ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Representatives of several student groups at a Minnesota college that dismissed an adjunct art instructor for showing an image of the Prophet Muhammad to her class say they do not want the school’s embattled president to resign.
In a letter published Wednesday in The Oracle, the student news site at Hamline University in St. Paul, the students said they strongly support President Fayneese Miller.
On Tuesday, Hamline’s faculty leaders called overwhelmingly for Miller to resign, saying Miller’s dismissal of the instructor violated violated academic freedom and harmed the university’s reputation.
Erika López Prater showed the 14th century painting of the Prophet Muhammad to her students as part of a lesson on Islamic art after warning them beforehand and giving them an opportunity to opt out. She has sued the private liberal arts school over Miller’s decision not to renew her contract.
In their letter, the students said their voices have been ignored during the controversy over Miller’s response to a complaint from a Muslim student that seeing images of the Prophet Muhammad violated her religious beliefs.
The letter said Miller has been a consistent supporter of students, and the faculty’s call for her resign betrayed them. They also suggested that some faculty members were using the event to find a scapegoat for more significant institutional structural issues, such as racism, sexism and faculty discontent.
“The process and vote to urge President Miller to resign now reflects poorly upon the faculty and the university as a whole, and as members of Hamline University, we stand with President Miller,” the letter said. “We ask the Board of Trustees and the faculty of this institution to listen to what we have to say.”
The letter was signed by 13 students, including members of the Hamline Undergraduate Student Congress, the Diversity Initiatives Steering Committee and the Muslim Student Association.
Faculty leaders said 71 of 92 faculty members who attended a meeting Tuesday voted to seek Miller’s resignation.
Miller conceded last week that she had mishandled the situation, particularly in calling Lopez Prater’s showing of the image “Islamophobic.”
In a letter published Thursday in the Oracle, Miller said the concept of academic freedom is central to Hamline’s mission.
“Supporting our students and honoring our mission requires both listening to the concerns of all members of our community and working collaboratively to uphold our values,” she wrote. “I believe we can do both.”
López Prater said in her lawsuit that she warned her students ahead of time and on the day the images were shown because she knew that many Muslims consider visual depictions of the Prophet Muhammad to be a violation of their faith.
She said the school had subjected her to to religious discrimination and defamation, and damaged her professional and personal reputation.
While leaders of some local Muslim groups criticized López Prater, the national office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said instructors who analyze images of the Prophet Muhammad for academic purposes are not the same as “Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense.”