Jump to content

A College Fired a Professor for Showing a Painting of Muhammad. Now, It Could Lose Its Accreditation.

Recommended Posts








In December, Hamline University spurred outrage after the college fired an art history professor for showing a 14th-century painting of the prophet Muhammad in an Islamic art class. While the school was roundly criticized for its swift silencing of faculty academic freedom, the college is private, and thus largely protected from legal consequences.

However, one free speech group has found a way to penalize Hamline: filing a complaint with the school's accreditor, which explicitly requires that colleges receiving accreditation protect academic freedom.

On October 6, an art history professor at Hamline University, a liberal arts college in Saint Paul, Minnesota, showed students a 14th-century painting that depicts the prophet Muhammad receiving his first Quranic revelation. The professor, who has not been named, reportedly contextualized the image for several minutes beforehand, telling students "I am showing you this image for a reason. And that is that there is this common thinking that Islam completely forbids, outright, any figurative depictions or any depictions of holy personages. While many Islamic cultures do strongly frown on this practice, I would like to remind you there is no one, monothetic Islamic culture." According to The Oracle, Hamline's student newspaper, the professor insisted in a later email that, "I did not try to surprise students with this image."

However, one student in class that day—the president of Hamline's Muslim Student Association—took offense, complaining first to the professor, and then to school administrators. According to The Oracle, the school took swift action against the professor. On November 7, undergraduate students received an email condemning the unnamed incident as "undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic." Four days later, David Everett, Hamline's associate vice president of inclusive excellence told The Oracle that "it was decided it was best that this faculty member was no longer part of the Hamline community." The professor was an adjunct, which is what allowed the school to fire them without due process by simply declining to renew their contract.

The incident sparked outrage from free speech advocates. The Hamline administration's assertion that "respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom," was subject to particular criticism. As Amna Khalid, a history professor at Carleton College wrote of the incident in The Chronicle of Education, "Barring a professor of art history from showing this painting, lest it harm observant Muslims in class, is just as absurd as asking a biology professor not to teach evolution because it may offend evangelical Protestants in the course."

However, Hamline's status as a private university seemed to afford it protection from real consequences. While organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) have long argued that it is a contractual violation for private colleges to violate free speech and academic freedom, when they also make explicit promises of such protections to prospective students and faculty, the theory is largely legally untested. However, in this case, FIRE may have found a way to hold Hamline accountable.

On January 4, FIRE announced that it had filed a formal complaint with the Higher Learning Commission, Hamline's accreditor. The professor's "nonrenewal violates both HLC and Hamline policies clearly committing the university to free expression and its corollary, academic freedom for all faculty," wrote Alex Morey, FIRE's director of campus rights advocacy, in a letter to the accreditor.

"We gave Hamline plenty of time to reverse course, but it's clear they're not planning to deliver on their academic freedom promises," Morey added in a press release. "If Hamline won't listen to free speech advocates or faculty across the country, they'll have to listen to their accreditor."




Link to comment
Share on other sites

That school needs better legal counsel.

  • Haha 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites






A Lecturer Showed a Painting of the Prophet Muhammad. She Lost Her Job.


After an outcry over the art history class by Muslim students, Hamline University officials said the incident was Islamophobic. But many scholars say the work is a masterpiece.


Erika López Prater, an adjunct professor at Hamline University, said she knew many Muslims have deeply held religious beliefs that prohibit depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. So last semester for a global art history class, she took many precautions before showing a 14th-century painting of Islam’s founder.

In the syllabus, she warned that images of holy figures, including the Prophet Muhammad and the Buddha, would be shown in the course. She asked students to contact her with any concerns, and she said no one did.

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

Then Dr. López Prater showed the image — and lost her teaching gig.

Officials at Hamline, a small, private university in St. Paul, Minn., with about 1,800 undergraduates, had tried to douse what they feared would become a runaway fire. Instead they ended up with what they had tried to avoid: a national controversy, which pitted advocates of academic liberty and free speech against Muslims who believe that showing the image of Prophet Muhammad is always sacrilegious.

After Dr. López Prater showed the image, a senior in the class complained to the administration. Other Muslim students, not in the course, supported the student, saying the class was an attack on their religion. They demanded that officials take action.

