“We are the Faculty”: Hamline Professors Demand President’s Resignation After Abandoning Due Process and Academic Freedom

We previously discussed the action of Hamline University not to renew the contract of an art professor, Erika Prater, who showed an image of Muhammad as part of an arts class. The action was an affront to both free speech and academic freedom.  Prater has sued. In the meantime, the faculty has voted 72-12 to condemn the action and demand that Hamline President Fayneese Miller resign. With the exception of the 12 faculty dissenters, it is a relatively rare demonstration of academic courage in standing up to an anti-free speech mob. They are correct. Miller should resign immediately based on what we already know about this scandal.

Christiane Gruber, a professor of Islamic art at the University of Michigan, wrote about the incident in a December 22 essay for New Lines MagazineMuslims object to showing the image of Muhammad as deeply offensive to their religion. One of the paintings is a depiction of Muhammad with a veil and halo from a 15th century manuscript and is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.The other is a depiction of Muhammad receiving a divine revelation from the angel Gabriel. That work appeared in an early 14th century manuscript by the statesman and scholar Rashid-al-Din. Gruber wrote that the second image “is considered by scholars, curators and art collectors a masterpiece of Persian manuscript painting … often taught in Islamic art history classes at universities across the world, including in the U.S., Europe, the Arab world, Turkey and Iran.”According to the student newspaper, The Oracle, the incident occurred on October 6 and drew an objection from a Muslim student. Dr. Everett sent an email to all university employees that the use of the works in class were “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.”Professor Gruber raises a deeply disturbing lack of due process by the university. Neither Miller nor Everett evidence the slightest concern for due process or academic freedom as they denounced this professor:

“Neither before nor after these declarations was the faculty member given a public platform or forum to explain the classroom lecture and activity. To fill in the gap, on Dec. 6, an essay written by a Hamline professor of religion who teaches Islam explaining the incident along with the historical context and aesthetic value of Islamic images of Muhammad was published on The Oracle’s website. The essay was taken down two days later. One day after that, Hamline’s president and AVPIE sent a message to all employees stating that ‘respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.’”

Professor Eugene Volokh has posted some of the correspondence. There is also a petition to support this professor.  PEN America has condemned Hamline’s actions.

The now removed defense from the student newspaper was written by Prof. Mark Berkson, Chair of Hamline’s Religion department. Professor Berkson acknowledges that such works must be shown with great sensitivity toward Muslim students:

“First, a majority of the world’s Muslims today believe that visually representing the prophet Muhammad is forbidden. Many observant Muslims would never create an image of Muhammad and will strive to avoid seeing one. So professors must not require Muslim students who believe that representation is forbidden to look at these images, and they must give students fair warning if such images are going to appear anywhere in class—in a book, a slide show, a video, etc. It is my understanding that, in the Hamline class, the professor gave students advance notice that the image would be shown (both in the syllabus and verbally), allowed students to turn off the screen if they wished, and did not require them to visually engage with the painting. The intent was to educate, not to offend or show disrespect.”

However, he insisted that the work was germane and valuable from a pedagogical standpoint. His insightful and respectful letter should be read by everyone before reaching any conclusions in this controversy. The fact that it was removed only adds to the chilling environment of intolerance by Hamline.

The student editors of The Oracle have much to explain in removing the letter. The fact that they will not even allow a reasoned, alternative view to be read is an indictment of their newspaper and journalistic values, though it is hardly unique today. Indeed, it is the same intolerance shown increasingly by mainstream media.

In this now deleted letter, Professor Berkson noted:

“Since some Hamline administrators labeled the showing of the painting “Islamophobic” (in one case, the phrase “undeniably Islamophobic” was used), my question for those who use that word is – Exactly where does the Islamophobia lie? Islamophobia is often defined as fear, hatred, hostility, or prejudice against Muslims. The intention or motivation behind the act would seem to be essential here. In this case, the professor was motivated only to educate students about the history of Islamic art. The professor tried to ensure that Muslim students who have objections would be able to avoid seeing the images. So, when we look at intention, we can conclude that this was not Islamophobic.

