Hamline University on the first day of the spring semester, January 23, 2023. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Full-time faculty at Hamline University voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ask the school’s president, Fayneese Miller, for her resignation. The vote marked the latest turn in the crisis that has embroiled the school for weeks.

“The reputation of Hamline was deeply tarnished, and I think it’s clear the majority of the full-time faculty do not believe that Fayneese is the one to carry us forward,” said Jim Scheibel, the president of the Hamline University Faculty Council.

Miller did not immediately respond to a Sahan Journal request for comment.

An overwhelming number of the 92 full-time professors at an all-faculty meeting Tuesday voted to adopt a statement asking President Fayneese Miller to resign, said Jim Scheibel, president of the Hamline University Faculty Council. Scheibel said turnout at the meeting was strong, with about 70 percent of the university’s 130 full-time professors in attendance.

“We are distressed that members of the administration have mishandled this issue and great harm has been done to the reputation of Minnesota’s oldest university,” the statement reads. “As we no longer have faith in President Miller’s ability to lead the university forward, we call upon her to immediately tender her resignation to the Hamline University Board of Trustees.” 

The statement also expresses support for academic freedom, an inclusive learning community, and due process.

The faculty vote does not bind Miller to any course of action, as only the board of trustees can remove the president from her position. Ellen Watters, the chair of Hamline’s board of trustees, declined to comment. The first Black president of Hamline, Miller has held the position since 2015.

Hamline faculty vote follows weeks of tumult

The vote came weeks after an incident in an art history class made international news. After an adjunct professor showed paintings of the Prophet Muhammad in a world art class, a Muslim student complained to administrators. David Everett, the vice president of inclusive excellence, subsequently labeled the act “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic” in an all-campus email. The university rescinded its offer to the professor to teach a course in the spring. Later, Miller and Everett sent a joint message to all staff, saying that in this instance, “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”

The incident has since become an international media firestorm, inspiring coverage everywhere from Fox News to the Chronicle of Higher Education to the New York Times. And it has revealed differences within the Muslim community: The Minnesota CAIR chapter condemned the art-history lesson as Islamophobic, while the national CAIR organization took a rare step of contradicting a local chapter, stating that it was not Islamophobic. 

On January 18, the professor, Erika López Prater, filed a civil lawsuit against Hamline, alleging breach of contract, defamation, and religious discrimination. After López Prater served Hamline with the lawsuit, Miller backtracked on the administration’s previous comments calling the incident Islamophobic.

A Hamline student newspaper headline January 10 summarized the debacle: “Hamline enters the national spotlight — for all the wrong reasons.”

Muslim students criticize Hamline faculty

On January 22, a group of anonymous Muslim students sent an email to faculty, criticizing professors for their response to the crisis. “While we have been getting threats and targets on our backs, what hurts the most is knowing our faculty members don’t care much for us,” reads the letter. “Additionally, they are willing to go to the extent of going after and blaming President Miller who has been supportive throughout this difficult time.”

Returning to campus Monday for the first day of spring classes, several Muslim students told Sahan Journal they appreciated the administration’s support throughout the crisis. “I think our admins have been nothing but wonderful, actually,” said Ubah, a senior public health major. Administrators had reached out repeatedly to check on Muslim students, she said. But she criticized faculty members for using this crisis to target Miller.

“The worst-case scenario would be if the president gets overthrown,” Ubah said. “It leaves people that look like us vulnerable.” Without Miller, she said, the next campus incident might leave marginalized groups on campus to fend for themselves.

Editor’s note: In light of reported harassment and threats directed at Hamline students featured in recent media coverage, Sahan Journal is using first names for students in this story.

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...