviewed other students in Zufari's class who disputed Polston's allegations — and that the school decided his failing grade was appropriate after reviewing Polston's essay.
"I was upset, understandably," Polston told the Central Florida Post about his failing grade. "I've never gotten anything less than straight As, so I was really interested in figuring out how to possibly improve or at least understand the grade."
In 2013, Rollins College kicked InterVarsity Christian Fellowship off campus because the student group required its leaders to be Christian and promote certain conservative beliefs, the Sentinel reported, which constituted a violation of the school's anti-discrimination policy.