ST. PAUL, MN — Hamline University announced Thursday that it plans to host a national forum to discuss the intersection of academic freedom.
The discussion will take place months after the university was embroiled in a national controversy involving an adjunct art history professor who was dismissed after showing images of the Prophet Muhammad in her fall 2022 class.
The forum, titled "Academic Freedom and Cultural Perspectives – Challenges for Higher Ed Today and Tomorrow," is scheduled for Sept. 12.
According to the university, the forum will include a panel of "nationally recognized experts together to examine the intersection of academic freedom and diverse cultural perspectives – two principles that are foundational to higher education."
The keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, a professor at Vanderbilt University.
The panel will include:
- Robin DiAngelo, associate professor of education at Washington University
- Stacy Hawkins, associate dean and professor at Rutgers Law School
- David Schultz, professor at Hamline University
- Tim Wise, activist and author
"Hamline is proud to take the lead by gathering some of the most esteemed voices to further this national conversation," said Hamline University President Fayneese Miller in a statement.
Miller was widely criticized and asked to resign by her own faculty in the spring. She did not resign but plans to retire in June 2024.
Hamline sparks a national controversy over academic freedom
A campus-wide email sent by the Hamline administration in November 2022 said that Erika López Prater's decision to show 14th and 16th-century images of the founder of Islam to students was "undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic."
Some Muslims, including a student in her class who complained to administrators, believe images of Muhammad are idolatrous and should be prohibited. López Prater said she provided a warning before showing the images.
Her contract was not renewed when the fall semester concluded.
Following a Jan. 8 report on the incident in the New York Times, Miller publicly criticized the media and defended the administration's actions.
But she backtracked on Jan. 17 after López Prater filed a lawsuit against Hamline for defamation, religious discrimination, breach of contract, and violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
Just hours after the lawsuit was announced, Miller admitted the university was at least partially at fault.
"In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom," read a joint letter from Miller and Ellen Watters, the chair of Hamline's board, released on Jan. 17.
"Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term 'Islamophobic' was therefore flawed." Later that month, a majority of Hamline professors voted to ask Miller to resign.
Hamline administrators were not the only ones to change their tune on the controversy.
After its local chapter held a news conference condemning López Prater and defending the student who complained, the national arm of the Council on American-Islamic Relations later said its "official position" is that the academic study of ancient paintings depicting Muhammad "does not, by itself, constitute Islamophobia."
CAIR added that they've seen "no evidence" that López Prater had bigoted intent or engaged in Islamophobia during her course last semester.