On Tuesday, professors at Hamline University overwhelmingly called on university president Fayneese Miller to resign, saying they “no longer had confidence” in her ability to lead the institution after the administrators had “mishandled” a controversy over Islamic art and academic freedom.
“It has become clear that the harm that has been done and the repair that needs to be done, that new leadership is needed to move things forward,” Jim Scheibel, chairman of the University’s faculty council, said on Tuesday. Hamline.
Miller did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday evening. In an interview on Monday, Miller said the episode was painful and uncomfortable and described it as “a learning experience.”
The call for Miller’s resignation comes at a tense time for private St. Paul’s University, which drew international attention after it decided not to renew the contract of an art professor who showed footage of the Prophet Muhammad in class.
During an online art class in October, assistant teacher Erika López Prater showed students two century-old works of art depicting the prophet receiving a revelation from the angel Gabriel that would later form the basis of the Quran.
A student in her class, Aram Wedatalla, president of the Muslim Student Association, contacted administrators and told them she was offended and that the instructor’s ‘trigger warning’ was proof that she shouldn’t have shown the pictures. Some Muslims believe that images of the Prophet Muhammad are strictly prohibited while others have artwork of him in their homes.
Fellow instructors and groups promoting academic freedom largely rallied behind López Prater, saying she had done more than most professors to prepare students for the images and allow them to avoid seeing them.
Local and national Muslim groups expressed differing views. Some said the school should act to protect a student whose faith had been offended, while others said the university’s decision to label the incident as Islamophobic ignored the diversity of thought within Islam.
Faculty members troubled by Miller’s handling of the incident met several times to decide how they wanted to respond, Scheibel said.
Scheibel said 71 of 92 faculty members who attended a board meeting on Tuesday endorsed the statement calling for Miller’s immediate resignation. Twelve voted against and nine others abstained. Scheibel said the university has about 130 faculty members.
The faculty members’ statement says they affirm both academic freedom and their responsibility to provide an inclusive learning environment and that “these values do not contradict or replace each other.”
He said they rejected “unfounded accusations of Islamophobia” and threats that have recently targeted students and other members of the community. He calls for “due process for all members of the Hamline community”.
López Prater sued Hamline for defamation, religious discrimination, and breach of contract, among other charges. After filing a lawsuit, Miller and board chair Ellen Watters released a joint statement that read, “Like all organizations, sometimes we make mistakes.”
“In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language has been used that does not reflect our feelings on academic freedom,” the pair wrote. “Based on all we have learned, we have determined that our use of the term ‘Islamophobe’ is therefore erroneous. We strongly support academic freedom for all members of the Hamline community. We also believe that academic freedom and student support can and should co-exist.”
Miller took over as president of Hamline in 2015 after serving as dean of the College of Education and Human Services at the University of Vermont. Before that, she spent decades working at Brown University, where she served as director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America.
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