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Hamline Administrators Won't Let the Academic Freedom Controversy Die

More than three months after an art-history lecturer at Hamline University showed a painting of the Prophet Muhammad in an online class, spurring controversy on her campus and across the country, the furor has only grown. Academic-freedom groups, scholars, pundits, and many others have opined publicly on the saga.

Another group joined the conversation on Friday. Hamline administrators, who have previously shared information mostly through written statements, granted an interview to The Chronicle. In it they defended their handling of the controversy, in which Erika López Prater, the lecturer, saw her contract go unrenewed after the course ended.

Many academics and academic-freedom groups have criticized Hamline leaders for their treatment of López Prater, and for statements the institution’s president, Fayneese S. Miller, has made about the need to balance academic freedom with concerns for student safety and well-being. PEN America called it “one of the most egregious violations of academic freedom in recent memory.” Meanwhile, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has applauded the university.

Hamline administrators told The Chronicle on Friday that what happened in the art-history class, and their view of teaching depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, had been inaccurately reported.

But their comments raised more questions about the series of events that continues to roil the small campus.

In early October, López Prater showed two artistic depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, dating to the 14th and 16th centuries, in an online session of a class on global art history. Knowing that many Muslim people object to any visual representation of the Prophet, López Prater has said she included a warning about the images both on the course syllabus and orally in the class itself before showing the pictures.

“In my syllabus, I did note that I would be showing both representational and nonrepresentational images of holy figures such as the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ and the Buddha,” she said in a recent online panel. “And during my class, I did give my students a heads-up that I was about to show an image of the Prophet Muhammad.”

But Marcela Kostihova, dean of Hamline’s College of Liberal Arts, said on Friday that was not true. “The images were already on screen from the moment that the lecture began,” she said in a video call with The Chronicle.

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education