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Students Baffled By Professor’s Performance In Columbia Science Class

Professor Emlyn Hughes Strips To Make Point About Quantum Mechanics
Quantum Mechanics Demonstration

Columbia University professor Emlyn Hughes shocked students with a performance during his quantum mechanics class Monday. (Credit: Bwog)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Columbia University science professor left students baffled, and found himself the talk of the campus, after stripping down and changing clothes in a performance widely described as bizarre.

Bwog, the Web site for the monthly Columbia graduate magazine, described the scene in the Frontiers of Science class Monday morning. The performance was also captured on video, and distributed in a clip titled, “FroSci Gone Wild.”

“According to our reports, the first class of the physics unit was running a bit late when the lights went out. When they came back on, professor Emlyn Hughes was in the spotlight,” the magazine said.

In a video clip posted by Bwog, dance music described as “Lil Wayne’s ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ started playing in some sort of weird combination with deadmau5 and Billy Joel, and Die Antwoord” played as an overhead projector displaying the words “Quantum Mechanics” and a menacing image of a skull with sunken eyes — the logo for the band the Misfits.

The professor is seen stripping down to his underwear and changing into a different pair of pants, a hoodie and sunglasses as students remark, “What is happening?” and “I’m so confused.”

Afterward, Hughes curls up into a fetal position in a chair, as two people dressed as ninjas appear onstage. One of the ninjas impales a plush toy with a sword and hurls it off the stage.

Meanwhile, the “Quantum Mechanics” image is supplanted by images of the World Trade Center collapsing during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, followed images of terrorists and dictators, footage of Nazi Germany, and finally a series of explosions.

Finally, the performance ends, and Hughes – still clad in the hoodie and sunglasses – speaks.

“In order to learn quantum mechanics, you have to strip to your raw, erase all the garbage from your brain, and start over again,” he begins.

Columbia on Tuesday released a statement indicating unease with Hughes’ performance:

“Universities are committed to maintaining a climate of academic freedom, in which the faculty members are given the widest possible latitude in their teaching and scholarship. However, the freedoms traditionally accorded the faculty carry corresponding responsibilities,” the statement said. “Columbia’s Faculty Handbook states that ‘In conducting their classes, faculty should promote an atmosphere of mutual tolerance, respect, and civility [and] should confine their classes to the subject matter covered by their courses.’

“While one must exercise caution in judging excerpts from a lecture or short presentations from an entire course outside of their full context, the appropriate academic administrators are currently reviewing the facts of this particular presentation in quantum mechanics,” the statement continued.

And as CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, reaction to the clip from students was mixed.

“I think it was just a way to make people forget and kind of not; as a fresh slate for what he was going to be talking about,” said student Maya Hunt. “I really don’t think he has any ulterior motives besides that.”

But with the disturbing images, some students say Hughes may have crossed the line.

“Everyone’s clearly paying attention,” said student Rachel Veyda, “but yeah, this is inappropriate.”

“Maybe he pushed the boundary, but with the intention of people of teaching people,” another student said.

Professor Hughes would not speak with CBS 2 at his home Tuesday night.

This is not the first time in recent years that a performance in a university lecture hall rocked the headlines and left administrators shocked.

At Northwestern University in 2011, Northwestern University professor John Michael Bailey staged an optional after-class presentation in his human sexuality class involving a live sex toy demonstration.

The students who attended the lecture at Northwestern’s Evanston, Ill., campus ended up seeing a woman strip naked, lie down on a towel onstage, and allow her partner to use to use a motorized sex toy on her and bring her to orgasm, CBS Chicago reported at the time.

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro has launched an investigation into the incident, saying that he was “troubled and disappointed” by Bailey’s decision to allow it. Bailey later apologized for staging the demonstration.

Do you think Professor Hughes should face sanctions for “FroSci Gone Wild?” Leave your comments below…