Each new day brings new stories from around the country of life on college campuses. It seems that an increasing number of these stories are cause for lamentation.
Consider the recent case at Rollins College, a private, four-year institution in Florida. Marshall Polston, a 20 year-old sophomore, is a self-described Christian and an honors student. Not long ago, he had been suspended from school upon having had a few unpleasant experiences with the Islamic professor of his Middle Eastern Humanities class.
Polston told The College Fix that his professor, Areej Zufari, insisted in class that Jesus’s disciples did not believe that He was divine. She also reportedly said that He was never actually crucified.
In other words, Zufari allegedly expressed the standard Islamic viewpoint on Jesus.
Polston’s problem with his instructor, however, was not primarily with her position. It’s that she asserted it as “academic fact” when it is anything but that.
And he let Zufari know as much during class.
Shortly afterwards, though, the student received a shock when he received a 52% on one of his assignments. Suspecting that his uncharacteristically low grade was retribution for the challenges that he posed to Zufari’s depiction of Christianity, Polston fired off a lengthy email to her—an email that she turned over to administrators and that resulted in his suspension.
This penalty was felt all that much more acutely when Polston considered that, during class discussion, an Islamic student faced not so much as a verbal warning when he remarked that under Sharia law adulterers and gays deserved decapitation. Polston told The Fix that “the conservative Muslim student” aroused “such fear by some” of the students by his remark that one of them contacted the FBI about it.
But it was Polston who Professor Zufari reported to the Dean of Campus Safety.
Zufari didn’t let the matter rest at that, however. Via Facebook, she posted to the ACLU her complaint regarding Polston—even though she didn’t identify him by name. Zufari described him as someone who was “making my life hell this semester.” Polston, she said, “is spewing hatred at me, de-railing class, and just sent me a hateful email threatening me.”
Zufari concluded by inquiring as to whether “there is a way to hold the individual responsible for his harassment and hate speech.”
Hate speech? If a Christian student is guilty of “spewing hatred” for taking issue with an instructor for presenting as false events that his faith affirms and that, at any rate, many historians accept as true (the crucifixion of Jesus and the belief on the part of His disciples that He was divine), then academia has become an unwelcoming place indeed for Christian students. More accurately, it has become a bastion of hostility to anyone who would dare to challenge historically dubious assertions.
Yet maybe it was the content of Polston’s email to Zufari that the latter found “hateful” and “harassing.” It’s clear that Polston did not mince words (The whole email can be read here). He accused Zufari of being “extremely unfair” and pursuing “a ruthless program of hostility” in her grading of his work all because he objected to her “inherent bias and clandestine theological apologies.”
Polston, who reminded Zufari that he spoke with her personally before his paper was due to make sure that he understood all of the directions, accused Zufari of assigning him an undeserved grade in order to “silence” him in class.
It’s true that Polston did accuse Zufari of “incompetence,” of being “a failure as a Professor,” of “brainwashing” students about the Politically Incorrect realities of Sharia law in the Middle East, of “indoctrinating.” Zufari, Polston continued, belongs in “reform school,” not in an institution of higher learning. He also said that she acted in a “cowardly” and “sick” manner inasmuch as she viewed “my intellectual conversation” as “more threatening than the despicable comments about decapitation” made by a Muslim student. Polston as well “threatened” Zufari—but he threatened to go to her dean and, if need be, the media.
He did not threaten her physically.
While Polston certainly made it clear that he was angry with his instructor, and while some of his comments doubtless could only be taken as insults by Zufari, it’s difficult to see how anything that he had said or did rises to the level of harassment, much less hatred.
Evidently, the same administration that suspended him came to agree with this verdict, for Polston was reinstated after a week of being suspension.
While cleared of the more serious charges that were filed against him—Zufari alleged that Polston made her feel “unsafe”—he was still reprimanded for being “aggressive, disrespectful, and at times vulgar in multiple verbal and electronic communications with faculty, staff and students.”
Though his instructor’s more serious allegations against him had been found baseless, and while he feels vindicated, Polston is still considering filing a lawsuit against Zufari. His lawyer, Kenneth Lewis, stated in a press release that, upon having leveled indefensible allegations against his client, Rollins College must consider whether Zufari has “fitness to continue…in any capacity” at the school. Lewis maintains that the instructor tried to “destroy” Polston’s academic future “for merely questioning her academic validity.”
There may be more to this story, but one thing is for certain: Given the rise in educational malpractice, the rise of intolerance of those viewpoints that deviate from the leftist orthodoxy that prevails on America’s college campuses, Polston’s account of his ordeal is all too plausible.
If professors refrained from pushing the party line in class; if they instead taught their students how, not what, to think; then perhaps we would never hear of the Marshall Polstons of the world.