Excuse from University president accused of firing professor for showing Muhammad painting does little to quell backlash

The president of a Minnesota university is fiercely defending the school after it allegedly axed an art teacher for the supposed crime of showing her students a painting of the Prophet Muhammad.

The drama at Hamline University began to unfold when former adjunct art history professor Erika López Prater decided to talk about a 14th-century painting of the prophet Muhammed during her global art history course.

The talk came last semester after she warned in the syllabus “that images of holy figures, including the Prophet Muhammad and the Buddha, would be shown in the course,” according to The New York Times.

“She asked students to contact her with any concerns, and she said no one did,” the Times reported last weekend.

She repeated this warning on the day she brought the painting to class.

“In class, she prepped students, telling them that in a few minutes, the painting would be displayed, in case anyone wanted to leave,” the Times notes.

Yet one student did complain — Aram Wedatalla, president of the Muslim Student Association at Hamline University.

She complained after conveniently linking up with the discredited Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“I’m 23 years old, I’ve never seen a picture of a prophet. Never in my whole life. It hurts, it breaks my heart to stand here to tell people and beg people to understand me. To feel what I feel,” she said during a press conference hosted by CAIR, as reported by Minneapolis station KARE.

Allegedly in response to the complaints, the school reportedly axed the teacher.

“Officials told Dr. López Prater that her services next semester were no longer needed. In emails to students and faculty, they said that the incident was clearly Islamophobic. Hamline’s president, Fayneese S. Miller, co-signed an email that said respect for the Muslim students ‘should have superseded academic freedom,'” according to the Times.

This in turn prompted widespread condemnation from everybody ranging from the Times to the ACLU, PEN America, and Fox News.

In response, Miller, Hamline’s president, issued a lengthy written statement this week defending the school’s decision:

In the letter, she first claimed that Prater wasn’t fired, per se. Her contract was simply not renewed.

“First, I must state that the adjunct instructor hired to teach the course in art history did not ‘lose her job,’ as has been reported by some outlets. Neither was she ‘let go’ nor ‘dismissed,’ as has also been reported. And most emphatically, she has not been ‘fired,’ as has also been claimed,” she wrote.

“The adjunct taught the class to the end of the term, when she, like all other faculty, completed the term requirements, and posted her grades. The decision not to offer her another class was made at the unit level and in no way reflects on her ability to adequately teach the class.”

OK …

She continued by essentially defending the prioritizing of the feelings of one student over the academic freedom of a professor.

“Prioritizing the well-being of our students does not in any way negate or minimize the rights and privileges assured by academic freedom. But the concepts do intersect. Faculty have the right to teach and research subjects of importance to them, and to publish their work under the purview of their peers. At the same time, academic freedom does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior,” she wrote.

Imara Scott, in an April 2022 article published in Inside Higher Ed, noted that ‘academic freedom, like so many ideological principles, can be manipulated, misunderstood, and misrepresented … academic freedom can become a weapon to be used against vulnerable populations. Why? Because on the other end of a professor claiming academic freedom may be a student — a student who lacks tenure, who must rely on that professor for a grade and who may be emotionally, intellectually, or professionally harmed by the professor’s exercise of the power they hold.'”

Miller’s words were not well received by the public, particularly her claim that the school technically didn’t fire Prater.

Look:

Hamline University is also facing backlash from some in the Muslim community. Take Professor Amna Khalid of Carleton College.

“I am offended as a Muslim. In choosing to label this image of Muhammad as Islamophobic, in endorsing the view that figurative representations of the Prophet are prohibited in Islam, Hamline has privileged a most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view,” she wrote in a Subtack post.

Fox News contributor Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, also a Muslim, has spoken out.

“As a Muslim, I am disgusted a teacher has been fired by a craven college for showing an image of Mohammed. Don’t the left-wing wokeists realise they aren’t helping my religion – they are threatening its very existence?” he wrote in a column for the Daily Mail.

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Vivek Saxena

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