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.” At a town hall, an invited Muslim speaker compared showing the images to teaching that Hitler was good.

ImageA round, glass building, lights on inside, on a snowy campus, with a lamp post out front.
Hamline is a small, private university with about 1,800 undergraduates.Credit...Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times
A round, glass building, lights on inside, on a snowy campus, with a lamp post out front.

Free speech supporters started their own campaign. An Islamic art historian wrote an essay defending Dr. López Prater and started a petition demanding the university’s board investigate the matter. It had more than 2,800 signatures. Free speech groups and publications issued blistering critiques; PEN America called it “one of the most egregious violations of academic freedom in recent memory.” And Muslims themselves debated whether the action was Islamophobic.

Arguments over academic freedom have been fought on campuses for years, but they can be especially fraught at small private colleges like Hamline, which are facing shrinking enrollment and growing financial pressures. To attract applicants, many of these colleges have diversified their curriculums and tried to be more welcoming to students who have been historically shut out of higher education.

Meanwhile, professors everywhere often face pushback for their academic decisions from activist students or conservative lawmakers.

Dr. López Prater’s situation was especially precarious. She is an adjunct, one of higher education’s underclass of teachers, working for little pay and receiving few of the workplace protections enjoyed by tenured faculty members.

University officials and administrators all declined interviews. But Dr. Miller, the school’s president, defended the decision in a statement.

“To look upon an image of the Prophet Muhammad, for many Muslims, is against their faith,” Dr. Miller’s statement said, adding, “It was important that our Muslim students, as well as all other students, feel safe, supported and respected both in and out of our classrooms.”

In a December interview with the school newspaper, the student who complained to the administration, Aram Wedatalla, described being blindsided by the image.

“I’m like, ‘This can’t be real,’” said Ms. Wedatalla, who in a public forum described herself as Sudanese. “As a Muslim and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them.”

Todd H. Green, who has written books about Islamophobia, said the conflict at Hamline was “tragic” because administrators pitted natural allies — those concerned about stereotypes of Muslims and Islam — against one another.

The administration, he said, “closed down conversation when they should have opened it up.”

The painting shown in Dr. López Prater’s class is in one of the earliest Islamic illustrated histories of the world, “A Compendium of Chronicles,” written during the 14th century by Rashid-al-Din (1247-1318).

Shown regularly in art history classes, the painting shows a winged and crowned Angel Gabriel pointing at the Prophet Muhammad and delivering to him the first Quranic revelation. Muslims believe that the Quran comprises the words of Allah dictated to the Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel.

The image is “a masterpiece of Persian manuscript painting,” said Christiane Gruber, a professor of Islamic art at the University of Michigan. It is housed at the University of Edinburgh; similar paintings have been on display at places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And a sculpture of the prophet is at the Supreme Court.

Dr. Gruber said that showing Islamic art and depictions of the Prophet Muhammad have become more common in academia, because of a push to “decolonize the canon” — that is, expand curriculum beyond a Western model.

Dr. Gruber, who wrote the essay in New Lines Magazine defending Dr. López Prater, said that studying Islamic art without the Compendium of Chronicles image “would be like not teaching Michaelangelo’s David.”

Yet, most Muslims believe that visual representations of Muhammad should not be viewed, even if the Quran does not explicitly prohibit them. The prohibition stems from the belief that an image of Muhammad could lead to worshiping the prophet rather than the god he served.

There are, however, a range of beliefs. Some Muslims distinguish between respectful depictions and mocking caricatures, while others do not subscribe to the restriction at all.

Christiane Gruber, wearing a light blue blazer and black pants, sits at a table, with stacks of books lining the room.
Christiane Gruber, a professor of Islamic art at the University of Michigan, said that showing Islamic art and depictions of the Prophet Muhammad have become more common in academia, because of a push to “decolonize the canon.”Credit...Bradley Secker for The New York Times
Christiane Gruber, wearing a light blue blazer and black pants, sits at a table, with stacks of books lining the room.

Omid Safi, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, said he regularly shows images of the Prophet Muhammad in class and without Dr. López Prater’s opt-out mechanisms. He explains to his students that these images were works of devotion created by pious artists at the behest of devout rulers.

