Stranger Things

Tarrant County College suspends astronomy instructor after he talked about the Koran in class in the dark, his face covered by a scarf.

January 22, 2018
Daniel Mashburn's Facebook profile picture

Tarrant County College in Texas suspended an astronomy instructor last week after he reportedly entered a classroom late with his head, face and hands covered, turned off the lights, and spoke about Islam.

Some students said they thought the incident was a joke. But others were frightened and called the police. Campus officers searched and questioned in the instructor, Daniel Mashburn, but did not arrest him.

“I thought I’d start this year a little differently,” Mashburn told police, according to a student video shared with local news station KDFW.

Mashburn isn’t the first faculty member to open a new semester in an unorthodox manner. Columbia University reviewed the conduct of a physics professor in 2013, for example, after he stripped to Lil Wayne’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” showed images of Sept. 11 and “executed” a stuffed animal during a lesson on quantum mechanics.

Emlyn Hughes, the Columbia professor, kept his job, and some supporters urged critics to be open-minded. Open-mindedness was, in fact, the point of the lesson, Hughes said at the beginning of class, warning students that “to learn quantum mechanics, you have to strip to your raw, erase all the garbage from your brain and start over again.”

It remains unclear what, if any, academic connection exists between Mashburn’s conduct and a course on the solar system. He did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend.

“Well, the class is about astronomy, it’s about the stars, and the Koran is about the stars,” he told KDFW last week during a quasi interview from his apartment balcony, still covered with a hat, scarf and gloves. “It is the book of stars, the book of love, the book of life.”

Asked why he’d covered his face, head and hands, Mashburn said it was the custom to do so in many countries. He said he'd kept his teaching philosophy "secret" while interviewing for his position.

"I do my best, but I am tired of hiding in the shadows. I am tired of fearing their law. I fear Allah," Mashburn said. Of students, he added, "I do not know why they fear me. Why are they afraid? I'm a man who covers his face in his hand. I offer you nothing but the Koran, a book, and the universe. The universe is in my hand right here. You can look at it."

Mashburn was fidgeting in class with something in his pocket, according to student reports. Police found no weapons. Most students left the classroom. A few stayed until the end of the session, which Mashburn moved outdoors.

The college has since assigned the course to a new instructor. College spokespeople said that Mashburn was suspended from teaching, pending the outcome of an investigation into his conduct. This was to be his second semester as an adjunct at Tarrant County. According to his LinkedIn profile, Mashburn worked at Tarrant County for an additional semester as an instructional associate and served as a teaching and research assistant at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee while earning his master's of science in physics, through 2015.

A widely followed American Association of University Professors policy says that professors should only be removed from the classroom during an investigation of their conduct if they pose a safety risk.


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