Hamline Takes Quashing Academic Freedom to a Whole New Level

The Prophet Muhammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. Miniature illustration on vellum from the book Jami' at-Tawarikh, by Rashid al-Din, Tabriz, Persia, 1307, now in the collection of the Edinburgh University Library, Scotland. (Photo by: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group/Getty Images.)

In an extremely competitive field, Hamline University is making a bold bid to be the new standard-bearer for universities willing to cast aside principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech. What really sets Hamline apart is the degree to which the university is sacrificing its core academic mission for the sake of political correctness and the willingness of the university president to be so explicit about what she is doing.

Hamline is a private liberal arts college in Minnesota. During the fall semester of 2022, an adjunct instructor for an undergraduate class in global art history showed the students a famed medieval work of Persian art. The painting depicts the Prophet Mohammed receiving the revelation of the Quran from the Angel Gabriel. The class session was virtual and recorded. Given that many Muslims believe that creating or viewing images of Mohammed is forbidden, the instructor spent some time explaining the works about to be shown and gave students an opportunity to turn off their video. Nonetheless, a student in the class also happened to be the president of the Muslim Student Association, and she complained, “I’m like, ‘this can’t be real. As a Muslim, and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community  where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them.”

The campus bureaucracy rushed into action. David Everett, the associate vice president for inclusive excellence, explained to the campus, “Certain actions taken in that class were undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” Not satisfied with that, university president Fayneese S. Miller and Everett sent a joint email to students declaring, “We believe in academic freedom, but it should not and cannot be used to excuse away behavior that harms others.” Ultimately “respect, decency, and appreciation of religious and other differences should supersede” academic freedom. The offended students were reassured that the art history instructor, who has not been named, had been terminated. Over the weekend, the president followed up with another email emphasizing that the highest priority on Hamline’s campus is that “our Muslim students, as well as all other students, feel safe, supported, and respected both in and out of our classrooms.”

There is no evidence or even accusation that the instructor behaved in a manner that was intemperate, unprofessional, or incompetent. There is no suggestion that the instructional material used in the class was not relevant to the subject matter or is not important to the global history of art. The instructor emphasized to students that “I am showing you this image for a reason. … I would like to remind you there is no one, monothetic Islamic culture.” Everett,  the “inclusive excellence” vice president, responded by accusing the instructor of “Islamophobia.” As another member of the Muslim Student Association noted, “Hamline teaches us it doesn’t matter the intent, the impact is what matters.” No doubt the student is accurately reporting the message Hamline has been sending to its students.

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