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Hamline University Reverses Position on ‘Islamophobic’ Comments After Art Lecturer Sues

Hamline University Reverses Position on ‘Islamophobic’ Comments After Art Lecturer Sues

“It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not ‘supersede’ academic freedom, the two coexist.”

Two weeks ago, we shared the story of an art teacher at Hamline University, Erika López Prater, who didn’t renew her contract after she showed her students images of the Prophet Muhammad.

The school overreacted and panicked about offending Muslim students. The teacher sued, and the school revised its views on the issue.

From the New York Times:

After Lecturer Sues, Hamline University Walks Back Its ‘Islamophobic’ Comments

Hamline University officials made an about-face on Tuesday in its treatment of a lecturer who showed an image of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class, walking back one of their most controversial statements — that showing the image was Islamophobic. They also said that respect for Muslim students should not have superseded academic freedom.

University officials changed their stance after the lecturer, who lost her teaching job, sued the small Minnesota school for religious discrimination and defamation.

“Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” said a statement from Ellen Watters, the chair of the university’s board of trustees, and Fayneese S. Miller, the president. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed.”

The statement added, “It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not ‘supersede’ academic freedom, the two coexist.”

The Star Tribune has more on the lawsuit:

Art instructor who showed images of Prophet Muhammad in class sues Hamline University; school officials say calling it Islamophobic was flawed

A former art instructor who showed images of the Prophet Muhammad in class has sued Hamline University, saying administrators defamed her and reneged on an offer to teach in the spring semester.

Attorneys for Erika López Prater announced Tuesday that she had sued the university for defamation, religious discrimination and breach of contract, among other things. Less than two hours later, the university’s president and board chair said in a joint statement that they had “learned much” about Islam and that the previous decision to describe the incident as Islamophobic was “flawed.”…

In the lawsuit, attorneys for López Prater said she shared her syllabus with a department chair and others at Hamline University and no one raised concerns about her decision to show the images.

“Students viewing the online class had ample warning about the paintings,” wrote attorney David Redden. “Students viewing the online class also had ample opportunity to turn away from their computer screens, turn their screens away from them, turn off their screens, or even leave their rooms before the paintings were displayed.”

Redden wrote that a department leader initially told López Prater “it sounded like you did everything right.”

Watch Erika López Prater make a few comments about this below:

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Comments

You mean, in response to a lawsuit, the university reversed it’s position? Wow! It would seem Hamline has more wisdom than Oberlin.


     
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    Bartlett in reply to Paula. | January 19, 2023 at 11:59 am

    Well, no, the university has walked back a word it used. I don’t think that Ms. Prater has her job back yet.

    Lawyers among us can speculate about the effect on the lawsuit of publicly walking back the defamatory term used.


       
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      healthguyfsu in reply to Bartlett. | January 19, 2023 at 2:07 pm

      The university doesn’t have to re-hire her unfortunately. She wasn’t actually fired. Her contract just wasn’t renewed. This is one of the reasons that tenure can be a good thing.

      That said, they will extend her another contract as a remedy if they want to end the lawsuit quickly.


         
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        George_Kaplan in reply to healthguyfsu. | January 19, 2023 at 9:37 pm

        While it is true the university has the legal right to not rehire, the issue is they accused Miss Prater of Islamophobia etc and opted to not hire her. So there’s a matter of defamation leading to loss of employment, not just simply losing her job.


       
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      Gosport in reply to Bartlett. | January 19, 2023 at 2:55 pm

      Recommended reading for clearing up assumptions – Dr. Prater’s Suit

      The university officially characterized Dr. Prater’s actions as “undeniably Islamophobic” and therefore reneged on its offer to renew Dr. Prater’s contract.

      Dr.Prater served the university with a lawsuit (but hadn’t filed it in court as of yesterday).

      The university has so far admitted to a “misstep”.

      Whether or not the university has now renewed her employment offer (something she doesn’t request in her complaint), the suit is still in play and it seeks what appear to be significant punitive damages.


     
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    BierceAmbrose in reply to Paula. | January 19, 2023 at 1:05 pm

    Hamline has more wisdom than Oberlin.

    No. Smaller endowment; fewer patronage friends.


     
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    coyote in reply to Paula. | January 20, 2023 at 8:32 am

    A Tide pod eater has more wisdom then Oberlin.


 
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Suburban Farm Guy | January 19, 2023 at 12:05 pm

Nearly fell out of my chair:

“… sometimes we misstep…,”

We don’t get much of that. Usually they double down and start calling everybody racist. Heh. Good on them


 
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henrybowman | January 19, 2023 at 12:18 pm

“Less than two hours later, the university’s president and board chair said in a joint statement that they had “learned much” about Islam and that the previous decision to describe the incident as Islamophobic was “flawed.”…

Did you also learn that the time to learn stuff like this is BEFORE passing a verdict? Like, say, in an “investigation” or “hearing?” How avant garde.


