University Violated Accreditation Status By Ignoring Academic Freedom, Watchdog Alleges

(Screenshot/YouTube/Hamline University)

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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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Hamline University violated its status as an accredited institution when it dismissed a professor for showing an unveiled Muhammad portrait during the fall 2022 semester, a free speech watchdog group alleged in a Wednesday complaint.

Hamline, a private liberal arts school in Minnesota, refused to renew a professor’s contract in December after a student previously complained that the professor showed the unveiled portrait, which Islamic religion says should not be depicted, student newspaper The Oracle reported. Though students were given time to look away from the screen, university administrators claimed that “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom,” according to New Lines Magazine. (RELATED: Politically Diverse Group Of 200 Academics Form Alliance To Defend Free Speech Among Educators)

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) claimed that the university violated its accreditation status when it failed to uphold academic freedom and demanded that the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), an accreditor, hold the university accountable, according to the complaint. The complaint was filed after FIRE sent a letter to the university on Dec. 27, questioning the institution’s commitment to academic freedom and free expression.

“The Higher Learning Commission takes seriously and carefully considers all complaints. However, HLC does not comment on complaints,” Laura Janota, HLC public information officer, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Accredited institutions must be “committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression in the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning,” according to HLC’s website.

“Hamline University violated faculty academic freedom and made clear that it won’t keep its promises. As an organization dedicated to defending free expression and academic freedom, FIRE felt compelled to alert the university’s accreditor,” Sabrina Conza, FIRE program officer, told the DCNF.

“These statements and actions violate Hamline’s commitment ‘to academic freedom and … free expression for everyone’ and its promise to ’embrace[] the examination of all ideas, some of which will potentially be unpopular and unsettling, as an integral and robust component of intellectual inquiry,'” FIRE wrote. “If Hamline is truly committed to academic freedom, it cannot take adverse action against faculty for displaying pedagogically relevant material in their classroom, regardless of whether it offends particular students.”

President Fayneese Miller reportedly claimed on Dec. 31 that “[s]tudents do not relinquish their faith in the classroom,” according to FIRE’s complaint. FIRE wrote that this statement could be interpreted as any teaching that might offend a student’s religion could be censored.

“Because Hamline has shown it is not committed to academic freedom, we urge its accreditor to hold Hamline accountable for violating its accreditation standards,” Conza continued.

FIRE also organized a faculty letter in support of the fired professor which will be sent to Miller on Thursday. The letter demanded the university reinstate the professor with no penalties.

The letter currently has more than 100 signatures.

“If Hamline won’t listen to free speech advocates or faculty across the country, they’ll have to listen to their accreditor,” FIRE attorney Alex Morey said in a Wednesday press release.

Hamline University did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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