Hamline University assailed for firing professor who showed images of Muhammad’s face in class (with a trigger warning)

January 5, 2023 • 9:15 am

As I’ve reported, Hamline University, a small liberal-arts school in Minnesota, recently fired an unidentified professor who showed two images of the body and face of Muhammad to one of his/her classes. The prof even warned the students in advance that the images would be shown, giving them a chance to opt out. And despite that, and despite the fact that some sects of Islam don’t see it as blasphemy (or didn’t used to see it as such) to show the Prophet’s face, some students complained to the administration, and the instructor was summarily fired. The professor had even apologized, but of course that was not enough. It’s never enough in the face of the mob who wants punishment, not expressions of contrition.

On December 27, FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), wrote to the President of Hamline urging the school to reinstate the instructor, saying that the firing was a violation of academic freedom and an indefensible act of retaliation. Hamline, however, didn’t back down. As AlphaNews reported on January 3, the University is sticking to its guns.

Hamline University President Fayneese Miller responded to the backlash in a campus-wide email Saturday. In her email, Miller suggested that no instructor is allowed to do anything in class if it goes against any student’s faith.

“As has been reported, this past semester an adjunct instructor displayed images of the prophet Muhammad. Students do not relinquish their faith in the classroom. To look upon an image of the prophet Muhammad, for many Muslims, is against their faith,” she said in a prepared statement included in the email.

“Questions about how best to discuss Islamic art have been raised by many academics and is certainly an issue worthy of debate and discussion. For those of us who have been entrusted with the responsibility of educating the next generation of leaders and engaged citizens, it was important that our Muslim students, as well as all other students, feel safe, supported, and respected both in and out of our classrooms. As we have stated, in the immediate aftermath of students’ expressed concerns, the University’s initial response and actions were to address our students’ concerns. And, contrary to what has been reported and become the story, it is important that this aspect be reported. It is also important that we clarify that the adjunct instructor was teaching for the first time at Hamline, received an appointment letter for the fall semester, and taught the course until the end of the term,” her statement continued.

Miller concluded the email by acknowledging that the incident has been “painful for our community.”

This is absurd—even more so given that the students were warned and the works of art displayed were of considerable historic interest. What the university is doing is getting rid of instructors for blasphemy, but blasphemy against only one religion.  Further, I reject the argument that students must feel “safe, supported, and respected” at all times. Were that they case, they could never be subjected to arguments that made them uncomfortable; and then what’s the point of a liberal education? The upshot is that Hamline looks bad, as there have been other complaints, like from PEN America and The Academic Freedom Alliance.

Since Hamline refused to back down, FIRE has escalated its response, reporting the school to the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits Hamline, for violating academic freedom. Click below to read the press release, and here to see the letter to the HLC:

As the letter reports, Hamline has a contractual agreement to protect the academic freedom of its faculty:

Hamline University has made a contractual commitment to its faculty to respect and protect their academic freedom. The Hamline University Faculty Handbook as approved by the Board of Trustees in 2021 is clear. Hamline adopted without reservation the 1940 statement on academic freedom endorsed by the American Association of University Professors and the American Association of Colleges. Section 3.1.2 of the Handbook guarantees that “all faculty members are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” The guarantee extends to every individual at Hamline who is working in an instructional capacity regardless of whether they enjoy the protections of tenure. There is simply no question that introducing students to an important piece of Islamic art in a global art history class is covered by this principle of academic freedom. Hamline’s own stated commitment to academic freedom is unqualified. There is no exception for students who feel offended or disrespected by materials they encounter in the course of their college education.

This is one step short of a lawsuit, but could have even more severe consequences if the school loses its accreditation. I wrote to FIRE asking them if reporting a violation to an accreditation group was new for them, and Sabrina Conza, FIRE’s program officer for Campus Rights advocacy, responded:

Thanks for your questions. FIRE has alerted institutions’ accreditors of their violations of accreditation standards before, including Emerson College and Saint Vincent College. Both colleges’ accreditors chose to investigate our claims. As of now, FIRE’s focusing on our accreditor complaint as well as our faculty letter and take action campaign.
Hamline University violated faculty academic freedom and made clear that it won’t keep its promises. As an organization dedicated to defending free expression and academic freedom, FIRE felt compelled to alert the university’s accreditor. The Higher Learning Commission requires universities it accredits, like Hamline, to be “committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression in the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning.” Because Hamline has shown it is not committed to academic freedom, we urge its accreditor to hold Hamline accountable for violating its accreditation standards.

