Hamline University president Fayneese Miller, who became embroiled in a national debate on the propriety of showing an image of the prophet Mohammed as well as the scope of academic freedom, announced on Monday that she will retire next year.
Miller defended her university's decision not to renew the contract of an adjunct professor who showed her art-history class a well-known 14th-century painting of the prophet Mohammed. For a majority of the faculty at the private university in St. Paul, Minn., that decision was a tipping point. In January, full-time faculty members voted overwhelmingly to release a statement that they "no longer have faith in President Miller's ability to lead the university forward." They also asked for her immediate resignation.
The announcement that Miller would retire in 2024, which skirted mention of the controversy, came just a few months after that and other condemnations of the university's actions.
In October of last year, Erika López Prater was teaching a global-art-history course, and she planned to show her students depictions of many religious figures, including the prophet Mohammed, according to the New York Times. Depicting him is controversial, with many Muslims regarding it as forbidden and offensive.
However, Prater took several precautions. She explained in an approved syllabus that she was planning to show a depiction of Mohammed, and she also prepped her students on the day of the class, giving each the opportunity to leave the room. One Muslim student, Aram Wedatalla, decided to stay despite the repeated warnings and later complained to the administration. Other Muslim students not in the course also complained, saying their religion had been attacked. The administration responded by getting rid of Prater in an effort to avoid a nationwide controversy. But it would wade into one nonetheless.
Defending the move, Miller signed an email in which she said: "It is not our intent to place blame; rather, it is our intent to note that in the classroom incident — where an image forbidden for Muslims to look upon was projected on a screen and left for many minutes — respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom."
An email from a different administrator called Prater's behavior "Islamophobic." And the administration even sanctioned the invitation of a speaker who would compare showing an image of Mohammed to teaching that Hitler was good.
Prater sued the university in January for religious discrimination and defamation, among other things, leading Miller and other administrators to backtrack on the same day.
"Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep. In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term 'Islamophobic' was therefore flawed," wrote Miller after the lawsuit was filed.