Another possibility is that the very act of displaying an image of Muhammad is itself Islamophobic. But if this were the case, there are a number of very disturbing implications. First, it would mean that anybody who showed these images in a classroom, a book, or on their wall, would be an Islamophobe. Any scholar who wrote a book about Islamic art and included these images for discussion or analysis would be an Islamophobe. Even Muslims (and, as we will see, many Muslims throughout history have created and enjoyed these images) would be Islamophobic if they did this. Second, it would mean that these images could never be seen by, or shown to, anybody. In effect, it would require an erasure of an entire genre of Islamic art.

Should no student be able to see this art? And what would it mean for a liberal arts institution to deem an entire subject of study prohibited?

Finally, it seems that the interpretation of the administrators means that if an act is prohibited to members of a particular religion, then everyone has to incorporate that prohibition into their own lives. Let’s quickly consider an analogy. Eating pork is forbidden to observant Muslims and Jews. Clearly, it would be an act of Islamophobia or antisemitism if someone were to intentionally sneak pork into a dish that was going to be eaten by someone for whom it is forbidden. But does this mean that Aramark can no longer serve any dish with pork? Must everyone consider pork forbidden? Most of us would agree that as long as there are plenty of alternatives for Muslims and Jews, then the mere offering of a pork dish is not Islamophobic or antisemitic. In the case of images, does the fact that many (not all) Muslims consider images forbidden mean that all of us have to incorporate this prohibition into our lives? Giving students the opportunity to see the images as part of an education in Islamic art (since using images is an essential part of the pedagogy of art historians) is not Islamophobic as long as Muslim students are not required to see them and steps are taken to ensure that no student sees them unintentionally.”

Professor Berkson is trying to balance interests while striving to preserve the essential academic freedom needed in higher education.

“This incident is about balancing academic freedom and religious commitments, not about Islamophobia. The situation is not helped by making accusations against a faculty member who is simply trying to share and teach the history of Islamic art with students. It is especially disturbing that some administrators who used the word ‘Islamophobia’ never even spoke with the faculty member to get their perspective. When, as in the case here at Hamline, everyone involved has good intentions (intention is a key concept in Islam, and the Prophet Muhammad himself said that people will receive consequences for actions depending on their intentions) and is doing their best to honor principles (religious and academic) that are important to them, we can find our way forward in open conversation and mutual respect.”

In contrast, President Miller and Vice President Everett show utter disregard for countervailing values, particularly free speech and academic freedom. Indeed, they declare that “when we harm, we should listen rather than debate the merits of or extent of that harm.” So, as an academic institution, you do not debate “the merits” of such controversies?

Instead, they insist that “it is not our intent to place blame; rather, it is our intent to note that in the classroom incident…respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom…Academic freedom is very important, but it does not have to come at the expense of care and decency toward others.”

So academics have academic freedom only to the extent that it is not considered by some to be a denial of care or decency? Notably, that standard is based on how a lecture is received by any student rather than how it was intended.

The faculty have now called for Miller’s resignation and there is ample reason for her removal if a resignation is not forthcoming. University presidents have a core obligation to protect free speech and academic freedom. Miller not only failed to offer due process to a faculty member, but she proceeded to yield to the mob in demanding her effective termination.

The case is reminiscent of the costly and cowardly actions of Oberlin in pursuing a family restaurant that it falsely accused of racism. The vengeful litigation continued despite the early refutation of the claims. It ended up costing a breathtaking $36 million for defamation. Oberlin President Carmen Twillie Ambar and the Board burned through millions in litigation costs above the damages rather than admit that the college was wrong in the targeting of this grocery. That money could have been used for scholarships and other worthy purposes. Instead, Amber and the Board will simply ask alumni to foot the bill for a legal effort that seems to become little more than a revenge fetish. There has been no serious pushback against Ambar by alumni or faculty.

Miller likely thought that there would be no costs to this action. After all, who wants to stand up to a mob for some lone art history teacher?

