Hamline University faculty calls for their President to resign

January 25, 2023 • 12:30 pm

I saw this tweet early this morning, and was surprised (Hamline University is a small—ca. 2000 student—private liberal arts school in St. Paul, Minnesota:

I was surprised at the vote because up to now the faculty, after the “Muhammad’s Face Affair”, haven’t openly criticized Hamline University’s president, Fayneese Miller, for firing an art-history instructor, Erika López Prater. Prater was dumped by Miller after the instructor showed her class a 14th-century painting of Muhammad that clearly revealed the Prophet’s face. (See my posts on this issue here.) Some—though not all—Muslims think that it’s blasphemous to show any depiction of the Prophet, but other existing sects have no objection, and showing a full-on Muhammad was quite common in older Muslim art.

But even though López Prater put a trigger warning about this painting in her syllabus, and also mentioned it in class so that students didn’t have to look, she was still fired—or rather, Miller didn’t renew her contract. López Prater has since filed a lawsuit against Hamline, the incident has gotten national publicity, and Miller has dug in her heels instead of backing off. I’m certain Hamline will have to pay big time for what they did to the instructor. Meanwhile, the Muslim students are still disaffected and angry.

The two articles below, from the newspaper Sahan Journal, a Minnesota news site catering to immigrants and people of color, show how the faculty has lined up to give Miller (Hamline’s first black president, and a woman) her pink slip. The second piece shows that the students are ticked off that the faculty is upset at the firing. To the students, Miller is a hero.

Click on either headline to see the data, and note that the paper is generally supportive of the Muslim students who were upset.

As the tweet above notes, the faculty voted en masse ask President Miller to resign:

Full-time faculty at Hamline University voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ask the school’s president, Fayneese Miller, for her resignation. The vote marked the latest turn in the crisis that has embroiled the school for weeks.

“The reputation of Hamline was deeply tarnished, and I think it’s clear the majority of the full-time faculty do not believe that Fayneese is the one to carry us forward,” said Jim Scheibel, the president of the Hamline University Faculty Council.

Miller did not immediately respond to a Sahan Journal request for comment.

An overwhelming number of the 92 full-time professors at an all-faculty meeting Tuesday voted to adopt a statement asking President Fayneese Miller to resign, said Jim Scheibel, president of the Hamline University Faculty Council. Scheibel said turnout at the meeting was strong, with about 70 percent of the university’s 130 full-time professors in attendance.

“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,” the statement reads. “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.”

The statement also expresses support for academic freedom, an inclusive learning community, and due process.

The faculty vote does not bind Miller to any course of action, as only the board of trustees can remove the president from her position. Ellen Watters, the chair of Hamline’s board of trustees, declined to comment. The first Black president of Hamline, Miller has held the position since 2015.

But with so many faculty calling for her resignation, the academics have lost all confidence in Miller. It would be a miracle if the trustees keep her in office. My bet is that Miller is as good as gone. As I wrote earlier, I usually don’t call for someone’s job in a situation like this, but Miller refused to back down several times and clearly lacks any understanding of academic freedom. She doesn’t deserve to remain as Hamline’s President.

But, as the article notes, the students are on the side of Miller, not the faculty. They wanted the faculty to support the offended students, including the Muslims, and they didn’t. The faculty finally spoke with their votes. And that poured gasoline on the fire:

On January 22, a group of anonymous Muslim students sent an email to faculty, criticizing professors for their response to the crisis. “While we have been getting threats and targets on our backs, what hurts the most is knowing our faculty members don’t care much for us,” reads the letter. “Additionally, they are willing to go to the extent of going after and blaming President Miller who has been supportive throughout this difficult time.”

Returning to campus Monday for the first day of spring classes, several Muslim students told Sahan Journal they appreciated the administration’s support throughout the crisis. “I think our admins have been nothing but wonderful, actually,” said Ubah, a senior public health major. Administrators had reached out repeatedly to check on Muslim students, she said. But she criticized faculty members for using this crisis to target Miller.

“The worst-case scenario would be if the president gets overthrown,” Ubah said. “It leaves people that look like us vulnerable.” Without Miller, she said, the next campus incident might leave marginalized groups on campus to fend for themselves.

The students are as clueless as President Miller; they don’t want academic freedom, but someone to hug them and hold their hands. And I’m sorry, but the President will be overthrown and it will NOT make Muslims look vulnerable. It will make them look fragile, which they are—at least the ones who made a fuss after getting a trigger warning. I’m convinced that a big part of the “offense” is ginned up as a way to gain power.

A sign of the website’s political affiliation is that this second article, about the hurt Muslim students, now extra fearful after the faculty vote, is three times as long as the article above, which in terms of University governance is far more important.