If you want to send a quick note to Hamline’s President, the screenshot above has, at the bottom of its article, a boilerplate letter that you can sign (or modify), and click to send it automatically. I’ve done so and would urge others who feel likewise to fill in your name and click the link.

There’s another public objection to Hamline’s egregious behavior: a passionate critique in the Chronicle of Higher Education of the University’s behavior—by a Muslim.  Amna Khalid, the author, is an associate professor of history at Carleton College and host of the podcast Banished.

A couple of excerpts from Dr. Khalid’s letter:

As a professor, I am appalled by the senior administration’s decision to dismiss the instructor and pander to the students who claim to have been “harmed.” This kind of “inclusive excellence” permits DEI administrators to ride roughshod over faculty knowledge. The administration’s blatant disregard for and active suppression of the very thing an institution of higher learning is valued for — the specialized knowledge of its faculty — makes this “one of the most egregious violations of academic freedom in recent memory,” in the words of PEN America.

With leadership like Hamline’s, who needs content-banning legislation to limit the scope of inquiry and teaching? It is the ultimate betrayal of the promise of education when institutions of higher learning begin endorsing ignorance. In the end, it is the students who pay the highest price for such limits on academic freedom.

. . . But most of all, I am offended as a Muslim. In choosing to label this image of Muhammad as Islamophobic, in endorsing the view that figurative representations of the Prophet are prohibited in Islam, Hamline has privileged a most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view. The administrators have flattened the rich history and diversity of Islamic thought. Their insistence that figurative representations of Muhammad are “forbidden for Muslims to look upon” runs counter to historical and contemporary evidence.

And the two sentences below have to sting most of all. At the very least, it shows the hypocrisy of Hamline and other Universities whose DEI committees act as promoters of censorship, not diversity:

To add insult to injury: The push to silence and exclude alternative Muslim views at Hamline is driven by the office of inclusive excellence. So much for the role of the DEI apparatus in advancing real diversity on campus.

Somehow I think Hamline is going to lose this one. . .

h/t: Greg, Brian Leiter

40 thoughts on “Hamline University assailed for firing professor who showed images of Muhammad’s face in class (with a trigger warning)

    1. I am a Muslim and know the nonsense of not showing the pictures of prophet is only invented by some fanatic and extremist Taliban oriented people who just want to excert their fanatic opinion upon our democratic society. These people and the coward president of Hamlin should go back to their caves and stay in ignorance. I hope the fired professor would file a law suit against the university. If she does, I would solidly support her.

  1. “… Students do not relinquish their faith in the classroom. To look upon an image of the prophet Muhammad, for many Muslims, is against their faith,” she said in a prepared statement …

    I wonder what would happen if a Muslim student asserted that looking upon the uncovered hair of any non-family woman was against their faith.

    1. My thought too. And what if some students don’t think women should be in the class, period – a la Taliban.

        1. Greaves seems like a really cool guy and his style of taking on what he does is a very sly, cunning, devious and effective way that I respect over being a pointless loudmouth.

  2. “As has been reported, this past semester an adjunct instructor displayed images of the prophet Muhammad. Students do not relinquish their faith in the classroom. To look upon an image of the prophet Muhammad, for many Muslims, is against their faith,”

    Evolution is against the faith of many Muslims as well. So is homosexuality.

    Should only creationism be taught in biology courses at Hamlin then? Should all favorable treatment of homosexuality be scrubbed from the campus? If not, why must students relinquish their faith on those issues but not this one?

    1. It’s worse than that: the student who complained didn’t have to be there. Warnings were issued at the start of the class and Muslims were allowed to leave if viewing the images would be a problem for them.

      These people deliberately sought to be offended.

