An adjunct art professor sued the Minnesota university that fired her after a Muslim student objected to Prophet Muhammad’s pictures in a global art course, while the university agreed to a “misstep” and vowed to engage in public talks about academic freedom.
Erika López Prater claims in her lawsuit that Hamline University, a small private school in St. Paul, treated her unfairly because of her religion, lied about her, and hurt her professional and personal reputation.
Minnesota lawsuits begin with a summons and complaint. López Prater’s attorneys said they served Hamline University on Tuesday and will file the lawsuit soon.
Hamline University President Fayneese Miller and Board of Trustees chair Ellen Watters released a joint statement Tuesday claiming recent “communications, stories, and opinion pieces” had caused the institution to “evaluate and re-examine our actions.”
“Like other organizations, we misstep,” the statement added. “To hear from and support our Muslim students, rhetoric was employed that does not reflect our academic freedom views. We now know that our use of “Islamophobic” was incorrect.”
The university strongly supports academic freedom and student support but did not address the lawsuit. In the next months, the university will organize two public discussions on academic freedom and student care, and religion.
López Prater displayed the 14th-century Prophet Muhammad artwork in an Islamic art course in October. López Prater recognized that images of Muhammad offend the Muslim faith.
The lawsuit says that López Prater’s course outline said that students would see pictures of religious figures, including the Prophet Muhammad. There was also an offer to help students who didn’t feel comfortable seeing those images.
She also told the class right before she showed the picture of the Prophet Muhammad that it might be offensive. In interviews with the media last week, she said that her goal was to teach students about the “rich diversity” of how people feel about this kind of imagery.
López Prater said that she and the department chair were talking about her teaching a new course, but after the student complained, she was told that “her services were no longer needed.”
The university stated on Tuesday that it has gained a great deal of insight into the complexities surrounding the display of images of the Prophet Muhammad and is aware that the Muslim community has diverse views on the matter.
“Learning and growth are the goals of higher education. The statement read, “We have undoubtedly grown and learned as we produce new information to impart to the entire Hamline community.