“That’s the part I want my students to grapple with,” Dr. Safi said. “How does something that comes from the very middle of the tradition end up being received later on as something marginal or forbidden?”

Dr. López Prater, a self-described art nerd, said she knew about the potential for conflict on Oct. 6, when she began her online lecture with 30 or so students.

She said she spent a few minutes explaining why she was showing the image, how different religions have depicted the divine and how standards change over time.

“I do not want to present the art of Islam as something that is monolithic,” she said in an interview, adding that she had been shown the image as a graduate student. She also showed a second image, from the 16th century, which depicted Muhammad wearing a veil.

Dr. López Prater said that no one in class raised concerns, and there was no disrespectful commentary.

After the class ended, Ms. Wedatalla, a business major and president of the university’s Muslim Student Association, stuck around to voice her discomfort.

Immediately afterward, Dr. López Prater sent an email to her department head, Allison Baker, about the encounter; she thought that Ms. Wedatalla might complain.

Ms. Baker, the chair of the digital and studio art department, responded to the email four minutes later.

“It sounded like you did everything right,” Ms. Baker said. “I believe in academic freedom so you have my support.”

A man with a mustache, beard and glasses and wearing a brown shirt shown at home.
Omid Safi, a professor at Duke University, fled to the United States from Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war. He packed an image of Muhammad holding a Quran into one of the family’s few suitcases.Credit...Veasey Conway for The New York Times
A man with a mustache, beard and glasses and wearing a brown shirt shown at home.

As Dr. López Prater predicted, Ms. Wedatalla reached out to administrators. Dr. López Prater, with Ms. Baker’s help, wrote an apology, explaining that sometimes “diversity involves bringing contradicting, uncomfortable and coexisting truths into conversation with each other.”

Ms. Wedatalla declined an interview request, and did not explain why she had not raised concerns before the image was shown. But in an email statement, she said images of Prophet Muhammad should never be displayed, and that Dr. López Prater gave a trigger warning precisely because she knew such images were offensive to many Muslims. The lecture was so disturbing, she said, that she could no longer see herself in that course.

Four days after the class, Dr. López Prater was summoned to a video meeting with the dean of the college of liberal arts, Marcela Kostihova.

Dr. Kostihova compared showing the image to using a racial epithet for Black people, according to Dr. López Prater.

“It was very clear to me that she had not talked to any art historians,” Dr. López Prater said.

A couple of weeks later, the university rescinded its offer to teach next semester.

Dr. López Prater said she was ready to move on. She had teaching jobs at other schools. But on Nov. 7, David Everett, the vice president for inclusive excellence, sent an email to all university employees, saying that certain actions taken in an online class were “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.”

The administration, after meeting with the school’s Muslim Student Association, would host an open forum “on the subject of Islamophobia,” he wrote.

Dr. López Prater, who had only begun teaching at Hamline in the fall, said she felt like a bucket of ice water had been dumped over her head, but the shock soon gave way to “blistering anger at being characterized in those terms by somebody who I have never even met or spoken with.” She reached out to Dr. Gruber, who ended up writing the essay and starting the petition.

At the Dec. 8 forum, which was attended by several dozen students, faculty and administrators, Ms. Wedatalla described, often through tears, how she felt seeing the image.

“Who do I call at 8 a.m.,” she asked, when “you see someone disrespecting and offending your religion?”

Other Muslim students on the panel, all Black women, also spoke tearfully about struggling to fit in at Hamline. Students of color in recent years had protested what they called racist incidents; the university, they said, paid lip service to diversity and did not support students with institutional resources.

Jaylani Hussein stands by stairs, with a large rug behind him. He is in a blue suit, with a blue tie. He looks straight at the camera.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that showing the image had “absolutely no benefit.” Credit...Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times
Jaylani Hussein stands by stairs, with a large rug behind him. He is in a blue suit, with a blue tie. He looks straight at the camera.

The main speaker was Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.

The instructor’s actions, he said, hurt Muslim students and students of color and had “absolutely no benefit.”

“If this institution wants to value those students,” he added, “it cannot have incidents like this happen. If somebody wants to teach some controversial stuff about Islam, go teach it at the local library.”

Mark Berkson, a religion professor at Hamline, raised his hand.

