Hamline University President Fayneese S. Miller, who was embroiled in a controversy earlier this year over the school’s dismissal of an art history adjunct professor, announced that she will step down from the position in June 2024.
Miller, who became the Minnesota university’s first Black president after taking the position in 2015, initially defended the administration’s decision to not renew the employment contract for Erica López Prater, a lecturer accused of Islamophobia for displaying images of the Prophet Muhammad in a classroom.
During a remote class, Prater had displayed historical images of the Prophet Muhammad dated from the 14th to 16th centuries, after making warnings to students about the imagery. The move and its aftermath attracted debates about the tension between academic and religious freedom on college campuses.
The incident was flagged by a Muslim student, a Black woman, to the school’s administration. Supporting students described taking issues with Prater’s handling of the materials, arguing it was problematic for the lecturer to display the imagery after acknowledging that viewings of depictions of the Prophet are often prohibited for observant Muslims.
A debate ensued around the school’s handling of the dispute. A majority of full-time faculty called for Miller’s resignation in January. Free-speech advocates like PEN America and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the latter of which represented Prater in a subsequent defamation claim against the school, criticized the administration’s response. The groups argued Miller’s rank eschewed standards around academic freedom that the university’s credibility hinges on.
The school initially described the incident as “Islamophobic,” before reneging on the characterization after Prater sued. Miller continued to defend the school’s position as safeguarding religious practices of minority students on campus. Meanwhile, Miller faced backlash from faculty members who claimed that the school had suffered damage to its reputation amid the media attention.
In a statement announcing her resignation, Miller said “it has been an honor and privilege to lead Hamline University, an institution that values social justice, equity, inclusion.”
The chair of Hamline’s board of trustees, Ellen Watters, praised Miller for her eight-year tenure saying “she ably has led the University through a time of growth and change, and she has done so by centering the needs and well-being of Hamline students.”