By Jamil Oakford/managing editor
Updated: 10:17 p.m. Thursday
A NE Campus adjunct instructor, who worried students with his classroom behavior, was suspended by the college, leaving both the students and the teacher in disbelief about what happened.
Daniel Mashburn, a NE astronomy instructor, was patted down and searched by police but not arrested. Mashburn entered his 8 p.m. Solar System class Tuesday night about 12-15 minutes late with his face covered, turning off the lights and drawing connections between Islam and astronomy. Students ran out of his classroom in fear and called police.
“I like to keep it dark because I wanted to go out and see the stars,” he said Thursday in his North Richland Hills apartment. “I said I wanted to see the stars later, and unnatural light wouldn’t work.”
Mashburn was suspended indefinitely, pending the findings of a college investigation, said Reginald Gates, communications and external affairs vice chancellor.
“Students and faculty safety is paramount,” he said. “We’re looking at what happened, how it happened and what we can do differently going forward.”
Students reported he was linking astronomy to passages in the Quran, which caused some students to leave. As he continued, more students left the classroom and turned the lights on as they left, Vasquez said.
Mashburn said he felt wronged by the students leaving.
“They pay a measly fee, $56 to, at most, $129 — a miserable sum for the knowledge and wisdom that I can pass onto them,” he said. “Why would they walk out on me? Why would they protest me?”
According to NE student Adrian Vasquez, Mashburn didn’t explain why he turned off the lights. Vasquez, one of two students who stayed through the entire class, said he wasn’t alarmed by the instructor’s behavior.
“To me, if he can show his identification and answer questions and be searched and not find nothing, that’s pretty much the OK that I’m going to stay,” he said.
NE student Torey, who declined to give his last name, said he was on high alert when Mashburn seemed to be sifting through his pockets. Torey said he was prepared to talk Mashburn down if the need arose because he has a psychology degree.
“I was trying to figure out what I could do if he did have a weapon,” he said. “I was in the back row, so there was nothing.”
Many students weren’t aware he was the teacher for the Solar System class. NE student Alexander, who also wouldn’t give his last name, said he didn’t appear to look like a teacher.
“I thought it was a joke,” he said. “He kind of looked like a student with the way he presented himself.”
Mashburn was asked on two occasions if he could remove the scarf around his face so the class could hear him better. Both times, he explained to the students that he couldn’t and cited passages from the Quran to explain why.
Alexander said police arrived less than 10 minutes after the first students left.
“We were all deciding whether we wanted to leave while he [Mashburn] was in the hallway with police,” he said.
After being searched, police told Mashburn he couldn’t continue inside the classroom so he announced that he would continue class outside at about 8:45 p.m. All but two of the remaining students left.
Vasquez said he didn’t want to leave because Mashburn identified himself as the teacher to police and was satisfied with that.
“If he’s gonna teach, let him teach,” he said.
NE student Rebekkah Cavazos, who also decided not to leave, said she and Vasquez stayed with Mashburn and participated in the lab portion of their class outside until 10:45 p.m.
“I wasn’t going to leave, it felt kind of rude,” she said. “I paid for this sh–.”
Mashburn said he’s unsure why the students reacted the way they did.
“I was trying to charge my phone so I can see the stars,” he said, in response to students’ reports that he was fidgeting with something in his pocket. “The stars are always watching.”
Mashburn said he came into the class with his face and hands completely covered because he washes several times a day as instructed by the Quran, and his face and hands are very dry. He typically tries to cover them to protect his skin, he said.
In response to his teaching style, Mashburn said he wanted the freedom to teach astronomy the way he saw it.
“I’m tired of lab after lab with grading and testing and Scantrons,” he said. “I’m tired of these rankings and demandings and homework assignments.”
Mashburn wants his students to read the textbook and the Quran, he said. Interested in astronomy since he was a child, Mashburn said it wasn’t until he saw footage of a solar eclipse in 2015 that he began to see the connection between Islam and astronomy.
In March 2015, he worked for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a teaching assistant while he earned his master’s. Mashburn said he tried to work Islam into his classes there as well.
“I tried so hard,” he said. “They took me away. Two men shined a gun into my home, and I flew away into the night.”
He said the experience Tuesday night was similar to that in Milwaukee, saying that he “flew away” then too.
Mashburn said he believes this was a misunderstanding of his intentions.
“I wanted to show them [the stars] to the class in my own way,” he said. “I wanted to read from the book in my own way. I just got a little lost. I just needed someone else to hear and follow along.”