The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Bizarre lecture leads to suspension

NE astronomy instructor Daniel Mashburn stands with his pet owl on his apartment balcony. Photo by Lacey Phillips/The Collegian

By Jamil Oakford/managing editor

During the first class of the semester, some NE Campus students already faced an important topic. The Solar System class should have started at 8 p.m. Jan. 16, but as 8:15 drew closer, students began to wonder if the unspoken “15-minute rule” still applied.

Then the room went dark.

In walked a man with his face hidden, wearing gloves, a thick coat and a hat. Students became uncomfortable as he fidgeted with his pocket, began his lecture and spoke about Islam and astronomy.

Instructor Daniel Mashburn arrived, ready to start another semester of Solar System in his own way, but fearful students called the police, setting off a chain of events that led to his suspension and national media attention.

A NE student who called himself Torey and declined to give his last name said he was on high alert when Mashburn seemed to be sifting through his pockets. Thinking he had a weapon, 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 didn’t realize he was the teacher for the Solar System class. Another NE student, Alexander, who also wouldn’t give his last name, said Mashburn didn’t 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 twice if he could remove the scarf around his face, so the class could hear him better. Both times, students said, he explained that he couldn’t and cited passages from the Quran to explain why.

More than half of his students left before the lecture really started, Alexander said. At least one of them called police. Before Mashburn could get deeper into his lesson, officers arrived.

NE astronomy instructor Daniel Mashburn sits in his office on campus. Mashburn was suspended after his strange behavior caused students to leave class and call police.
NE astronomy instructor Daniel Mashburn sits in his office on campus. Mashburn was suspended after his strange behavior caused students to leave class and call police.
Photo courtesy Facebook

NE student Adrian Vasquez said when officers asked for Mashburn to step outside and speak with them, Mashburn asked them to leave so he could continue with his lecture. Eventually, he submitted to a search outside class.

“We were all deciding whether we wanted to leave while he [Mashburn] was in the hallway with police,” Alexander said.

After being searched, police told Mashburn he couldn’t continue inside the classroom, so he announced 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 he 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–.”

Two days later, Mashburn, speaking to The Collegian in his North Richland Hills apartment, was still reeling and unsure why students felt threatened by his appearance and behavior.

By this point, the story was broadcast on local TV news and gaining attention.

“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 his pocket. “The stars are always watching.”

As for the lights being out, Mashburn said he informed students about protecting their night vision for stargazing during the scheduled lab.

“I like to keep it dark because I wanted to go out and see the stars,” he said. “I said I wanted to see the stars later, and unnatural light wouldn’t work.”

Vasquez, though, said Mashburn didn’t explain why he turned off the lights.

Still, Mashburn defended his actions and said students should not have felt threatened.

“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?”

NE chemistry student Natalie Clemens met Mashburn last year and was her Math Lab tutor that spring and well into the fall semester. She was surprised to hear about his behavior during the Solar System class.

“We spoke about a lot of things during tutoring sessions, sometimes more controversial things like politics,” she said.

But neither spoke about religion.

“If anything, I thought he was more an atheist than anything,” Clemens said.

While shy, Clemens said Mashburn was always a helpful and unique tutor. He was patient, which she was grateful for, she said.

“Some tutors you can tell get frustrated,” she said. “But he never made me feel stupid for not knowing or for asking.”

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 covered his face in a photo he posted on Facebook after his suspension.
Mashburn covered his face in a photo he posted on Facebook after his suspension.
Photo courtesy Facebook

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.”

Mashburn wants his students to read the textbook and the Quran, he said. Interested in astronomy since he was a child, Mashburn said when he saw footage of a solar eclipse in 2015, he began to see a 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 degree. Mashburn said he also tried to work Islam into his classes there.

“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 Jan. 16 was similar to that in Milwaukee, saying that he “flew away” then, too.

Despite the backlash and the suspension, 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.”

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