University President Resigns After Controversy Erupts Over Purported Images of Prophet Muhammad

by Xara Aziz
Courtesy: Hamline University

Dr. Fayneese S. Miller, the first Black woman president at Hamline University has announced she is retiring from her role after coming under fire for her treatment of a professor who showed images of Prophet Muhammad.

The leader of the Minnesota school had originally supported the university’s decision to not reappoint the lecturer who was known to show students images of the Islamic prophet, which stirred debates about academic freedom and Islamophobia.

In many Islamic circles, images of Prophet Muhammad are considered to be forms of idolatry, which is condemned as worship of a cult image or idol.

On Monday, the school’s administration sent an email to its students, faculty and staff announcing Dr. Miller would be stepping down.

In the message, the chairwoman of the university’s board of trustees called Dr. Miller an “innovative and transformational” and is “forever grateful for Dr. Miller’s tireless and dedicated service,” Ellen Watters said. The university will conduct a search for a successor in the coming months.

Before Dr. Miller’s resignation announcement, an overwhelming number of the university’s faculty backed a statement, which read that they “no longer have faith in President Miller’s ability to lead the university forward,” adding that the school’s inability to handle the controversy behind the purported images of Prophet Muhammad did “great harm” to the university.

“We affirm both academic freedom and our responsibility to foster an inclusive learning community,” the statement said. “Importantly, these values neither contradict nor supersede each other.”

Meanwhile, Erika López Prater, the lecturer behind the controversy, sued the university’s board for defamation and religious discrimination. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, accuses the university of damaging her professional reputation and future job prospects.

“Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” reads a statement signed by Dr. Miller and the university’s board chair. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed.”

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