Hamline University President Dr. Fayneese Miller announced that she will be retiring in June of next year.
The announcement, made more than a year in advance, comes after the university was thrust into the national spotlight for its decision to fire a professor who displayed images of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in an art history class. Some Muslim students took offense to the images because they adhere to the position that their religion forbids depictions of Muhammad.
Dr. Erika López Prater’s termination resulted in weeks of negative media coverage for the school, a complaint filed with its accreditor, a lawsuit, and recognition as the “worst school for free speech” in the country.
Hamline faculty then voted to issue a call for Miller’s resignation, saying her mishandling of the controversy caused “great harm” to the school’s reputation.
In her lawsuit against the school, López Prater says she informed her supervisor that she would be displaying the images in class and warned students in both the syllabus and in class.
The lawsuit alleges that López Prater suffered “immediate, severe, and lasting emotional distress” because of Hamline’s “false and defamatory” statements about her, including claims that her actions were “undeniably Islamophobic.”
One of the few groups to defend Hamline was Minnesota’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR’s national chapter later distanced itself from the local affiliate, saying it recognizes that “professors who analyze ancient paintings for an academic purpose are not the same as Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense.”
Miller was named president of the St. Paul university in July 2015. A press release announcing her retirement describes her as “exceptional, dynamic, and inclusive.”
“It has been an honor and privilege to lead Hamline University, an institution that values social justice, equity, inclusion, and civic engagement through its service-learning opportunities for students and curriculum offerings,” Miller said.
The university said it will begin conducting a national search for a successor.