Hamline University in Minnesota has been embroiled in controversy after an adjunct art history professor said she was dismissed following complaints over her use of images depicting the prophet Muhammad during a lecture last fall. In recent weeks, the incident at the small liberal arts college has spilled into broader view and raised questions about campus inclusion, religious discrimination and academic freedom.
On Tuesday, attorneys for the professor, Erika López Prater, served Hamline with a lawsuit that, among other claims, alleges religious discrimination and defamation by the school. López Prater, through her lawyer, and Hamline University declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.
The situation has thrust Hamline, a private university in St. Paul that enrolls about 1,800 undergrads, into the national spotlight — for “all the wrong reasons,” the student newspaper lamented. Scholars in art history and other disciplines have been outraged by what they see as an affront to academic liberty and confused how sharing the medieval paintings of Muhammad made by Muslimscould be construed as Islamophobic, as Hamline suggested before backtracking. Some of Hamline’s Muslim students, who are a minority at the school, and their allies have said that showing images of the prophet in any form is an attack on their core beliefs and that academic institutions have a right to restrict speech that creates a hateful or hostile environment.