“When you say ‘trust Muslims on Islamophobia,’” Dr. Berkson asked, “what does one do when the Islamic community itself is divided on an issue? Because there are many Muslim scholars and experts and art historians who do not believe that this was Islamophobic.”

Mr. Hussein responded that there were marginal and extremist voices on any issue. “You can teach a whole class about why Hitler was good,” Mr. Hussein said.

During the exchange, Ms. Baker, the department head, and Dr. Everett, the administrator, separately walked up to the religion professor, put their hands on his shoulders and said this was not the time to raise these concerns, Dr. Berkson said in an interview.

But Dr. Berkson, who said he strongly supported campus diversity, said that he felt compelled to speak up.

“We were being asked to accept, without questioning, that what our colleague did — teaching an Islamic art masterpiece in a class on art history after having given multiple warnings — was somehow equivalent to mosque vandalism and violence against Muslims and hate speech,” Dr. Berkson said. “That is what I could not stand.”

Mark Berkson, dressed in a blue sweater, stands in the middle of an empty classroom.
Mark Berkson, a religion professor at Hamline, took issue with the idea that showing the image was the equivalent of hate speech.Credit...Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times
Mark Berkson, dressed in a blue sweater, stands in the middle of an empty classroom.

In interviews, several Islamic art scholars took issue with the idea that Dr. López Prater’s intent was to disrespect the prophet, and said that it was nothing like the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that had reprinted mocking cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. That led to the deadly 2015 attack at the magazine’s offices, which the scholars also denounced.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the deputy executive director of the national chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that he did not have enough information to comment on the Hamline dispute. But while his group discourages visual depictions of the prophet, he said that there was a difference between an act that was un-Islamic and one that was Islamophobic.

“If you drink a beer in front of me, you’re doing something that is un-Islamic, but it’s not Islamophobic,” he said. “If you drink a beer in front of me because you’re deliberately trying to offend me, well then, maybe that has an intent factor.”

“Intent and circumstances matter,” he said, “especially in a university setting, where academic freedom is critical and professors often address sensitive and controversial topics.”

Dr. Safi, the Duke professor, said Hamline had effectively taken sides in a debate among Muslims. Students “don’t have to give up their values,” he added. “But some part of the educational process does call for stepping beyond each one of our vantage points enough to know that none of us have the monopoly on truth.”

Dr. Safi has his own personal image of the prophet. When he was 14, his family fled to the United States from Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war. He packed an image of Muhammad holding a Quran into one of the family’s few suitcases.

That image now hangs on his wall at home.

Graham Bowley and Mable Chan contributed reporting.


Vimal Patel is a higher education reporter for The Times, focusing on speech and campus culture. He was previously a reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education. @vimalnyt



Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 1/9/2023 at 6:33 PM, homersapien said:

I wonder if Muhammad has brown hair and blue eyes like Jesus. ;D

The single dumbest thing ever done by the western church. Been in the mission field and had to answer for that very thing.

Jesus Christ

If you can condone that likeness, you know nothing about true Christianity. Jesus was Jew, Of the Lineage of David, from the Tribe of Judah.

He was not some blonde haired-blue eyed lesson on cultural appropriation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites






Insistence that others follow one’s strict religion is authoritarian and illiberal no matter what the religion is.

Jill Filipovic

Jan 11, 2023


There’s been a viral story making the rounds over the past week about a truly egregious incident at Hamline University, a small liberal arts college in Minnesota. In a course on global art history, adjunct professor Erika López Prater showed an image of a 14th-century painting that depicted the prophet Muhammad. On the class syllabus, she noted that the course would include images of religious figures, including Buddha and Muhammad, and that students could reach out if they had concerns—none did. Before showing the image, she told students that she was going to show it, and gave them the option to opt out—none did.

And yet for showing the image, she was essentially let go.

The Hamline University story is a shocking one, and it deserves the outrage and attention it’s getting. But before we dig into what exactly happened, I’d like to note that it’s only one in a larger body of troubling moves to cater to the authoritarian impulses of religious tyrants—those who want to shut down the kind of intellectual inquiry, academic freedom, and general excellence that make universities what they are, in favor of kowtowing to religious fundamentalism.

