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University president who put 'respect' for Muslim students over academic freedom will resign

Hamline faculty voted no confidence in President Fayneese Miller after she refused to renew an art professor's contract for showing Muslim-authorized Muhammad depictions in voluntary lesson.

Published: April 3, 2023 12:06pm

Updated: April 3, 2023 12:11pm

Hamline University President Fayneese Miller announced her pending retirement months after a controversy over academic freedom and varying Muslim attitudes toward depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Minnesota liberal arts school withdrew a renewal offer to Erika Lopez Prater, an art history adjunct professor, after her opt-out lesson on Muslim-authorized depictions of Muhammad drew a complaint from Muslim Students Association President Aram Wedatalla.

Faculty responded with an overwhelming vote of no confidence in Miller, who had said, "Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom."

Hamline's diversity chief, David Everett, went even further, calling the lesson "undeniably ... Islamophobic," though Miller later apologized for officials' characterizations.

Prater also filed a lawsuit, and an academic freedom group filed a complaint with Hamline's accreditor. The national Council on American-Islamic Relations sided with Prater, while its Minnesota affiliate sided with Wedatalla.

Hamline released a statement Monday morning announcing Miller's retirement date of June 30, 2024, listing her "many achievements" over eight years as president in a two-page statement and one-page "fact sheet." 

The closest either comes to acknowledging the Islamic art controversy is a quote from Board Chair Ellen Watters that cited Miller's "ability to navigate complex issues."

Hamline said the statement and fact sheet would be "the university’s only media comment on the matter," but noted Miller would answer media questions at 1 p.m. Central Monday.

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