Report Finds Hamline Violated Academic Freedom

A new report 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 Professor López Prater’s presentation of two images of the Prophet Muhammad during an online session of her art history class in October 2022. The AAUP’s committee of inquiry also 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.

Two weeks prior to the class meeting in question, the department chair had asked Professor López Prater about her interest in teaching a course in the spring 2023 semester, writing “My students in your class have said nothing but wonderful things, so we would really love to have you back in the Spring!” Two weeks after the class meeting and subsequent complaint, the chair wrote her stating, “As a department we need to make a spring semester change and will no longer be able to offer the contemporary art history class online as we had previously discussed.”

At the beginning of November, Hamline’s vice president for inclusive excellence emailed all university employees calling Professor López Prater’s presentation of the two images “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful, and Islamophobic.” Four days later, in an interview with the student newspaper, he stated, “In [view] of this incident, it was decided it was best that this faculty member was no longer part of the Hamline community.” The university was still in session, however, and Professor López Prater was still teaching.

The AAUP’s report states that circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that the Hamline administration rescinded the informal offer to assign Professor López Prater another art history course in spring 2023 solely because she had displayed the images, thus violating her academic freedom as a teacher. The committee of inquiry further concluded that 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 against Professor López Prater; nor did it afford her a meaningful opportunity to respond to the accusations made against her.

The committee’s report concludes by recommending that 1) the board of trustees formally endorse the principles articulated in a January 24 resolution by Hamline’s faculty and 2) the AAUP “closely monitor developments” at the university, “among the most welcome” of which would be a renewed offer of a teaching appointment to Professor López Prater. 

The full report is available here.

Publication Date: 
Monday, May 22, 2023