UPPER WEST SIDE — Columbia University is investigating a professor who stripped in front of a science class on Monday and then blasted rap music while showing 9/11 and Holocaust footage, officials said.
Students, who thought they were settling in for a lecture in quantum mechanics as part of the university's required curriculum, instead watched a bizarre performance that included Professor Emlyn Hughes taking off his clothes and curling in a ball on the ground while costumed ninjas blindfolded two dolls and slashed them with swords, according to a video posted on Bwog, the blog that first reported the incident.
In the video, students in the Frontiers of Science class could be heard shouting, "What is happening?" and "No!" as Hughes stripped and then showed footage of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust, exploding bombs and planes hitting the Twin Towers on 9/11.
Columbia is investigating whether the professor's behavior crossed a line, said Robert Hornsby, the university's assistant vice president of media relations.
"The freedoms traditionally accorded the faculty carry corresponding responsibilities," Hornsby said in a statement.
"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."
In Bwog's video of the class, students went from laughter to bafflement to fear, as one student anxiously said, "He has a gun, he has a gun," before quickly realizing that the professor was unarmed.
After his performance, Hughes calmly explained that in learning quantum mechanics, "You have [to] strip to your raw, erase all the garbage from your brain and start all over again," according to the video.
One student commented that the performance was a "desperate attempt to dress up a disastrous course in cool," while another observed, "I feel that he will be fired for this."
Hughes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Frontiers of Science classes often feel like TED talks, engaging lectures that provide an overview to encourage scientific thought rather than to get into the actual details of physics, said Columbia student and former Bwog editor Peter Sterne.
"There was no discussion fostered by these images — they were used only as shock value," Sterne said.
"I kind of understand Professor Hughes' intent — to confuse and disorient students because quantum mechanics is confusing and disorienting — but I think he went too far," Sterne added.