An AAUP report released today concludes that the administration of Hamline University violated the academic freedom of Professor Erika López Prater after a student complained of having been offended by her presentation of two images of the Prophet Muhammad during an online session of her art history class in October. An AAUP committee of inquiry found that Professor López Prater’s decision to display the historical images was not only justifiable and appropriate on both scholarly and pedagogical grounds but also protected by academic freedom.
Read the full report.
Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that the Hamline administration rescinded its informal offer to assign Professor López Prater another course the following semester solely because she had displayed the images, thus violating her academic freedom as a teacher. Two weeks prior to the class meeting in question, the department chair had written, “My students in your class have said nothing but wonderful things, so we would really love to have you back in the Spring!” After the class meeting and subsequent complaint, the chair withdrew the offer and a Hamline administrator emailed all university employees calling Professor López Prater’s presentation of the images “inconsiderate, disrespectful, and Islamophobic.” In an interview with the student newspaper while the university was still in session and Professor López Prater was still teaching, the same administrator stated, “In [view] of this incident, it was decided it was best that this faculty member was no longer part of the Hamline community.”
Neither the administration nor Professor López Prater’s department chair provided a legitimate academic rationale for declining to offer her any further teaching assignments. Hamline’s administration also failed to initiate any formal or substantial investigation of the student complaint; nor did it afford Professor López Prater a meaningful opportunity to respond to the accusations made against her.
The AAUP will continue to closely monitor developments related to academic freedom at Hamline University, among the most welcome of which would be a renewed offer of a teaching appointment to Professor López Prater.