That is why this faculty vote is so important. It is a vote of no confidence and it is well based. My only regret is that there are 12 professors who voted against the very essence of our profession. The student editors at The Oracle could also learn from the courage of their faculty about the protection of free thought and free speech at their university.

Here is the letter.

Statement from Full Time Faculty of Hamline University

January 24, 2023

In response to the current events and crisis facing the Hamline community concerning academic freedom, the faculty of Hamline University stand by these statements:

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.

We, the faculty of Hamline University, stand for both academic freedom and the education of all students. We affirm both academic freedom and our responsibility to foster an inclusive learning community. Importantly, these values neither contradict nor supersede each other.

We respect the diverse voices, backgrounds, and experiences of the entire Hamline community (students, faculty, staff, and administrators), and support the right of all to have their voices heard.

We believe our diversity of knowledge and experience makes us a stronger, richer community. Without this diversity, we would incompletely represent the community we strive to be.

We defend the right to academic freedom for the purpose of a strong liberal arts education and to uphold the principles of democracy.

We reject unfounded accusations of Islamophobia.

We condemn the hateful speech and threats targeting students and other Hamline community members.

We stand for intellectual debate and sharing of resources and knowledge without fear of censorship or retaliation.

We stand for the right to challenge one another’s views, but not to penalize each other for holding them.

We call for the fair treatment of and due process for all Hamline community members.

We thank and applaud students, faculty, and others in the Hamline community and beyond, who have taken the time and had the courage to speak out.

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.

We are united in this statement.

We are the faculty of Hamline University.

66 thoughts on ““We are the Faculty”: Hamline Professors Demand President’s Resignation After Abandoning Due Process and Academic Freedom”

  1. Pretty weak ‘victory’. Listen to the statement, they are falling all over themselves in apologia for standing for academic freedom. The statement should have been much firmer and shorter. Something like: “This is not an Islamic nation, society or institution. In the U.S. there is an absolute right to freedom of speech. Our entire society is built on this respect for the civil exchange of ideas. The First Amendment exists exactly to protect speech someone finds offensive, especially for religious reasons, as at our founding our society was riddled with religious conflict just between Christian sects. In the U.S. it’s your right to criticize Allah, make pictures of him, or Jesus or whatever you like. In the university we take such principles as axioms and protect them at all costs because we know that all human progress comes from the application of reason and the open exchange of ideas, and civil debate about them. And we also realize the profoundly sacred nature of our liberty and that it starts with freedom of thought and expression. If you don’t want to live under these conditions, we invite you to leave this institution and maybe this nation.”

  2. I have a hard time congratulating people taking forever to correct such an egregious wrong.

    This dolt is an adult in America. A nation that celebrates inalienable rights from God. I cannot get my head around a person with this power, is so stupid to not consider his decisions are his precedent. Is this his standard. Firing people with no due process? Its a simple concept. Do want to embrace due process, or ignore, for no particular reason. Are you going to demand ALL religions are afforded the same protections from being offended? If so, you are going to have to fire a large portion of your Profs. Because they offend Christians on a regular basis

  3. We have long said that the way to end the crisis in higher education is to hold those responsible personally accountable. For far too long, administrators like Fayneese Miller have remained secure in the high paying jobs. Meanwhile, their victims scrape by, fortunate if they are a get reinstated to a toxic environment enabled by corrupt leadership.

    We applaud the Hamline faculty for taking a stand.

    Hamline is facing a crisis in leadership. It is now incumbent on Miller to resign. If she refuses, the Hamline trustees must act immediately to terminate her. According to publicly available information, Miller received over $540,000 in salary in 2018. Not bad for the president of a small university in St. Paul, Minnesota. Miller is a comfortable member of the dreaded 1% we’ve heard so much about. Do you think that Miller will go willingly?

  4. Sigh. This so embarrassing.

    As a Muslim, I am NOT offended by Professor Prater’s actions. I am deeply disappointed by Miller’s capitulation.

