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Hamline Faculty vote 71-12 to urge president to step down after academic freedom scandal

Hamline University President Fayneese Miller

Hamline University President Fayneese Miller is being asked to resign over her handling of the dismissal of an art history professor who showed an image of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

Faculty at Hamline University voted Monday to ask President Fayneese Miller to step down after the president’s failure to support art history instructor Erika López Prater’s academic freedom rights. 

Hamline  chose not to renew Prater’s contract after a student complained that Prater had shown artwork depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad in her art history class. Not only did Miller choose to violate Prater’s right to academic freedom, but she also stood by that decision even after receiving a private letter from FIRE, coverage from media outlets like The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education, an open faculty letter with more than 400 signatures from professors across the country, and over 1,800 emails sent by private individuals asking for Prater’s reinstatement. 

Hamline mobile billboard

FIRE targets art censorship with mobile billboards at Hamline University

Press Release

Today, FIRE kicks off a two-day mobile billboard campaign in Saint Paul, Minn., that will circle the campus of Hamline University on the opening days of the spring semester.

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Only after Prater sued the university did Hamline walk back Miller’s original statement that claimed academic freedom was subject to the “dictates of society.” At that point, Miller and Ellen Watters, the chair of the university’s board of trustees, said, “It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not ‘supersede’ academic freedom, the two coexist.”  

But Hamline faculty have had enough. Full-time faculty voted 71 to 12 in favor of asking Miller to step down from her role as Hamline’s president. The president of the faculty council, Jim Scheibel, explained their reasoning: “The sentiment was that President Miller is not the person right now to bring us back to where we were with our reputation.” 

The faculty council expressed disagreement with Miller’s previous claims placing the well-being of students in conflict with academic freedom. The faculty statement reads, “We affirm both academic freedom and our responsibility to foster an inclusive learning community. Importantly, these values neither contradict nor supersede each other.”

Hamline’s faculty have spoken: They want a college president who will unequivocally support their right to academic freedom. FIRE will continue to report on the developments of this case and urge Hamline to reinstate Prater to show it is committed to academic freedom in practice.

FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734).

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