For example: Gov. Ron DeSantis is appointing a string of reactionary anti-intellectual nut jobs to the board of trustees of New College in Florida, a publicly funded liberal arts institution; they plan to turn this venerated institution into a right-wing Christian school. (“We want to provide an alternative for conservative families in the state of Florida to say there is a public university that reflects your values,” anti-education crusader Christopher Rufo, one of the new board members, told Michelle Goldberg.) Books were banned 2,500 times in 32 states, according to PEN America—and most of these book bans were pushed by conservatives. The effort to ban books that so much as recognize the existence of LGBT people or address racism has gone international, as reactionary, often religious conservatives have been emboldened by right-wing censorship in the U.S. In North Carolina, a publicly funded charter school seeks to impart “traditional values” upon its students—which means conservative Christian values. The school requires girls to wear skirts, and seeks to teach its students “chivalry,” which its founder defines as a system in which women and girls are “regarded as a fragile vessel that men are supposed to take care of and honor.”

This is all wholly unacceptable in any academic setting. And liberals should stand up against illiberal acts, even when those acts are carried out in the name of a minority religion in the U.S.

Many American liberals are rightly sympathetic to religious minorities in our country. And certainly people should be free to believe and worship freely without fear of harassment or discrimination (assuming, of course, that the mode of worship doesn’t interfere with the lives of others). Muslims in the United States have been targeted, including by the former president; their entire religion has been smeared and slandered, and some individuals have faced discrimination and even physical violence. Liberals rightly stand against that.

But standing up for a religious minority’s right to exist, believe, and worship freely does not mean leaving all your other values at the door, and allowing the most vocal and conservative members of that minority to demand censorship or compliance with their views.

Which brings us back to Hamline University. After the professor showed the image of Muhammad—a famous painting, and necessary to any course on global art history—a Muslim student in the class complained to the administration; other students backed her up, saying that they were also offended, as a conservative but widely held interpretation of Islam bars Muslims from looking at images of Muhammad.

“As a Muslim and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them,” the student, Aram Wedatalla, said. But here’s the thing: She was shown the exact level of respect that community members typically ask of one another. I would actually argue she was shown much more respect. She was also shown much more respect than we require professors show students in the classroom. It’s what she is asking for—that images of Muhammad never be shown, and by extension that everyone else, no matter what their views or beliefs, behave according to her own conservative religious rules—that is profoundly disrespectful, authoritarian, and anti-intellectual.

Because of these complaints, the professor, an adjunct, was let go. According to the administration, her decision to show these images—despite contextualizing them, treating them respectfully, and giving students the option to opt out—was “Islamophobic,” and placed on par with hate and bias incidents. In this case, the apparently extremely delicate sensibilities of a handful of little religious tyrants (and their apparent inability to read a syllabus or listen to the professor’s words) “should have superseded academic freedom,” according to an email from the university’s president, Fayneese S. Miller.

The Miller email is truly a startling read. It honestly seems like it was written by a teenage Tumblr user who, having come into contact with some new and exciting ideas about social justice, seeks to impose them widely and lecture perceived wrongdoers gleefully. She writes that “when we harm, we should listen rather than debate the merits of or extent of that harm” and that “the classroom incident is only one of several instances in which their religious beliefs have been challenged.” (God forbid a college student have their beliefs challenged.) But this is where it goes really off the rails:

As a caring community, there are times when a healthy examination of expression is not only prudent, but necessary. This is particularly the case when we know that our expression has potential to cause harm. When that happens, we must care enough to find other ways to make our voices and viewpoints heard.

Perspectives should be informed, mindful and critical, as befits an education steeped in the tenets of a liberal arts education. We believe in academic freedom, but it should not and cannot be used to excuse away behavior that harms others.

I realize I sound like a crotchety old conservative here, but college classrooms should not be “safe spaces.” They can’t be safe spaces. They should be respectful spaces, and professors and students alike should treat each other with consideration, but “cause no emotional harm” is not, in fact, a value to which academic institutions should aspire, or an ideal they can ever realistically reach—especially when “this is harmful” has become an easy cudgel to use in order to get one’s way.

