Shaheen Borna is the professor at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, who called the police after a student refused to switch seats in the middle of a lecture.
The incident happened on January 21, 2020, during a marketing class. Video of the confrontation was shared to social media and has since gone viral. The student involved, Sultan Benson, said he did not wish to move because he was charging his laptop at his original seat. In the video, the other students in the class can be heard defending Benson after the officers arrived, insisting that he had done nothing wrong.
The university’s president has called Professor Borna’s actions a “gross error of judgment.” Benson has switched to a different marketing class and is reportedly considering taking legal action.
On February 12, a university spokesman announced Borna would not teach for the remainder of the semester in order to “ensure continuity in the curriculum, eliminate any unnecessary distractions, and help our students complete the appropriate course expectations.”
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Shaheen Borna Told the Officers He Wanted the Student to Move Seats But That He Did Not Need to Be Removed From the Classroom
The confrontation between Professor Shaheen Borna and student Sultan Benson happened during a Marketing 310 class in the Whitinger Business Building at Ball State. Benson explained to the student-run TV station, NewsLink Indiana, that he was following along with Borna’s lecture on his laptop. He had the computer plugged into an outlet at the back of the room. He was sitting in the back because his regular seat, closer to the front, had been occupied.
Benson said that after another student left early, Borna asked him to relocate to the desk in the first row. Benson explained that he didn’t wish to move at that point because his laptop was charging. He didn’t want to plug his computer into the only other outlet, located at the front of the room, because he thought the cord would get in Borna’s way.
Borna threatened to call the university police department if Benson did not move. When Benson again refused to move, Borna left the room for a few minutes.
Kathy Wolf, the vice president of marketing for Ball State, explained to Ball State Daily that Borna asked a student employee to call the police. Wolf said the responding officers were not clear on what was happening in the classroom. “Based on the limited information they had, they believed that there was a student in distress.”
In the video, one of the two officers was seen entering the room and asking the student, now identified as Benson, to come into the hallway. Professor Borna interjected and explained that he didn’t wish for Benson to leave, but to sit at the desk in the front row. The second officer asked Benson, “Do you want to sit here or do you want to leave?” Benson responded, “Why am I moving in the middle of class? He just stopped the class to try to move me. I’ve been back here on this Powerpoint.”
The first officer then asked, “Are you being disruptive?” At that point, several other students were heard speaking up. They insisted that Benson had not been paying attention to the lecture, hadn’t said a word and hadn’t done anything wrong.
Benson later explained that he decided to leave the classroom in order to keep the peace. He has also thanked his classmates for standing up for him.
2. Sultan Benson Said He Was ‘Scared’ When the Police Were Called & Hopes That By Speaking Out, He Can Prevent a Similar Situation From Happening Again
Sultan Benson has been speaking out about the confrontation with Professor Borna on social media and with local media outlets. He wrote on Twitter that he hopes that by choosing to talk about the incident, “hopefully another student will never have to face something like this.”
Benson told the student newspaper, the Ball State Daily, that he had been scared when the police were called. He explained that he was afraid that race would be a factor in how the situation was handled; he is African-American and Borna is Caucasian. “I’m from the south side of Chicago. I wasn’t supposed to make it to college if I’m being honest. I made it to college, and I got the police called on me for being in the classroom… You don’t know what’s going to happen in that 20 seconds. If I hadn’t kept my composure, I could’ve been riddled with bullets, tased, beat down, handcuffed — there’s no telling.”
However, Benson explained that the officers treated him with respect. He confirmed on Twitter, after being asked, that the officers did not put him in handcuffs. Benson also said, according to the student newspaper, that the two police officers appeared “confused” about why they had been called in the first place.
3. Professor Shaheen Borna Acknowledged That He ‘Mishandled’ the Situation In an Emailed Apology to Benson & the Rest of the Class
Professor Shaheen Borna has apologized to Sultan Benson and the rest of the students in that specific class. He emailed a message to the students, which was obtained by CBS affiliate WTTV. The email read:
“Dear Mr. Benson, Today, during our Marketing 310 class, a situation arose that I mishandled. I sincerely apologize for this. As a professor at Ball State University, it is my responsibility to ensure that you and all of my students receive an excellent educational experience. I am sorry that my actions today did not contribute to that. I hope you accept my sincere apology.”
But Benson is not returning to Borna’s classroom. He switched to another class taught by a different professor. He also told NewsLink Indiana that he doesn’t feel the apology goes far enough. Benson added that he and his family were consulting with an attorney about possible next steps.
As for Borna, he is keeping quiet about the incident. He told NBC News that Ball State officials have instructed him not to comment.
Heavy has reached out to Borna via email; we asked whether anything else had happened in the classroom that day that hadn’t been recorded, or whether he had ever called the police on a student in the past. He responded to acknowledge he had received the email. He said that any questions needed to be directed to Ball State’s vice president of marketing and communications.
4. Ball State’s President Called Shaheen Borna’s Decision to Call the Police an ‘Unwarranted Overreaction’
Ball State University has not publicly discussed whether Professor Shaheen Borna would face any punitive repercussions as a result of his decision to call the police on Sultan Benson for refusing to switch seats.
In a statement, university president Geoffrey Mearns explained that the “Dean and Department Chair” met with Borna “to express our collective concern that the situation had unnecessarily escalated.” Mearns said that Borna would receive “appropriate training” and that there would be “oversight for the professor going forward.” The statement also included the following:
“The classroom is a special place. It is a place of invigorated learning, and it should always be a welcoming environment for all of our students. In the incident this week, we did not meet that important standard. As you may have learned through media accounts, during a class session, a member of our faculty insisted on a student moving to another seat. When the student did not agree to do so, the professor had the University Police called. This choice was a gross error of judgment, and it was simply an unwarranted overreaction.”
5. Shaheen Borna Immigrated From Iran & Has Been a Professor at Ball State Since 1983
Shaheen Borna is originally from Iran. According to a 2015 news release about Ball State’s Center for International Development, Borna immigrated to the United States in 1970 as a college student. The article mentioned that Borna has returned to Iran only twice since moving to the U.S., but that his wife visited more frequently to see family members.
Borna earned an MBA from Florida State University in 1979, according to his Ball State bio. He began teaching at the university in 1983. Borna’s work has been published in numerous trade publications and his bio adds that he is a “member of the Editorial Review Board for the Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, and Mid-American Journal of Business.”
Borna also appears to be outspoken on the campus. In 2017, he submitted an opinion article to the student newspaper about Ball State’s decision to implement a new slogan, “We Fly.” Borna explained that he believed the university was wasting its money on the marketing campaign. ” Is it wise to allocate $1 million of Ball State University’s resources for a vacuous new tagline such as ‘We Fly,’ and at the same time lowering the water pressure throughout the campus to save money?”