ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Faculty leaders at a Minnesota college that dismissed an art history instructor who showed depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in a course have overwhelmingly called for the university president to resign.
Faculty leaders at Hamline University said 71 of 92 members who attended a meeting Tuesday voted to call on President Fayneese Miller to resign immediately. They say they lost faith in Miller because of her handling of an objection lodged by a Muslim student who said seeing the artwork violated her religious beliefs.
The adjunct instructor who showed the artwork, Erika López Prater, sued the private liberal arts school last week after it declined to renew her contract.
“It became clear that the harm that’s been done and the repair that has to be done, that new leadership is needed to move that forward,” Jim Scheibel, president of the Hamline University Faculty Council, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
The faculty objected to what they considered a violation of academic freedom.
“We are distressed that members of the administration have mishandled this issue and great harm has been done to the reputation of Minnesota’s oldest university,” the faculty council statement read. It later went on to say, “As we no longer have faith in President Miller’s ability to lead the university forward, we call upon her to immediately tender her resignation to the Hamline University Board of Trustees.”
After criticism from across the country, Miller conceded last week that she mishandled the episode, which sparked a debate over balancing academic freedom with respect for religion.
“Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” she said in a joint statement with the chair of the school’s trustees. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, 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.”
A Hamline spokesman told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Miller and her team were discussing how to respond to the faculty vote.
López Prater showed centuries-old artwork depicting the Prophet Muhammad in an October lesson on Islamic art. She said she knew that visual depictions of him violate many Muslims' faith, so she warned the class ahead of time.
The instructor alleges in her lawsuit that Hamline subjected her to religious discrimination and defamation, and damaged her professional and personal reputation.
The American Association of University Professors, which is devoted to academic freedom, has launched an inquiry and is planning a campus visit next month.
While leaders of some local Muslim groups have criticized López Prater, the national office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations disputed claims that her actions were Islamophobic. The group said professors who analyze images of the Prophet Muhammad for academic purposes are not the same as “Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense.”