 
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Otto Kringelein | January 19, 2023 at 12:26 pm

From the NYT article:

An email to students and faculty from David Everett, a senior administrator, said the instructor’s actions were clearly Islamophobic. The university’s president co-signed a statement saying that respect for the Muslim students in the online class “should have superseded academic freedom”.

. . . snip . . .

But on Tuesday, Alex Morey, FIRE’s director of campus rights advocacy, said Mr. Everett’s comments were legally protected speech, because he was stating his opinion.

So how does that work when you are “stating your opinion” in an official communication (email) from a senior member of the school administration to both faculty & students. Is it mere personal opinion or does it carry more significance since he is/was acting in an official manner dealing with college matters.

In other words, was that email actually “protected speech” or not.


     
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    Milhouse in reply to Otto Kringelein. | January 19, 2023 at 2:27 pm

    It doesn’t matter whether it was his personal opinion or the college’s, it’s still protected speech. The college has the same first amendment rights as he does. It’s entitled to express any opinion it likes; but it isn’t entitled to defame anyone, or to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, etc.

    “Respect for Moslem students should have superseded academic freedom” is clearly an opinion. “Ms López’s actions were clearly Islamophobic” is … actually also an opinion, and thus protected, but it’s closer to the line than the first one. Defamation would require a false factual statement about Ms López; I don’t know what statement she is alleging defamed her, but if it’s that one then she loses.


       
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      CommoChief in reply to Milhouse. | January 19, 2023 at 2:51 pm

      Yeah probably true. We need to adjust away from our current legal standard for defamation, slander and libel. A more common sense approach is needed. When the University speaks and that speech damages the professional or academic reputation and future earning potential of an employee or student without evidence that’s something that should be actionable IMO.

      Some random person calling someone names in a random parking lot doesn’t have the same impact as the disseminated public speech of an organization. Same should be true for media IMO. Obviously that’s not our current legal standard. No one should have to prove intent on these cases, that’s an unrealistic burden.

      Now where an organization, including media, stated facts there shouldn’t be an objection. Nor should a combination of several related things that point to a logical conclusion be objectionable. Stating that X person is guilty of ‘ists, isms or phobias’ as an example without a convincing evidentiary basis should definitely be actionable in court. A jury should decide if there was or was not sufficient evidence to make the claims. Again my opinion, many disagree.


         
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        Milhouse in reply to CommoChief. | January 19, 2023 at 5:14 pm

        The first amendment protects opinions. And stating that a person’s actions were “clearly Islamophobic” is not a factual statement, it’s a conclusion, which is a category of opinion. There’s nothing we can do about that without amending the first amendment, and I don’t think we should do that. We all have the right to express our opinions, even if they hurt someone.

        Intent has nothing to do with it. There is no requirement that defamation be intentional. If someone unintentionally makes a false statement of fact, when he meant merely to state an opinion, it’s still actionable. Likewise (except in the case of public figures) if someone makes a statement of fact that he thought was true it’s still actionable. But there must be a statement of fact.

        Conclusions are opinions, not facts. But if they’re stated without giving the “facts” that led to them, then they can be understood to be implying certain facts, and those unstated facts can be actionable if they’re false. Here that doesn’t apply, because the underlying facts were openly disclosed and well-known. All the dean did was characterize those facts, i.e. give his opinion about them.


           
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          CommoChief in reply to Milhouse. | January 19, 2023 at 10:43 pm

          Where someone presents an opinion as an opinion and not as a fact then sure. The media can put those on their opinion page not the front page or anywhere else not clearly marked as opinion. Same for the official statements of institutions, add a simple qualifier ‘in our opinion’.

          A conclusion always rests upon an evidentiary foundation. An assertion that is not supported by evidence isn’t a conclusion at all b/c there isn’t any any basis to form a conclusion. In any event a trial jury is quite capable of evaluating whether there was sufficient support to make an unqualified assertion or if not.

          The first Amendment isn’t the issue, thats a red herring. The libel, slander and defamation case precedents are the issue. Dueling was legal at the passage of our Bill of Rights and was an accepted recourse by society for individuals who felt wronged by the assertions of others. Bring back dueling and the social stigma for refusing to accept a challenge and IMO our daily discourse would immediately improve.


         
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        Milhouse in reply to CommoChief. | January 20, 2023 at 9:23 am

        You have the law wrong. Opinions are not defined by how they are labeled. Newspapers would love it if everything in an opinion column were immune from lawsuits, but that’s not how it works. If an opinion piece makes an assertion of fact, that is potentially actionable; if a news story expresses an opinion, that is poor journalism, but it’s not legally actionable.

        Yes, conclusions are opinions that are presumed to rest on “evidentiary foundations”. That is why, if those evidentiary foundations are not stated or obvious, a jury is entitled to infer them, and to hold the speaker liable for them if they are false, as if he had actually stated them. By stating his conclusion and not saying what he based it on, he was implying certain factual assertions. But where the foundations are stated, they can’t do that. He said what he based his conclusion on, so he didn’t imply anything else.

