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University walks back 'Islamophobic' claim about professor who showed students Muhammad art

Council on American-Islamic Relations had rejected the label days earlier, undermining both Hamline University and their state affiliate that sided with the student who complained.

January 17, 2023 6:36pm

Updated: January 17, 2023 7:49pm

Hamline University confessed to a "flawed" characterization of a professor's decision to show students' artwork depicting the Prophet Muhammad as "Islamophobic," days after a national Muslim group rejected the term and Hamline's board of trustees intervened amid a growing academic freedom furor and looming accreditation probe.

The Minnesota liberal arts school did not renew adjunct art history professor Erika Lopez Prater's contract after one of her students, the Muslim Student Association president, complained about the opt-out lesson that was disclosed in the syllabus. The school's top diversity official said Prater's departure came "[i]n lieu of this incident."

The new statement released Tuesday night is signed by Ellen Watters, chair of Hamline's board of trustees, and President Fayneese Miller, who herself released a defiant statement Jan. 11 denying that Prater had a job to lose, given her adjunct status.

"There have been many communications, articles and opinion pieces that have caused us to review and re-examine our actions," Watters and Miller wrote.

"Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep," the statement says, citing Hamline's interest in "hearing from and supporting our Muslim students" as the reason that it unintentionally conveyed that "academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students." (Miller's statement said academic freedom is "subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior.")

The university will host two events "over the coming months" that deal with balancing academic freedom with "student care" and religion.

"We have learned much from the many scholars, religious leaders, and thinkers from around the world on the complexity of displaying images of the Prophet Muhammad" and "the differing opinions that exist on this matter within the Muslim community," the statement says.

Watters and Miller do not refer to Prater, a professor, or even a classroom incident in the statement. The Hamline spokesperson who shared the statement with Just the News did not immediately answer whether the university has apologized or sought reconciliation with Prater.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations undermined its Minnesota affiliate, which is supporting the student who complained, by saying that academics who "analyze ancient paintings for an academic purpose are not the same as Islamophobes," even though the national group discourages even "positive depictions" of Muhammad.