Complaint filed with Hamline’s accreditor after professor’s dismissal over art depicting Prophet Muhammad – Twin Cities

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A free-speech advocacy group has filed a complaint with Hamline University’s accrediting agency over the school’s dismissal of an adjunct professor who presented students with art depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, says Hamline’s decision violates the Higher Learning Commission’s integrity standard, which says accredited institutions must be “committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression in the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning.”

“Accrediting agencies like HLC are often the last line of defense for faculty members’ expressive freedoms, particularly adjuncts who lack tenure protection and the resources to challenge such decisions,” Alex Morey, FIRE’s director of campus rights advocacy, wrote to the commission this week.

“HLC’s Standard 2.D. is one of the strongest protections for student and faculty expression at private institutions in the United States, and FIRE urges HLC to hold Hamline accountable for violating this laudable standard,” he added.

As reported last month by the student newspaper The Oracle, the professor gave students a content warning during an October online session of an art history class before showing two ancient works depicting the Prophet.

Such depictions are offensive to many Muslims, including at least one student who complained about it afterward.

Hamline administrators later described the professor’s decision as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic,” and told The Oracle that the professor would not teach at Hamline again.

That decision has sparked a backlash among academics and free speech advocates across the country.

Fayneese S. Miller (Courtesy of Hamline University)

In an email to faculty, staff, students and trustees, Hamline President Fayneese Miller on Saturday defended the decision to cut ties with the professor – who was teaching at Hamline for the first time – after the fall semester.

She wrote, in part:

“Students do not relinquish their faith in the classroom. To look upon an image of the prophet Muhammad, for many Muslims, is against their faith. Questions about how best to discuss Islamic art have been raised by many academics and is certainly an issue worthy of debate and discussion.

“For those of us who have been entrusted with the responsibility of educating the next generation of leaders and engaged citizens, 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.”

Miller also wrote that following news coverage of the incident, “some of you have received violent anti-Islamic statements targeting our community,” and she urged people to report any threats to the university.

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