Adjunct professor sues Hamline University over dismissal amid Islamophobia controversy – Twin Cities

The adjunct professor accused of Islamophobia for showing artwork in class that depicted the Prophet Muhammad filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Hamline University.

Erika Lopez Prater is suing the school in Ramsey County District Court for defamation, breach of contract and religious discrimination, among other claims.

Her complaint recounts the controversy that has been described in numerous news articles and opinion pieces in the last six weeks.

Lopez Prater says she warned students repeatedly — on the syllabus shown to students and Hamline higher-ups and during the Oct. 6 class itself — that visual depictions of Muhammad and other religious figures would be shown during her art history class.

Yet, when a Muslim student viewed the artwork and complained to Hamline administrators, the school sided with the student. Lopez Prater was allowed to finish teaching the class, but she says Hamline withdrew its offer to have her teach a contemporary art class in the spring.

“Lopez Prater was prepared to finish out her World Art course and leave Hamline quietly,” according to a copy of the complaint provided by her attorneys. “Hamline and Everett had other ideas.”

David Everett, associate vice president of inclusive excellence, sent a Nov. 7 email to all employees and students saying an incident had taken place in an online class that was “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.”

Separately, Dean of Students Patti Kersten called Lopez Prater’s decision to show the artwork “an act of intolerance,” according to The Oracle, the student newspaper that first reported on the controversy.

And, in a Dec. 9 email to staff, Everett and President Fayneese Miller said that “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”

Hamline’s response to the controversy has drawn sharp rebukes from academics across the country who say the artwork, created by a Muslim and for Muslims, is commonly used in academic settings. Both the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council have defended Lopez Prater, saying her decision was not Islamophobic.

Lopez Prater said in her complaint that Hamline officials defamed her with their public comments. The school also breached her contract by withdrawing the spring teaching assignment, she alleges, and discriminated against her by imposing the Muslim student’s “interpretation of Islam on all Hamline employees and students.”

She’s asking the judge to order Hamline to pay monetary damages.

Hamline did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The Board of Trustees said Friday that it was “reviewing the University’s policies and responses to recent student concerns and subsequent faculty concerns about academic freedom.”

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