    I know some Muslims are truly offended. I get that, but at least here you can complain. In other countries, the same people who “protect” Islam often kill more Muslims than anybody and nobody can say or do anything about it, so please, complain all you like but knock off the cancel-culture schtick. That hypocrisy is so “Old World.”

    Muslims have a choice between being occasionally offended or murdered and lied to. Actually, that’s the same choice everybody confronts. I think the correct choice is pretty obvious.

    BTW, Biden’s open border terrifies me. I know jihadis hate American Muslims and would love to start a religious war here so that they can claim America hates Muslims. The last thing I want is jihadis sneaking into this country so that they can make me and my family objects of scorn in a country that has been very kind to us. I have no confusion about who my real enemies are.

  5. Hamline University’s shameful decision not to renew art professor Erika Prater’s contract for showing an artwork depicting Muhammad was not only an affront to free speech and academic freedom. It was also an attack on art and history.

    The artwork that is the subject of this unnecessary controversy was a 14th century depiction of the Prophet Muhammad receiving his first revelation from the archangel Gabriel. It was created by Rashīd al-Dīn, a respected Persian Muslim scholar and historian. It’s currently on exhibit at the Edinburgh University Library.

    This artwork wasn’t controversial for hundreds of years. Yet, in our current evironment, suddenly, it’s become just another opportunity to blame, shame, and cancel by the ignorant, asinine woke-cancel-“culture”.

    When will this insanity stop?

  6. The university took the position that it must conform to Islamic teaching. A professor was fired for not following Islamic Law in America. Are they going to start firing professors who fail to invoke the divine blessings on the Prophet, Durood Shareef, or at least say, “Peace be upon him”?

    If Christians have to bear having a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine as art, sexy nun costumes, and Hollywood’s open hostility to Christianity, then Muslims should not be permitted to force universities to comply with their holy law.

    A Muslim cannot, and should not, expect a non-Muslim to regard Mohammed with the same piety. In general, violence or threats against Non Muslims for not following Islamic law, including the case of Charlie Hebdo’s and Samuel Paty’s murders, is terrorism and unacceptable.

    Stop giving in to the woke mob. It will never appease them.

  7. Courageous statement and decision of the faculty majority. It is hard to imagine how this teacher could have shown more respect to those students who might have been offended

    1. “Offended.”

      Einstein revealed the essential significance of “relativity,” right?


      Do you know how ——- stupid that sounds to Marines and Soldiers who have been through basic training.

      I once observed a screaming Drill Sergent ordering a 19-year-old troop to run around the company barracks yelling,” I am a flying —-bird, I have —- for brains,” then eat the contraband Three Musketeers bar he was caught hiding with the label on it, while climbing into and taking up residence in his duffel bag (try it), and that was a mild episode.

      “Offended,” you say!

      What happened to the American soldiers, in service to their country, at the Battle of Camden, Antietam, Meuse-Argonne, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Pusan, Khe Sanh, Fallujah, Wanat et al.?

      Were they “offended?”

      Everything’s relative, right?


  8. It really is refreshing to see the academic courage displayed in the demand for Miller’s resignation.

  9. Estovir- Agree with your statement. Having had colleagues in college, medical school, residency and fellowship and practice, who were and are muslim, I would have to say they, like everyone else, have a wide diversity of thought, experience, personality, goals and dreams. In other words, simply folks with a different religion. Often has given rise to meaningful discussions, different views on approach, and simple enjoyment of the differences that bind us. It’s easy to find similarities but differences can teach so much and lead to a conclusion reached by someone else from a different direction. Some people place false assumptions since difference means something evil to them when it simply means thinking from a different angle but the same goal is achieved.
    On the other hand Svelaz is hopeless, no matter what direction, religion or chain of thought that you use.

  10. “The now removed defense from the student newspaper was written by Prof. Mark Berkson, Chair of Hamline’s Religion department. Professor Berkson acknowledges that such works must be shown with great sensitivity toward Muslim students:”
    Ain’t diversity grand? PT Barnum must be roaring with laughter. And since freedom and diversity never mix without unanimity of values because of that bugaboo, feelings, so is Mao.

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