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Hamline faculty ask president to step down over handling of art class controversy

Faculty members said she supported accusations of Islamophobia against the professor and denied her due process.

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Hamline University buildings are seen Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, in the snow in St. Paul. The university has been in the news recently amid a controversy about academic freedom.
Ben Hovland / MPR News
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ST. PAUL — A majority of full-time Hamline University faculty voted Tuesday, Jan. 24, to ask the school's president to resign.

In a letter shared with MPR News, faculty members criticized the way President Fayneese Miller responded to a Muslim student's complaint over the showing of an image of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class last fall.

The school did not renew the adjunct professor's contract. Erika López Prater has since filed a lawsuit against the school. An email circulated around campus saying the showing of the image — which some Muslims consider blasphemous and offensive — was an Islamophobic act.

The faculty members said Miller supported accusations of Islamophobia against the professor and denied her due process.

The student who complained about the class in which the image was shown says she was deeply disturbed by the image. Aram Wedatalla brought her complaint first to López Prater, then to Hamline administrators, who moved her to another class.

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Since the controversy erupted, the largest national Muslim civil rights group issued a statement saying the use of the image in a classroom was not in and of itself Islamophobic, and the professor was not bigoted in her actions.

Faculty Council President, professor Jim Scheibel, said the best way to move forward from the international scrutiny is to have new leadership at the top.

"We are wounded, we are hurt, our reputation’s been insulted, and so we have a lot to demonstrate that we're the institution that people have known over the years," he said.

Miller has said the school supports academic freedom and also students' well-being.

Hamline University leaders released a statement after news of the former professor’s lawsuit became public, saying based on many scholars and religious leaders weighing in on the matter, they determined their usage of the term Islamophobic was “flawed.”

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