That email was egregious enough, but illiberal behavior, and the coddling of reactionary religious demands, didn’t stop there. What’s different about this case, though, is that those demands cloaked themselves in the language of social justice and progressive values. Showing the image was “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic,” wrote David Everett, the vice president for inclusive excellence, who also deemed the professor’s actions “unacceptable” and spelled out a plan to deal with “bias and hate incidents.” To help repair the apparent Islamophobia of showing a Persian masterpiece made by a Muslim for Muslim audiences in class only to students who consented to seeing it, the university would co-host a forum on Islamophobia with the Muslim Student Association.

At that forum, the primary speaker was invited from off campus: Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Hussein, who as far as I know is not an art historian, declared that there was “absolutely no benefit” to the professor showing an image of one of the most famous pieces of Islamic art in a global art history class. The image, he said, was “blasphemy.”

“If this institution wants to value those students,” he said, “it cannot have incidents like this happen. If somebody wants to teach some controversial stuff about Islam, go teach it at the local library.”

I … am not totally sure where to start here, except to say that college absolutely should “teach some controversial stuff” about Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and literally anything else. When I was in college, my art history professor showed us Piss ChristThe Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili (a Black Virgin Mary affixed with elephant dung and cutouts from porn mags), and this Robert Mapplethorpe image, which is about as explicit as it gets. (Don’t click that at work or in front of kids, or at least know: It goes right to the image.) Part of the lesson was about art causing controversy—both of those images prompted wholesale conservative Christian freakouts, including efforts to defund the National Endowment for the Arts. And liberals, for the most part, were on the side of artistic freedom and expression, rightly pointing out the censoriousness of those who sought to have this art go unmade and un-viewed because they found it offensive.

As far as I know, no one in my art history class whined to the administration that they felt unsafe in the classroom because of blasphemous art. And if they had, I do not think many students would have sided with them.

In college we also read parts of the Bible and the Quran, both texts that one religion or another finds blasphemous. In law school, I took a course on feminist interpretations of Islamic law, which many Muslims surely find blasphemous. This is a good thing; this is one of the reasons the academy exists. (Also, there is no dumber crime or complaint than blasphemy; any all-powerful God can certainly handle her own business and hopefully has pretty thick skin by now.)

Take Islam out of it and similar examples make these values clear. When an Orthodox newspaper in New York photoshopped Hillary Clinton out of a famous photograph of Barack Obama and his staff watching the Navy SEALs raid that killed Osama bin Laden, there was widespread outrage. If an Orthodox Jewish student complained about seeing images of women in art history class and demanded that professors who show images of women be terminated, would we be particularly sympathetic, even if he said we were “disrespecting and offending” his religion? What if a Christian fundamentalist student objected to the teaching of evolution because it contradicted her belief in biblical literalism? What if a Hindu student demanded that the cafeteria be fully vegetarian because meat-eating offended his religious views?

That is what is happening here. The student isn’t saying “I should have the option to not view these images.” She had that option. She is saying “No one should have the option to view these images, because they offend my particular religious beliefs.” Sorry, but no.

And yet, still, it gets worse.

College is about inquiry and ideas and testing boundaries; I bet a lot of us held views at 19 years old that we no longer hold now. If, like me, you were a young progressive person recently armed with the revelatory language of social justice, you probably did a lot of “calling out” and social justice showboating in college. (I sure did, and boy was I obnoxious.) But the adults in the room are supposed to be the bulwarks, who engage and listen and reflect but don’t immediately cave to the most asinine of student demands.

Here, most of the adults seem to have caved. For example: Nur Mood, assistant director of Social Justice Programs and Strategic Relations at Hamline, told the student newspaper, “This [incident is] much deeper and it’s something that in a million years, I never expected that it would happen here at Hamline. I hope this is the last time I see something similar to this.”

Not everyone lined up and agreed that being accused of blasphemy should be cause for losing one’s job in the 21st century. Professor Mark Berkson, the chair of Hamline’s religious studies department, wrote an essay for the Hamline student newspaper, which is called the Oracle, defending the professor and asking what, exactly, is Islamophobic about showing a great masterpiece of Islamic art. The Oracle published the essay, but then pulled it. They then published a staff editorial on “Journalism, minimizing harm, and trauma,” which honestly makes me pretty worried about the future of journalism. “Those in our community have expressed that a letter we published has caused them harm,” the editorial says. “We have decided, as an editorial board, to take it down.” The newspaper “will not participate in conversations where a person must defend their lived experience and trauma as topics of discussion or debate.” They continued: “It is not a publication’s job to challenge or define sensitive experiences or trauma. If and when situations arise where these stories are shared, it is our responsibility to listen to and carry them in the most supportive, respectful, safe and beneficial way for the story’s stakeholders and our readers.”

