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Published July 21, 2024

Inquiry into Hamline University for dismissal of professor

The American Association of University Professors announced an inquiry and investigation into the University’s actions and academic freedom.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), an association devoted to academic freedom and defining standards for practices in higher education, launched an inquiry into Hamline University on Wednesday after a professor was dismissed for displaying a 14th-century depiction of the Prophet Muhammed in class

The decision by Hamline University was made following several student complaints after the depiction in Erika López Prater’s Islamic art class last semester. 

Many Muslims hold the religious belief that showing depictions of the Prophet Muhammed is prohibited. López Prater issued a warning in the course syllabus and at the beginning of class that the image would be shown and students could leave if they felt uncomfortable. The painting has been commonly shown in art history classes in the past.

Hamline administration announced that “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.” López Prater’s dismissal was not a firing because she was an adjunct instructor, so she was not re-hired for the spring semester.

AAUP President Irene Mulvaney issued a statement on Jan. 6 calling for López Prater’s reinstatement. 

López Prater’s teaching status raises several questions regarding academic freedom, considering Hamline has issued a statement asserting they “strongly support academic freedom” and that “faculty have the right to choose what and how they teach.” 

In early February, the AAUP intends to send a committee of inquiry to discuss the situation of academic freedom at Hamline. 

Hamline University did not respond to the Minnesota Daily’s request for comment. 

The University of Minnesota continues to address issues of academic freedom, most recently through the passing of the Academic Freedom and Tenure (AF&T) resolution that called for the creation of a task force to gather information, create a report and make recommendations to ensure academic freedom for term faculty. 

Currently at the University, faculty in non-tenurable positions, such as adjunct and term faculty, are not protected against removal or censorship based on political or religious beliefs

López Prater’s dismissal highlights the vulnerability of a large portion of the teaching faculty to administrative whims and student complaints, Mulvaney said in a statement. It also has a “chilling effect” on other faculty members, who might be less likely to teach the way they want out of fear, she said. 

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