        That is the case here. There is no dispute about what Ms López’s actions were. When the dean characterized them as “Islamophobic” he was not implying some other actions that we don’t know about. He was simply expressing an opinion about the known actions.

        Likewise that psychic who accused the professor in Idaho of those murders. She stated the “evidentiary basis” for her conclusion that the professor is a murderer; therefore her accusation is not actionable, and the professor’s lawsuit ought to be dismissed. If it isn’t, that will be a travesty of the law. Whereas if you or I were to say the same things as that psychic, without explaining how we knew the professor was a murderer, a jury would be entitled to decide that we were implying that we knew of some actual serious evidence that pointed at the professor, and she could sue us for that even though we never said it.

        Finally, the first amendment is not a red herring, it’s crucial to all this. It is the basis for our entire defamation law, and the reason it is as it is. The libel, slander and defamation case precedents are all based on the first amendment, and shaped by the need to avoid violating it. UK law, not bound by a first amendment but only by a softer common law principle of the freedom of speech, evolved in a much more plaintiff-friendly manner as a result.


           
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          CommoChief in reply to Milhouse. | January 20, 2023 at 10:00 am

          All my comments on this thread flow from my original post in that I am offering my perspective on what our libel, slander, defamation standard of proof and actions should be.

          Let a jury decide if there was sufficient evidentiary basis for an assertion that she was phobic. Let the jury decide what, if any, damages should be awarded.

          Publicly stating a fact shouldn’t be an issue. Making an assertion that doesn’t have sufficient evidentiary basis is not something we should allow. Media should be hesitant to make claims that an individual is X with scant or no proof. Roll back the absurd standards of proving malice. Substitute truth and a factual basis to support the assertion based on reasonable person analysis; would a person viewing the facts logically conclude the assertion was true or are there holes in the evidence that cause the assertion to fail.


           
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          Milhouse in reply to Milhouse. | January 22, 2023 at 1:15 am

          And you’re still missing the point. Conclusions are by definition opinions and not factual statements. Whether someone “is” something, is a conclusion, not a fact. Therefore, in and of itself, saying that they are that thing cannot be defamation. What can be defamation are the unstated facts that a conclusion may imply. Therefore if the conclusion’s basis is stated and open, there are no implied facts, and thus no defamation.

          So it doesn’t matter whether the evidentiary basis for the conclusion is valid. What matters is only whether the facts that form that basis are themselves true.

          Thus the psychic who accused the professor of being a murderer gave all the “facts” on which she based her conclusion, and then gave her opinion that these “facts” point to the professor being the murderer. Since there are no unstated facts, and the stated facts are true, or at least can’t be proven false, there is no defamation.

          I don’t see how you can have it any other way without intruding into the realm of banning opinions, and that would violate the 1st amendment.


     
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    henrybowman in reply to Otto Kringelein. | January 19, 2023 at 5:52 pm

    If you start from the premise that Islamophobia (like any bigotry) is a legally protected personal opinion, the rest of it all falls out. Now an employer would have to show a compelling reason that they forbid their employees from expressing it on the job, and a contract that shows it was made clear to the employee.


       
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      Milhouse in reply to henrybowman. | January 19, 2023 at 5:57 pm

      Private employers don’t need a compelling reason.


       
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      coyote in reply to henrybowman. | January 20, 2023 at 8:41 am

      “Islamophobia” literally means fear of Islam. Let’s start there. Is it a crime anywhere to be afraid of someone or something?

      It’s quite different to be anti-something than afraid of it. I have yet to hear or read the term, semitophobia or semitophobic. Likewise transphobia and homophobia. It’s not about fear so much as opposition.

      Words matter.


         
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        Milhouse in reply to coyote. | January 20, 2023 at 9:32 am

        It’s not a crime to be anti anything either.

        In any case, your distinction is not valid. “Islamophobia” is consciously patterned after “homophobia”, and “homophobia” was deliberately coined, ca. 1970, for the express purpose of implying that hatred of gay people was based on a psychological disorder.

        The anti-gay people were saying that gay people are mentally ill, so the gay people cleverly turned that around and said no, you are the ill ones. You have an irrational fear of us, just like people who are irrationally afraid of open spaces or of cats. It also carried the subtle or not-so-subtle implication that the reason you have this irrational fear is that you’re really deep in the closet, and your self-loathing is making you act irrationally. It was cleverly done, and the Moslems built on that when they coined “Islamophobic”.

        But of course fear of Islam is not a phobia. Phobia means irrational fear, and there’s nothing inherently irrational about fearing Islam, though some people do take it to very irrational extremes. (I’m looking at you, Pam Gellar.)


 
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Petrushka | January 19, 2023 at 7:58 pm

Early Muslim artists were not shy about portraying Muhammad.

Byzantine Christians had spells of destroying icons. One of their big differences from the Roman church.

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