AFA Sends Letter to Hamline University Over Dismissal of Professor

Jan 3, 2023 | Press Release

AFA Sends Letter to Hamline University Over Dismissal of Professor

Professor fired for showing medieval painting of Muhammad in session on Islamic art

PRINCETON, NJ – The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) today sent a letter to Hamline University regarding its handling of complaints involving a class on the global history of art. During a class session on Islamic art, an instructor showed an image of a well-known medieval Islamic painting of the Prophet Muhammad. The professor reportedly took care to give a “content warning” during the virtual class and provided students an opportunity to turn off their own video feed to avoid viewing the image. Nonetheless, Hamline University denounced and ultimately dismissed the professor without due process. 

“I write on behalf of the Academic Freedom Alliance to express our firm view that the university’s action in dismissing the instructor in charge of the course is an egregious violation of academic freedom,” wrote the AFA’s Keith Whittington in the letter. “Hamline University’s actions in this matter go to the very heart of the academic and scholarly enterprise. If a professor of art history cannot show college students significant works of art for fear that offended students or members of the community could get that professor fired for doing so, then there simply is no serious commitment to academic freedom at that institution – and indeed no serious commitment to higher education.”

The letter continued, “The Academic Freedom Alliance stands firmly behind this instructor in this matter and calls on Hamline University to adhere to its academic principles and to immediately and without prejudice reinstate the instructor. Unfortunately, by your actions in this matter you have severely damaged the intellectual climate at Hamline University and told every scholar who sets foot on your campus that free and open inquiry is circumscribed by the sensibilities and sensitivities of the students.”

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    The Academic Freedom Alliance is a diverse alliance of college and university faculty members who are dedicated to upholding the principles of academic freedom and professorial free speech. These principles are central to the mission of our institutions of higher education for the pursuit of truth and knowledge. The AFA is committed to defending universal principles of academic freedom and will come to the assistance of professors regardless of their individual views. As always, the AFA is not concerned with the substance or merits of a professor’s ideas but with the principle that universities should be places that tolerate controversial ideas and allow free inquiry and debate, not public opinion or political pressure, to separate error from truth.

    Learn More About the Academic Freedom Alliance

    No one, at any academic institution, should fear suppression or retaliation for speaking out publicly in any form. We encourage you to join the movement in supporting the flourishing of intellectual life and the pursuit of knowledge and truth at institutions of higher learning.