The thing is, though, it is absolutely a publication’s job to tell the whole of a story, even if that story involves someone who said they were harmed or traumatized, and even when that person doesn’t like arguments against their requested reprisal for that harm. The kind of argument put forward by the Oracle (and, more troublingly, by the university’s president) is that any claim of harm or trauma should simply have the power to shut down all conversation or inquiry. And it’s a particularly powerful and insidious argument, especially coming, as it often does, not only after a stand-alone claim of harm, but after a demand that said harm result in a penalty for the person who did the allegedly harmful thing. It positions disagreeing with both a claim and a demand for action as perpetuating that harm. There is no way to respond other than to say, “Yes, you’re right. I am listening.”

But people are human. We are often venal, selfish, stupid, power-hungry, and dishonest. And even if a person is being entirely genuine, giving any claim of any harm the total power to shut down inquiry and conversation, and the total power to allow the claimant to set the terms of recompense is a very, very bad and destructive idea.

This isn’t a right-wing “**** your feelings” argument. It is instead an argument that feelings are not the sum total of reality, nor worthy of universal deference.

We are in a particular cultural moment in which claims of harm and trauma are being taken much more seriously than ever before, especially within liberal and progressive institutions. For the most part, this is a good thing. But there has also been more than a bit of overcorrection. It has become clear that claims of harm and trauma can be used to demand change—to get someone fired, to make someone a social pariah, even to put someone in jail. That isn’t always bad—there are plenty of people who fully deserve to be fired, or be pariahs, or go to jail for their bad acts. But it’s not the claim of harm and trauma in and of itself that justifies punishment; it’s the whole story, the context, the actual wrongdoing, and not just the feelings of the person who says they were wronged. We do have to ask: Was this a reasonable act? Is this a reasonable response? Should the person accused of doing harm be penalized, and if so, how?

Unfortunately, the party line at Hamline seems to be that asking those questions—questions that are integral and necessary for truth-finding and anything resembling justice—is itself a harmful act. Allowing any claim of harm to be both unchallenged and a catalyst for punishment quite simply puts far too much power in the hands of potential bad actors—or even good people with silly or bad ideas, who just get too far over their skis.

And yet even after this story broke, the administration appeared to double down.

“To look upon an image of the Prophet Muhammad, for many Muslims, is against their faith,” reads a statement from Miller. “It was important that our Muslim students, as well as all other students, feel safe, supported and respected both in and out of our classrooms.”

That’s true. But you don’t show someone respect by treating them like a fragile little thing that might shatter if they have to live in the world, surrounded by people with different views and beliefs.

This incident is making headlines because conservatives have latched onto it as another example of left-wing “cancel culture.” But how a conservative interpretation of Islam that gets a sensitive and thoughtful art history lecturer fired is “left-wing” is beyond me. It is true, though, that many people on the left have stayed quiet about this one, because, well, one doesn’t want to aid a perceived enemy, and perhaps because we want to be sensitive to Muslims who are undeniably often mistreated in the United States.

But standing up not just for academic freedom but for freedom from religious domination in what should be secular spaces is a core liberal value. That the religious value imposed and used to punish is one that comes from a religion that is in this country a minority shouldn’t actually make a difference here.




  • Love 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I realize I sound like a crotchety old conservative here, but college classrooms should not be “safe spaces.” They can’t be safe spaces. They should be respectful spaces, and professors and students alike should treat each other with consideration, but “cause no emotional harm” is not, in fact, a value to which academic institutions should aspire, or an ideal they can ever realistically reach—especially when “this is harmful” has become an easy cudgel to use in order to get one’s way. "


Well, this "crotchety old liberal"  agrees with this essay 100%.

The actions of these administrative officials at Hamlin University were intellectually abhorrent.  And the irony is their actions were as illiberal as you can get.

