Fayneese S. Miller, president of Hamline University, announced Monday she will retire in June 2024 following public criticism for dismissing an adjunct instructor.
The instructor, Erika López Prater, taught an Islamic arts class in fall 2022. A student complained about López Prater to Hamline's administration after she showed a 14th-century depiction of the Prophet Muhammed during a class.
Many Muslims believe showing depictions of the prophet is prohibited.
López Prater said she issued a warning about the image in both the course syllabus and at the beginning of that class session. She said she decided to show the image because the painting is commonly shown in art history classes and told students they could leave class if they felt uncomfortable.
López Prater filed a lawsuit against Hamline in January for religious discrimination and defamation.
The dismissal sparked a national debate on academic freedom and the professors' right to choose how and what they teach.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a national organization for Muslim civil liberties and advocacy, supported Hamline's decision to dismiss López Prater. CAIR's national organization did not support the university's decision.
CAIR-MN issued a statement on Monday condemning Miller's retirement.
"Dr. Miller has demonstrated outstanding leadership over the past 8 years, with a strong focus on academic program development and diversity," CAIR-MN's Executive Director Jaylani Hussein said in the statement. "We believe that her support for Muslim students and her stance against Islamophobia ultimately cost her job."
At a press conference Monday afternoon, Miller said she was not forced to resign from her position as president.
"I got beat up in the media, and so you know, at some point, you have to look at that and go 'is this right for the institution,'" she said.
Miller also said reporters put forth a "false narrative" about the controversy, saying "no one was let go for showing an image." She said she is unable to tell what she sees as the full story because of the ongoing lawsuit.
In their initial announcement following the dismissal of López Prater, Hamline administration said "respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom."
Hamline later issued a statement on Jan. 17 contradicting this and reiterating support for academic freedom.
"It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not 'supersede' academic freedom, the two coexist," the statement read.
During Monday's press conference, Miller reflected on her achievements since becoming Hamline's president in 2015, such as continuing operations during the COVID-19 shutdown and increasing salaries for full professors. She was the first Black and second female president in the university's history.
"What I leave behind I'm very proud of because I know that this institution will continue to do well and continue to thrive," Miller said. "When I leave Hamline University, I leave my heart, and it's one of the more difficult decisions I've ever made."
With Miller's impending departure, Hamline will conduct a national search for the university's next president.