      1. When the “Danish cartoons” incident occurred, the activists who stirred up all the trouble first created their own versions, much more crude and offensive than the originals, just to ensure that Muslims were properly offended.

        1. I think that the proper response to the Danish cartoon would be for every newspaper to publish it, on the front page above the fold, every day, until the ruckus dies down.

  3. Chilling of speech to protect perceived, or actual, sensibilities of students at a university is particularly disturbing. As the post notes, where else should people be exposed to different viewpoints and have the opportunity to be made to feel uncomfortable? and then, “what’s the point of a liberal education?”

    I would hate to pay for education that is attenuated in this way. It’s a competitive market and those that provide a robust and free education should be supported.

  4. I got in a bit of trouble at my college a few years ago by playing the Tom
    Lehrer song “The Vatican Rag.” One student complained even though I gave a warning ahead of time. After all, this song was played on national TV in the 60’s during the Show That was the Week that was. It was part of a series on prejudice in which a few songs were played to mock religious bigotry. I did not get fired but was reprimanded.

    1. You need to give a warning before you Comment about Tom Lehrer. Now I have the ear-worm that has been living in me for 40+ years:
      “Get in line in that processional,
      Step into that small confessional,
      There, the guy who’s got religion’ll
      Tell you if your sin’s original.
      If it is, try playin’ it safer,
      Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
      Two, four, six, eight,
      Time to transubstantiate!”

    2. Songs about prejudice…then they had to have played “National Brotherhood Week,” one of my faves. Tom Lehrer is a national treasure, and still with us at 94. He’ll be 95 on 4/9.

      1. If Lehrer was still active today, just think of the material he could get his teeth into….

        Still, let’s remind ourselves of the uncontroversial pieces. “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, anyone? Or “The Old Dope Pedlar”? “Be Prepared”? “Werner Von Braun”?

        Got ’em all, on CD or tape. Looking forward to exposing one or two of my kids to them, maybe, one day soon.

    1. Hamline’ s loss would be the entirely deserved withdrawal of its accreditation, which would be a gain for higher education in the US. Hamline’s dismissal of an instructor over a matter of art history reveals the DEI nomenklatura intruding into curriculum to a degree unheard of outside theocracies, or the USSR for a relatively brief period in the 1940s and early 50s. Hence this issue is not a matter of academic freedom but rather of the meaning of higher education. Incidentally, it will be interesting to know where the AAUP comes down on this Hamline controversy. Judging by its recent behaviors, I expect the AAUP to be silent as a mouse.

      1. I guess what I’m interested in is what our host thinks is likely to happen that would constitute a loss for Hamline.

  5. Oh my, that last paragraph from Dr. Khalid!
    Consider the probability of cancelling a professor who does “harm” to conservative Christians in any classroom that promotes LGBTQ literature. Hell, any historically objective lessons in the origin and evolution of the Bible should result in immediate banishment.

    1. I agree Mark. But Hamlin is a private United Methodist college named for a 19th c. Methodist bishop. So they’d be likely to censor criticism of conservative Christianity. I suspect Dr. Miller cherry-picks her Islamic sensibilities to match her own social and religious conservatism (which is common enough among black Episcopalians). But I could be wrong – maybe someone else knows more about her background and beliefs.

      1. >So they’d be likely to censor criticism of conservative Christianity. I suspect Dr. Miller cherry-picks her Islamic sensibilities to match her own social and religious conservatism.

        Are you sure that’s fair, Mike? About the school or about Dr. Miller?

        1. Yes maybe not fair. The thoughtless inconsistency behind Miller’s statement is hard to ignore, but she may be just a hapless leader rather than a hypocrite. I shouldn’t assume bad faith on her part. IDK about the school as a whole.

  6. It would be heartening to see a backlash against this sort of thing from the students themselves. Aren’t there any among the student body who are appalled that their education can be dictated by DEI offices, let alone those with “extreme and conservative” religious viewpoints?

  7. Interestingly, Hamline can now credibly be accused of “Islamophobia” for, as the Muslim professor writes, “privileging” a most extreme, conservative, narrow view of the faith … which just happens to coincide with what many ignorant Americans (and others) believe of ALL versions of the faith.