The fact they doubled down only amplifies the idiocy - a complete embarrassment to the University.  :no:



Edited by homersapien
  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites






Former instructor who showed image of Prophet Muhammad in class suing Hamline University



Morgan Reddekopp KSTP
January 17, 2023 - 8:36 PM


A former art history instructor at Hamline University is now filing a religious discrimination and defamation lawsuit against the school.

The university chose not to renew the contract of adjunct professor Erika López Prater after she showed a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad during class, sparking a national debate over academic freedom.

López Prater was scheduled to teach a class at Hamline University in the spring, but the university backpedaled on its decision following outrage after the incident. Many Muslims see showing the image of the Prophet Muhammad as sacrilegious.

Some local Muslim leaders have come forward in support of the University’s decision.

“Islamophobia takes in many forms,” CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein said in a news conference last week. “It’s important to remember that academic freedom is not absolute and universities have the right to restrict speech that promotes hate or discrimination.”

However, the national Muslim Public Affairs Council has asked the University to reverse its decision.

“The painting was not Islamophobic,” the council said. “In fact, it was commissioned by a fourteenth-century Muslim king in order to honor the Prophet. … Additionally, misusing the label ‘Islamophobia’ has the negative effect of watering down the term and rendering it less effective in calling out actual acts of bigotry.”

RELATED: Hamline University under fire for art professor’s dismissal

The complaint, which law firm Fabian May & Anderson, PLLP said will soon be filed in Ramsey County District Court, alleges that the accusations of Islamophobia will follow López Prater throughout her career, which could potentially result in her not being able to get a tenure position at another college or university.

According to the complaint, López Prater told students in her syllabus that the class would discuss art containing images of various religious personages and iconography, including Christ, the Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad. She gave students the option to miss class for religious observance and offered ways to make up the work missed, according to the complaint.

Neither the university nor Allison Baker, the chair of Hamline’s Art and Digital Media Department, suggested changes to the syllabus or expressed concern about showing the image of the Prophet Muhammad, according to the complaint.

No students came to López Prater raising concerns about any religious imagery that would be shown in class, according to the complaint. The complaint also states that she warned students verbally before displaying the image.

A Muslim student stayed after class to speak with López Prater.

“By her statements and actions, [the student] wanted to impose her specific religious views on López Prater, non-Muslim students, and Muslim students who did not object to images for the Prophet Muhammad — a privilege granted to no other religion or religious belief at Hamline,” the complaint said.

After the conversation, López Prater emailed Baker to explain what happened and according to the complaint, Baker responded, “I’m sorry that happened and it sounded like you did everything right. I believe in academic freedom so you have my support but thank you for the heads up.”

The next day, López Prater got word that the student had made a complaint to the college’s Dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

The dean of the school’s College of Liberal Arts, Marcela Kostihova, told López Prater that there had been a large outcry within the Muslim Student Association and that Muslim staff were threatening to resign, the complaint said.

“In their second conversation, López Prater expressed concern to Kostihova about the issue getting out of hand and the damage it may cause to her career,” the complaint says. “López Prater explained that excluding these Muslim paintings of the Prophet Muhammad would be discriminatory, in that it would privilege the religious views of Muslims who forbid depictions of Muhammad over the historical record and people of other religious views, including Muslims, who do not hold that such images are forbidden.”

The complaint states that López Prater apologized in front of the class and offered to meet with students to discuss the matter further.

Dr. López Prater then states she was defamed in an email to the entire campus from Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence David Everett. The email states:

“Several weeks ago, Hamline administration was made aware of an incident that occurred in an online class. Certain actions taken in that class were undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic. While the intent behind those actions may not have been to cause harm, it came at the expense of Hamline’s Muslim community members. While much work has been done to address the issue in question since it occurred, the act itself was unacceptable.

“I want to make clear: isolated incidents such as we have seen define neither Hamline nor its ethos. They clearly do not meet community standards or expectations for behavior. We will utilize all means at our disposal, up to and including the conduct process, to ensure the emotional health, security and well-being of all members of our community.”

While Everett’s email didn’t name López Prater, the complaint states that it was obvious that she was the target of the email and “Anyone with a little time and interest could easily discover that Everett was referring to López Prater.”


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...