(RNS) — The president of Hamline University, who was widely criticized for her response to an art history professor who showed students a painting of the Prophet Muhammad, announced Monday (April 3) that she would retire on April 30. June 2024.
He advertisement It comes more than two months after faculty at the University of St. Paul, Minnesota, called on President Fayneese Miller to resign immediately, saying they no longer had faith in her ability to lead the university.
Last year, the university did not renew the contract of Erika López Prater, an adjunct professor who displayed a prized 14th-century painting of the Prophet Muhammad in her online art history class. The school went so far as to label Prater an “Islamophobic”, though it later retracted that description.
Miller defended the decision not to renew the professor’s contract, saying that “respect, decency, and appreciation of religious and other differences must take precedence over academic freedom.”
That sparked an outcry from academics who said the president was bowing to the will of students while trampling on academic freedom and the obligation of professors to teach students about challenging subjects without fear. Miller later retracted the statement, saying that both academic freedom and respect for students were important.
However, an international storm of criticism broke out. López Prater, in turn, sued, alleging religious discrimination and defamation.
Acknowledging that his retirement was a bittersweet moment, Miller defended his actions Monday, blaming the media for creating a “false narrative”.
“Hamline University believes in academic freedom,” he said. “Hamline University has never violated anyone’s academic freedom. However, we also believe that when we are in this space, those who come to us to learn, to be educated, to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that Hamline University provides, should be respected.”
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The professors who had called for Miller’s removal said they took the resignation as a sign that the university could move on.
“There’s quite a bit of uncertainty about what next year will bring, but we’re hopeful about the long-term future,” said Mark Berkson, a Hamline professor who chairs the religion department and teaches a class on Islam.
During a class in the spring of 2022, adjunct professor Erika López Prater showed students a medieval painting depicting the prophet receiving a revelation from the Angel Gabriel. The teacher told the students, both in class and in her curriculum, that she would show the image and allowed students who believe that images of the prophet are prohibited to not participate.
However, student Aram Wedatalla complained to administrators that displaying the painting was offensive and hurtful and that the instructor’s “trigger warning” was proof that he should not have displayed the images.
Todd Green, an academic who serves as executive director of America Indivisible, a nonprofit that deals with anti-Muslim and other bigotry, said the university now faces the enormous challenge of trying to reclaim its position and status. reputation.
Miller, the school’s first African-American president, had led the university since 2015. Previously, she was founding chair of ethnic studies at Brown University, where she was on the faculty for 20 years. She served for nearly 10 years as dean of the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont.
Hamline Board of Trustees President Ellen Watters thanked him for his service and said Miller was focused on the needs and well-being of Hamline students.
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