A few quotes from students:

Many Muslim students, who had unexpectedly found themselves at the center of the storm, felt mixed emotions: Excited to be back. Overwhelmed by their new syllabi. Tired of the debate about academic vs. religious freedom.

. . . “It’s obviously really hard,” said 18-year-old Edna, a freshman education major, at the campus’s Anderson Center on Monday. “I’m just trying to take it day by day.”

For Edna, the hardest part of the firestorm was the threats her classmates received in light of the incident’s international media attention. (Some students and staff received death threats from people outside the Hamline community; at least one email address was temporarily disabled in an effort to curb harassment.) Overall, she found the media reaction “extreme.” She wished people could understand how much the incident had affected Muslim students.

Still, she said, “I’m glad to be back.”

But for some students, the return to class prompted another painful question: can I trust my professors?

“It’s great to be back because it is my last semester,” said Ubah, a senior public health major from St. Paul. “But it’s also the worst-case scenario that you could ever walk into.” The worst part, she said, was fearing that professors would not understand or support her.

The faculty also issued an earlier statement of support to Muslim students, so I don’t think the students should worry about a lack of concern from faculty, though I can see how the students would be distressed since their President is on the ropes and will likely be fired.

But one set of statements implies that the students want the faculty to understand how valuable Islam is to them, and that that’s why the students protested. In my view, the faculty shouldn’t care about what the students believe by way of religion, for that’s the students’ business, not the faculty’s. The faculty’s concern here was academic freedom, which they clearly value above any religious offense claimed by the students.

In a Sunday email to faculty from Muslim Student Association members, students expressed disappointment that many professors had stood with López Prater. Since the letter was unsigned “because of concern of retaliations from faculty members or others who don’t support our cause,” it’s not clear how many students endorsed the letter.

“While we have been getting threats and targets on our backs, what hurts the most is knowing our faculty members don’t care much for us,” read the letter. “Additionally, they are willing to go to the extent of going after and blaming President Miller who has been supportive throughout this difficult time….Your silence shows us as students that Hamline is not a place for us, and in your classrooms, we don’t feel safe, welcomed, or belong.”

Although Hamline is a small school, Ubah said, few professors had taken the time to get to know her or understand her religion.

“You have to know who your students are in the class, more than just the name and the pronouns or what their major is,” she said. “Even asking little things like getting to know their religion. That will give you what they value as a person. Then incidents like that wouldn’t even take place, because then you know that a Muslim student values their Prophet so much, you understand that you should not be showing a picture.”

Ubah is wrong.  Academic freedom is the principle at stake, not the students’ religious feelings, and López Prater did warn the students about showing Muhammad’s face. Since she was making a point about art history with that famous painting, she had a genuine didactic purpose, and that trumps “feelings”.

These students need to learn two lessons: one is about academic freedom and the other is the fact that if you’re getting properly educated, you will come across things that you find offensive.  Religion is only one such topic; others are politics, sex, and race. Offense, which students must learn to deal with, is an inevitable byproduct of the clash of ideas that you encounter at a good university.

h/t: cesar, Luana

23 thoughts on “Hamline University faculty calls for their President to resign

  1. Perhaps it is worthwhile saving this sentence for almost all posts about people claiming hurt feelings:

    “I’m convinced that a big part of the “offense” is ginned up as a way to gain power.”

    It’s remarkable how competitive ‘victimhood’ has become.

    1. The second is, “In my [J. Coyne] view, the faculty shouldn’t care about what the students believe by way of religion, [including what the students’ religion tells them to be offended at — my addition] for that’s the students’ business, not the faculty’s.”

    2. I sometimes have to remind a student who asks for a mercy grade change that he (it’s always a he) doesn’t want to get a degree from a university where the professors hand out better grades to the more sympathetic students. Similar I don’t think students have thought about what it would be like to study at a public university where the professors want to know where and what you worship.

      1. Odd. In four years of college (1978-1982), I never once had a professor ask my religion. Not once. If they had, I would have wondered why they were asking such a personal (and irrelevant) question.

  2. “But, as the article notes, the students are on the side of Miller, not the faculty.”

    If anything sums up the zeitgeist, and financial realities, of modern day higher education, this is it.

    Universities, particularly private ones, have pretty much gone to a client service model.
    The admin and leadership exists to service the clients, aka the students. Essentially, these 18-22 year olds, with their limited life experience and not-yet-fully functioning frontal lobes, are running this thing.

