Professor suspended for calling police on black student

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MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — A white professor at an Indiana university who called police to his classroom after a black student refused to change seats will not be teaching for the remainder of the semester, the school said in a written statement.

No formal charges or disciplinary action was immediately taken against Ball State University marketing professor Shaheen Borna and he continued to teach after the classroom incident Jan. 21, The Star Press reported, despite campus protests.

“The decision is in the best interest of Dr. Borna and the University,” the school said of his suspension in a statement Thursday.

The student from Chicago who declined to switch seats, Sultan “Mufasa” Benson, characterized the teacher's punishment as an insufficient “slap on the wrist." Benson has said he believes he was singled out in class because of his race, and that he feared for his safety when police were called.

“I want justice, and a temporary leave for all of the policies he broke is still just the bare minimum,” he said. “But at least it's a step forward in the right direction.”

In a letter to the university's student newspaper, The Daily News, about 30 of Borna's fellow faculty members expressed support and urged those who don't know him not to judge him based on this one act, noting Borna is known as a “by-the book” person.

They said Borna chose to handle the classroom incident based on his understanding of the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, Appendix Q: Responding to Disruption in the Academic Setting.

The code gives faculty the authority to instruct a student to temporarily leave a classroom if they are disruptive, which the code defines as “any behavior a reasonable person would view as being likely to substantially or repeatedly interfere with the conduct of an academic setting.”

“If the student refuses to leave, University Police should be called and requested to remove the student from the academic setting,” the code reads.

Benson was given an ultimatum to move or have the police called. When two officers arrived, Benson left the classroom.

More than 100 faculty members signed a letter to the student newspaper “condemning the misuse of police in the classroom, calling out the institutional racism behind it, and telling you, our students, that we are with you.”

"Our first concern is Borna’s rapid escalation of the situation and involvement of the police to resolve a disagreement about seating," the letter said. “No disruption or physical threat existed. The use of police to get one’s way in the classroom is institutional violence. We support our students of color as they deal with the trauma of these events and navigate its fallout."

The NAACP was also outraged, calling Borna's decision an example of “weaponizing the police against people of color impetuously.”

"The actions taken by Professor Shaheen Borna are yet the latest example of thoughtless behavior that yields traumatic and frequently detrimental outcomes," the organization said in a news release. “Countless men and women throughout our nation have experienced discrimination, racial profiling, and over-policing at the hands of bigotry and intolerance.”