Last semester Erika López Prater, an adjunct professor of art history at Hamline University, was teaching a class in global art history. The syllabus included some works of Islamic religious art, including the painting above which depicts the angel Gabriel dictating the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.
Professor Prater knew that some Muslims consider it forbidden to view depictions of Muhammad, so she was careful in how she approached the material. First, she noted in the syllabus that images of religious figures including Muhammad, Jesus and the Buddha would be shown, and she invited students to contact her with any concerns. No one did. Second, she gave advance warning to students when she was about to display the image of Muhammad, offering them plenty of time to leave if they preferred not to see it. No one left, and the professor displayed the image.
Following the class, a Muslim student complained to the school administration about Professor Prater’s actions, claiming that they were Islamophobic. The administration agreed and fired Professor Prater (or “declined to renew her contract”, which amounts to the same thing).
I find this outrageous and deeply disturbing.
The school’s “vice president for inclusive excellence”, David Everett, sent an email to all university employees saying that the professor’s actions were “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” University president Fayneese Miller co-signed an email saying that ”respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.” It’s the two of them who should be fired, not Professor Prater.
Nothing the professor said or did evinces the slightest degree of Islamophobia. Indeed, she went above and beyond in showing respect and consideration for the Muslim students in her class. The student who complained, Aram Wedatalla, hasn’t disputed that the class was given advance warning and the opportunity to leave when the images were about to be shown. Her complaint isn’t about being forced to view the images, or having them sprung on her by surprise. Her complaint is that the professor dared show them at all.
Wedatalla is demanding, in effect, that one of her own religious rules be forced on the professor and the rest of the class. It’s a ridiculous demand, and completely antithetical to academic freedom.