Ball State professor called police to class because student would not change seats

One of the responding officers asked the student, "Are you being disruptive in the class?" and classmates responded with an emphatic chorus of "No, no, no, no."
Image: Shafer Bell Tower at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
Shafer Bell Tower at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images file

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By Caitlin Fichtel and David K. Li

A Ball State University professor called police on a student who declined the teacher's request that he move desks during the middle of class.

After officers showed up to the Marketing 310 class of professor Shaheen Borna on Tuesday, student Sultan Benson opted to leave rather than change seats mid-lecture, according to cellphone footage posted on the sports and pop culture site Barstool Sports.

The Muncie, Indiana, university confirmed to NBC News the veracity of the video, and Ball State president Geoffrey Mearns called the professor's call to police "a gross error of judgment."

In a series of Twitter messages to NBC News, Benson said he is normally assigned to a seat in the second row but another student was in that spot when when he showed up for class on Tuesday morning.

"So the professor had me sit in the back which was no problem for me," according to Benson. "Had my laptop charging in the back following the power point like the other half of the class."

Then in the middle of the lecture, another student left class and Borna told Benson to move to a seat in the front row, Benson said.

"Once she was gone he continued the lesson and about 5 minutes later he asked me to move to her seat in the front row," Benson said. "I asked him why he wouldn’t give me an answer."

Benson added: "So he gave me the two options either move or have the police called."

When responding police came into the class, an officer asked Benson to step outside — but Borna said he only wanted the student to change seats.

One of the responding officers then asked, "Are you being disruptive in the class?" and students responded with an emphatic chorus of "no, no, no, no."

"He hasn’t said or done anything wrong," one student said.

"He has not said a word," another added.

Finally, Benson unplugged his laptop computer, handed power cords to a classmate and left, the video showed.

"This choice was a gross error of judgment, and it was simply an unwarranted overreaction," the school's president, Mearns, said in a statement on Thursday.

"This unfortunate incident provides all of us with another opportunity to get better and learn how to fulfill our commitment to providing an inclusive and supportive environment for every member of our University community. To that end, I commit to you that the learning process begins with me and my colleagues."

Mearns said he plans to meet next week with the school's Black Faculty and Staff Association and Black Alumni Constituent Society.

A school spokesman declined to elaborate on what, if any, role that race played in this week's confrontation between the Iranian-born Borna and Benson, who is African American.

Borna has since written an apology letter to the students, the school said.

"In this particular situation, in addition to talking with those involved and putting educational and preventative measures in place, the faculty member also sent his own apology to the students in the class," according to a Ball State statement.

"As an institution, we will use this situation to learn and to improve."

Borna, who has been with the school since 1983, told NBC News on Thursday that he's been instructed by the school not to comment publicly on the incident.

He said, "I'm coping," adding that he doesn't have any plans to stop teaching.

Caroline Radnofsky contributed.