    Stupidity reigns, again.

  8. I’d make Hamline go back to being a “college”, like they were back in the day. Even that was a stretch. They also need to review their land acknowledgment, which they apparently cribbed from some typical Canadian language about “unceded” lands, because the Dakota did cede the land Hamline is on in the Treaty of 1851. Sorry to pile on like this.

      1. Certainly. The Dakota (not their predecessors — few weep for the Iowas or Omahas who the Dakota pushed out earlier) like all such treaty concessions touched the pen having been subjected to a variety of pressures, but nevertheless, it is false to say the land was not ceded. Say like Macalester College, down Snelling Avenue, does: “This is the ancestral homeland of the Dakota people who were forcibly exiled from the land because of aggressive and persistent settler colonialism.” (Not sure “colonialism” is the best word here, but it is a current woke favorite.) Large chunks of Minnesota were not ceded, and particularly by the Ojibwe (then usually called Chippewa). In fact, I think the Ojibwe retained “usufruct” rights to this part of Minnesota, even if ceding “title”.

        Or maybe your point is that Hamline might be skipping over the Dakota and acknowledging the Iowas? Just checked, they say: “Hamline University acknowledges that the land on which we gather and refer to as Minnesota is the traditional and unceded territory of the Dakota and Ojibwe.” Where Hamline is, perhaps the Ojibway could assert the right to cut down trees or set beaver traps or hunt game, but I think Hamline just grabbed some language without knowing the real history of Minnesota or the land at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Minnesota rivers.

  9. I sent FIRE’s e-mail, with this addition:

    “You will likely recognize this text as a form letter so I will insert my own questions in stream: Are you nuts? Do you sincerely believe this is appropriate for you to do? Or are you sincerely scared to death of what some Muslims–even one, maybe–will do if they get agitated into a murderous fanatic rage? Before you dismiss this last as “Islamophobia”, please think very hard about it.”

  10. Thanks for the link to FIRE’s letter.

    I hope you’re right and Hamline “loses this one”. Firing this professor is simply outrageous.

  11. If I were that professor, I’d take it too the Supreme Court, over half the seats are conservatives who probably have certain views on Islam, it may work out well in this case.

    1. Good thought. I am not a Christian, but I like the argument. I would think that religious freedoms would be trumped by academic freedom in that case. Also i doubt that many students would whine like the student that didn’t bother to read the syllabus which stated that there would be images of the prophet Mohammed show.

  12. Fayneese S. Miller has the backbone equal to Mike McCarthy. The student felt she was blindsided by the image. maybe she should have read the course description/syllabus in which it was stated that there will be religious images including that of the prophet Mohammed.
    Ms Miller co-signed an email that said respect for the Muslim students “should have superseded academic freedom.” Sorry, no it should not. If you want to study in a world with religious blinders on study at a religious collage or university. It seems Ms Miller is more concerned with keeping enrollment up versus educating people.

  13. I am beyond appalled!
    The principle issue here is not that our educational system, and our professors, are disrespecting the religion of Islam, but rather an issue where students, and other members of that faith is continuously disrespecting all that the US stands for: Freedom of speech and the unquestionable rights of the individual. Many Muslims coming here does not want to integrate, they want to transform, and we better tell them that that is not going to happen. Their blatant disrespect for our culture, our constitution and our way of life needs to be called out. To see that one of our educational facilities allows itself to fall victim to this form of “Islamic Harassment” is very disheartening!
    In my opinion, Professor E L Prater is owed an apology from the university, as well as a reinstatement, if she should ever want to work for that institution again.
    I have lived for 8 years in countries where Islam is the State Religion. (UAE 4 years, Malaysia 3 years and Saudi 1 year). In all these countries, showing disrespect of their religion, or any of their laws, results in deportation. I know that we need to demonstrate that we are “better”, more “cultured”, so deportation may not be the solution, but we do need to stand up for who we are, and demonstrate that our tolerance also include ourselves! After all: all of what Professor Prater used in her class is on public display several places around the world, and any attempt to deny and/or conceal what is confirmed history needs to be denied.

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