Hamline University President To Retire After Art Controversy

The president of Hamline University, who was widely chastised for her reaction to an art history professor who showed pupils a portrait of the Prophet Muhammad, announced her retirement on Monday (April 3).

The announcement comes more than two months after the faculty of St. Paul, Minnesota, the university called on President Fayneese Miller to resign immediately, saying they no longer had faith in her ability to lead the university.

Erika López Prater’s contract as an adjunct professor was not renewed last year after she showed a prized 14th-century painting of the Prophet Muhammad in her online art history class. The school labeled Prater ” Islamophobic, but that label was later retracted.

Miller defended his decision not to renew the professor’s contract, claiming that “respect, decency, and appreciation of religious and other differences should take precedence over academic freedom.”

Academics were outraged, claiming that the president was caving into student pressure while violating academic freedom and the obligation of faculty to teach students about complex issues without fear. Miller later retracted his statement, stating that academic freedom and student respect were critical.

Nonetheless, an international firestorm of criticism erupted. López Prater, for his part, filed a lawsuit, claiming religious discrimination and defamation.

Miller, who acknowledged that her departure was bittersweet, defended her conduct on Monday, blaming the media for creating a “false narrative.”

Hamline University President to Retire

“Hamline University believes in academic freedom,” she said. “Never has Hamline University violated anyone’s academic freedom. We also, however, believe that when we are in this space, those who come to us to learn, to be educated, and to take advantage of the opportunities that Hamline University provides need to be respected.”

Faculty who had called for Miller’s ouster said they took the resignation as a sign that the university might move on.

“There is quite a bit of uncertainty regarding what the coming year will bring, but we are hopeful about the long-term future,” said Mark Berkson, a Hamline professor who chairs the department of religion and teaches a class on Islam.

Erika López Prater, an adjunct lecturer, gave students a medieval painting representing the prophet receiving a revelation from the Angel Gabriel during a seminar in the spring of 2022.

The lecturer informed students in class and on her syllabus that she would show the image and that students who feel images of the prophet are prohibited from participating might opt out.

Despite this, student Aram Wedatalla complained to administrators that the painting was offensive and hurtful and that the instructor’s “trigger warning” was proof she shouldn’t have shown the images.

Todd Green, a scholar and executive director of America Indivisible, a nonprofit organization that combats anti-Muslim and other forms of bigotry, said the university now faces a massive challenge in regaining its footing and reputation.

Miller, the school’s first African American president, had led the university since 2015. She was previously the founding chairman of ethnic studies at Brown University, where she taught for 20 years. She was dean of the University of Vermont’s College of Education and Social Services for nearly ten years.

According to Hamline Board of Trustees Chair Ellen Watters, Miller focused on the needs and well-being of Hamline students.

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