Academic Freedom vs. Rights of Muslim Students

An instructor at Hamline U showed an image of Muhammad in an art history class. The president criticized the instructor for doing so. Another professor, who tried to explain the situation with an essay in the student paper, had his piece removed.

Scott Jaschik

January 3, 2023

This fall, an instructor at Hamline University, in Minnesota, was teaching global art history. For one class, the instructor (who has not been named) was discussing Islamic art and included for a brief period (under 10 minutes) a screen image of Muhammad, the founder and prophet of the Muslim faith. The instructor had warned students of her plan.

The image (above) shows Muhammad receiving instruction from the angel Gabriel. The original painting is in a collection at Edinburgh University Library in Scotland.

The reaction to the lesson surprised the instructor and many others. One or more students complained about the image, believing (as many, but not all, Muslims believe) that showing the image was wrong.

MOST POPULAR

“We have learned, over many years, that knowledge can be shared in a multitude of responsible, thoughtful and respectful ways. Our response to the classroom event does not disregard or minimize the importance of academic freedom. It does state that respect, decency, and appreciation of religious and other differences should supersede when we know that what we teach will cause harm,” Fayneese Miller, the university’s president, and David Everett, associate vice president for inclusive excellence, wrote in a letter to the campus on Dec. 9, which was confirmed as reflecting the university’s position.

“It is not our intent to place blame; rather, it is our intent to note that in the classroom incident—where an image forbidden for Muslims to look upon was projected on a screen and left for many minutes—respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom. Many disciplines have embedded within them difficult and controversial theories and material, but as with virtually all subjects, they can be discussed without causing harm. Academic freedom is very important, but it does not have to come at the expense of care and decency toward others,” they added.

The university said that because the instructor was an adjunct, her dismissal was not a firing, as has been said in accounts of the incident in New Lines magazine and Reason.

FULL ARTICLE FROM INSIDE HIGHER ED

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s