On Monday, the president of Hamline University, who had been the target of severe backlash for the manner in which she handled an adjunct professor who had shown images of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class, made the announcement that she would be stepping down from her position in June of 2024.
The president of the university in Minnesota, Fayneese S. Miller, had first supported the institution’s decision not to reappoint the professor who had showed students photographs of the Prophet Muhammad despite offering warnings, sparking a controversy about academic freedom and Islamophobia.
Many Muslims believe that seeing pictures of Muhammad is forbidden since doing so might lead to idolatry; nonetheless, opinions among Muslims about the appropriateness of such depictions vary widely.
In the message, Ellen Watters, the chairwoman of the board of trustees at the university, referred to Dr. Miller as a “innovative and transformational” leader. She also stated that Dr. Miller had capably led the university through a period of change while keeping the needs of students in the centre of her priorities. She said that “Hamline will be eternally thankful for the diligent and committed service” provided by Dr. Miller. The institution plans to look far and wide for a new leader to take their place.
Full-time faculty members of the university voted in January to approve a statement that declared they “no longer have trust in President Miller’s capacity to lead the institution forward.” The declaration received overwhelming approval from the faculty members. The statement, which included 71 faculty members voting in favour of it, 12 faculty members voting against it, and nine faculty members abstaining, said that the administration’s handling of the Muhammad debate had caused “severe damage” to the institution. There are 116 professors working at the institution on a full-time basis.
Her retirement brings an end to a turbulent presidency that saw Dr. Miller at the centre of student protests and declining enrollment — a phenomenon that affects many other small private liberal arts colleges — as well as successes such as increasing the share of the university’s students of colour and creating greater support for these students. Her retirement brings an end to a turbulent presidency that saw Dr. Miller at the centre of student protests and declining enrollment.
She was accused of capitulating to the desires of student activists, which was a source of criticism in the Muhammad dispute. Yet, Dr. Miller, the university’s first Black president, found herself the subject of harassment from students when she refused to comply with the demands of activists.
In the year 2019, a video surfaced online showing four white student athletes singing along to a popular song that included a racist insult. Students insisted that she take disciplinary action against the pupils shown in the video. Dr. Miller declined, citing the fact that the situation was an opportunity for learning. She said that she would have reacted differently if the children had aimed the slur towards another pupil.
Dr. Miller is a social psychologist who focuses on the emotional and interpersonal growth of young people as his area of expertise. She was the first person to ever hold the position of founding chair in the department of ethnic studies at Brown University, where she worked as a professor for twenty years. In addition to that, she held the position of dean at the University of Vermont.
Dr. López Prater was informed that her services would no longer be required for the spring semester after an observant Muslim student in the class had filed a complaint with the administration over the lecture. According to emails found inside the organisation, managers attempted to quell what they saw to be the potential for a widespread scandal.
The behaviours of the lecturer were deemed to be unquestionably Islamophobic in an email that was forwarded to the community by a senior supervisor. In a statement that was signed by Dr. Miller and David Everett, the vice president for inclusive excellence, it was said that academic freedom should have been “superseded” by sensitivity to the Muslim students who were enrolled in the class. During a town hall meeting, administrators invited a speaker who equated displaying the photographs to teaching students that Hitler was a wonderful leader.
Hamline University, a private liberal arts institution in Minnesota with around 1,800 undergraduate students, came under fire from advocates of academic freedom and free speech organisations for what they characterised as a heinous assault on academic freedom. Images similar to those that Dr. López Prater displayed are often featured in art schools, according to art historians who specialise in Islamic art. However, many of these classrooms do not provide students the opportunity to opt out of seeing the pictures. Dr. López Prater’s acts, as well as the Muslims and organisations that represent them, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have said that they are not Islamophobic.
After some time, the university issued a statement in which Dr. Miller and Ms. Watters, the head of the university’s board of trustees, walked back some of the institution’s most inflammatory claims. These statements included the assertion that Dr. López Prater’s actions were Racist.
The statement from the institution was issued on the same day that Dr. Lopez Prater filed a lawsuit against the board of directors of the university for defamation and religious discrimination. In the case that was submitted to the United States District Court in Minnesota, it is said that Dr. López Prater has suffered a loss of income from her adjunct position, as well as harm to her professional reputation and career prospects as a result of Hamline’s conduct.