Hamline University is going through some things. After terminating an instructor of art history for showing a class artwork that offended some Muslim students, numerous scholars and advocacy groups have denounced the university’s actions as a serious affront to academic freedom. FIRE has gone further an filed a complaint with an accreditation agency.
Part of what made the case particularly remarkable was the unusual degree of clarity about their priorities from the university leadership. Usually university presidents try not to be so explicit about what they are doing when they ride roughshod over academic freedom. But Hamline’s president tells you how things are:
Our response to the classroom event does not disregard or minimize the importance of academic freedom. It does state that respect, decency, and appreciation of religious and other differences should supersede when we know that what we teach will cause harm.
Having now heard from academic freedom experts, the president of the Hamline University followed up with another email to the campus community reaffirming that student sensitivities trump academic freedom at Hamline.
“As has been reported, this past semester an adjunct instructor displayed images of the prophet Muhammad. 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,” she said in a prepared statement included in the email.
“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. As we have stated, in the immediate aftermath of students’ expressed concerns, the University’s initial response and actions were to address our students’ concerns. And, contrary to what has been reported and become the story, it is important that this aspect be reported. It is also important that we clarify that the adjunct instructor was teaching for the first time at Hamline, received an appointment letter for the fall semester, and taught the course until the end of the term,” her statement continued.
The board of trustees at Hamline will have to weigh in on whether or not Hamline is a serious university.