Left: Hamline University President Fayneese Miller (courtesy Hamline University); right: Entrance sign to the campus of Hamline University (photo by Wolterk via Getty Images)

Hamline University faculty are calling for the resignation of President Fayneese Miller after the school failed to renew the contract of an adjunct who showed artworks depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, student newspaper The Oracle reports. It’s the latest development in the controversy involving former adjunct Erika López Prater, who recently filed a lawsuit against Hamline after a system-wide email sent from the office of inclusive excellence in November denounced her conduct as “Islamophobic.” President Miller has since recanted on the administration’s use of the term.

During an emergency meeting earlier this week, 71 out of 92 faculty members voted in favor of officially requesting Miller’s resignation, adding in an official statement that the school’s administration “mishandled” the issue and that “great harm has been done to the reputation of Minnesota’s oldest university.”

“We, the faculty of Hamline University, stand for both academic freedom and the education of all students,” the letter reads. “We affirm both academic freedom and our responsibility to foster an inclusive learning community. Importantly, these values neither contradict nor supersede each other.” The statement also alleges that López Prater was not afforded due process or provided with an opportunity to defend herself.

López Prater was denied the opportunity to teach a spring semester class after showing two figurative depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, including a famous Medieval Islamic painting, during a World Art lecture on October 6. Prater issued a warning before showing the images, but one Muslim student in attendance, Aram Wedatalla, was offended by their display. Though some practicing Muslims do not create or intentionally view figurative imagery of Muhammad, Islamic scholars such as historian Christiane Gruber were quick to point out that the works in Prater’s lecture were made with the intent of veneration and devotion, not idolatry.

In a university-wide email, Assistant Vice Principal of Inclusive Excellence David Everett called the classroom incident “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” When reached by Hyperallergic, López Prater described how the accusations have impacted her.

“Unfortunately, my name will be associated with Islamophobia throughout my career, to my great detriment,” López Prater told Hyperallergic, referencing the “emotional distress” and “loss of income” outlined in the lawsuit. “I have not only been impugned unjustly. More broadly, the fields of Islamic Art History and Islamic studies, and many diverse Muslim voices, have been dealt blows and mischaracterized as monolithic in nature, which only promotes damaging stereotypes.”

On January 17, the same day López Prater filed her lawsuit, President Miller and Ellen Watters, the university board of trustees chair, issued a joint statement rescinding the use of the term “Islamophobic” to describe the incident, affirming that “language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom.”

“Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed,” Miller and Watters wrote, acknowledging that they have “learned much from the many scholars, religious leaders, and thinkers from around the world on the complexity of displaying images of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Professor Mark Berkson, chair of Hamline University’s Department of Religion and voting faculty member during the emergency meeting, told Hyperallergic that while the “terrible mishandling of the situation involving Prof. López Prater” was the final straw, it wasn’t the only reason the faculty called for her resignation.

“I was on the search committee that hired President Miller, and we recognized her talent and potential,” Berkson remarked. “Unfortunately, her administration has been plagued by problems that culminated in the recent controversy.”

Berkson also commented that while he supports calls for Miller’s resignation, David Everett “is certainly one of the people most responsible for the damage done to Hamline.”

“Without bothering to educate himself about the issues at the heart of the controversy, he acted to exclude our colleague from the community, silence questions and condemn dissenting voices,” Berkson continued. “While the ‘buck stops’ with the president, and therefore she should resign, I strongly believe that Hamline deserves a better voice for diversity and inclusion than David Everett.” 

Fayneese Miller, David Everett, and Hamline University’s media relations department have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comments.

López Prater has expressed gratitude to the multiple Muslim and Islamic groups who have shown public support for her at this time, highlighting the Muslim Public Affairs Council, CAIR-National, Muslims for Progressive Values, and the Association for Iranian Studies Committee for Academic Freedom in particular.

“I am committed to continue participating in conversations that illuminate and celebrate the broad diversity within Islam — historically and contemporaneously — with my colleagues and students, Muslim and non-Muslim,” López Prater told Hyperallergic. “This is an opportunity for us to mend bridges collectively, and to strive toward greater understanding, education, and reconciliation.”

Back on campus for the spring semester, Berkson notes that there is a lot of work needed to restore the university’s reputation from the “near-universal condemnation of the administration from across the political spectrum.”

“The person whose problematic leadership got us into this situation cannot be the person who will lead us out of it. We need and deserve a new leader and a new vision,” Berkson concluded.   

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Rhea Nayyar

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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