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FIRE files accreditor complaint over Minnesota art history professor fired for showing Muhammad painting 

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SAINT PAUL, Minn., Jan. 4, 2023  —  Amid Hamline University’s refusal to correct its decision to fire a professor for showing students a painting of the Islamic prophet Muhammad during an art history course, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression filed a formal complaint with Hamline’s accreditor. The complaint cites the liberal arts university’s failure to abide by a Higher Learning Commission mandate that accredited institutions provide faculty academic freedom.

FIRE’s filing comes as the university continues to defend its widely condemned dismissal of the adjunct art history professor who displayed a medieval painting of the prophet Muhammad during a class discussion of Islamic art. As FIRE pointed out to the university in a Dec. 27 letter, the nonrenewal violates Hamline’s strong academic freedom policy which gives faculty the right to examine “all ideas, some of which will potentially be unpopular and unsettling.”

“Hamline has no right to dismiss an art history instructor for teaching art history,” said FIRE Program Officer Sabrina Conza. “Hamline clearly doesn’t understand what academic freedom means, even though it explicitly promises faculty this core right.”

TAKE ACTION: TELL HAMLINE TO REINSTATE THE INSTRUCTOR

In December, Hamline announced that its nonrenewal of the professor followed a Muslim student’s complaint about the classroom content, saying “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.” (Some Muslims believe images of Muhammad are offensive.) 

Several free speech advocacy organizations, including FIRE, PEN America, and the Academic Freedom Alliance urged the university to reinstate the instructor. 

FIRE’s Dec. 27 letter reminded the university that academic freedom requires schools to let faculty members — not administrators or students — decide what materials to teach and how to teach them. Although Hamline is a private university not bound by the First Amendment, the administration is required to respect its own binding commitments to academic freedom. 

Hamline’s actions also created an impermissible chilling effect among faculty, who may choose to censor their teaching rather than face punishment. This is particularly so for adjunct faculty like this instructor, who do not enjoy the same due process protections as tenured faculty. 

On Tuesday, FIRE began collecting signatures on a faculty letter of support for the instructor, which has garnered more than 100 signatures from faculty members around the world. 

Today’s accreditation complaint asks the Higher Learning Commission to hold Hamline accountable. 

“We gave Hamline plenty of time to reverse course, but it’s clear they’re not planning to deliver on their academic freedom promises,” said FIRE attorney Alex Morey, who authored the complaint. “If Hamline won’t listen to free speech advocates or faculty across the country, they’ll have to listen to their accreditor.”

The university should also hear from you. Join us in calling on Hamline to live up to its promises by immediately reinstating the art history instructor and recommitting to academic freedom for all faculty:

 

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE recognizes that colleges and universities play a vital role in preserving free thought within a free society. To this end, we place a special emphasis on defending the individual rights of students and faculty members on our nation’s campuses, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience. 

CONTACT
Katie Kortepeter, Communications Campaign Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org

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