    The faculty is just the equipment…

    Given this dynamic, the actions of President Miller make perfect sense to me. She was just servicing the customers. If she leaves, it will be because of bad PR that will hurt the bottom line, not because the equipment got mad…

  3. As I commented previously on another thread, I wish someone would point out to these students that:
    If you aren’t a member of the religion, you are under no obligation regarding fish on Fridays, abstaining from alcohol or pork, pictures of Mohammed, praying, etc.

  4. To repeat, this isn’t even a matter of “academic freedom”. The category is teaching a subject matter (such as art history) with integrity, which is the offense for which Lopez Prater was non-renewed. Her dismissal by President Miller’s administration demonstrated that Hamline should not be accredited as an educational institution. Hence the faculty—laboring under a misapprehension about the nature of their employment—are steamed up about the chief of their demonstrably non-educational institution.

  5. The faculty *do* care about the students. This is why they are demanding Miller’s resignation.

    I hope that the Board concurs with the faculty. My expectation is that it will, but you never know.

  6. In my 35 years of teaching at Minnesota State University I would, periodically, get the trio (always a trio) of Muslim students visiting me as the middle (always the middle) student complained about flunking the first two tests and could I spare him (always a him) from flunking what with only the final exam remaining. My response was alway to study hard and get a really good grade on the final. Now the peculiar part comes in. I always read all the test questions to the class a week before the test and discussed some of them. Why would anyone flunk? The As and the Bs almost always sat in the first three rows, The Cs, for the most part sat in the middle of the room, and the Ds and Fs sat in the back three rows. I tested this several times, and it was consistent. My advice to the complaining student was not followed, and he flunked – every time.

  7. Good to remember that “the students” refers to a subset of Muslim students. The majority of students may very well be glad with or at least indifferent to a Miller resignation.

    My daughter’s at Berkeley and I see this all the time. E.g., re the “deplatforming” of “Zionists” by the law school’s Palestinian students’ organization, most law students disagree with the move (though it is legal), and the vast majority of students are unaware or don’t care. And re the curriculum changes due to the DEI infiltration as referred to here last week, they impact exactly none of the classes in my daughter’s major that she would be required to take.

    1. As often with DEI and SJW’s, it’s the noisiest bunch of students that gets the attention.

      About your daughter’s experience: I don’t know what avenues there are for students to push back against DEI at Berkeley. I am compelled, though, to refer you to Martin Niemöller’s poem First They Came …. Perhaps there’s an initiative at UCB mirroring a student group at Standford whose representative was in a panel discussion with PCC(E) at the Academic Freedom Conference 2022?

      1. I came to comment to make essentially this point. When this post refers to the views of ‘the faculty’ it can rely on the majority vote of a high-turnout meeting, It is not at all clear that the student voices quoted represent ‘the students’ in the same way.

  8. “Tired of the debate about academic vs. religious freedom”. Hang on: what exactly is “religious freedom” here? Is this student’s “religious freedom” being compromised through his/her being required to take part in mainstream academic discussion? Maybe he/she should reconsider whether he/she should have a position at a seat of higher education in the first place.

    1. Years ago, I had a student politely ask me to be excused from learning about evolution in my intro biology class because of their religious beliefs. I politely explained that i could not do that, and that was that. But ever since then I wonder if and when I will ever get the “I’m offended” ploy on such matters, and how our Admin. will deal with it if it came to that.

  9. “Academic freedom is the principle at stake, not the students’ religious feelings”


    If you go to college and insist on *not* being challenged, even to have your worldview questioned, why did you bother?

  10. Think of all the harm done to those of us who are triggered by the phrase “trigger warning”. The mind boggles…I mean it would boggle if we weren’t so traumatized.

  11. I admire their professionalism. They didn’t turn it into a circus and go all crazy about it, but instead stayed calm and had a professional meeting about it.

  12. “I think our admins have been nothing but wonderful, actually,” said Ubah, a senior public health major.

    This says it all. Admins whose sole raison d’etre is to validate whatever idea comes out students’ mouths are naturally going to seem sympathetic to those students. Exhibit number 1 in the argument that cadres of DEI administrators have become a worm in the heart of universities, subverting their institutions’ core mission to pander to the solipsistic whims of emotionally immature teenagers.

  13. “These students need to learn two lessons…”
    I think we would all say they need to grow up. Sure, letting them feel their oats and have a little say in the running of the university is a grand way of starting, but like all educational training, it only works if correction is applied when they get it wrong. They should hear that from the faculty: the students are in the wrong and as students, they should listen to their teachers. The time to argue as equals is when they have sufficient experience, education and qualifications to be treated as equals.
    Hmm. On second thoughts, maybe it is just a waste of time to go through the charade of pretending students have some say in the running of a university. “if you don’t like it you can leave, and if you make trouble you will be sent down.” Used to work rather well.

Leave a Reply