I'm a former adjunct college instructor, and two points in the Hamline University controversy seem to have been overlooked: the responsibility that lies with the student and the precarious status of part-time faculty ("Hamline stirs up academic row," Jan. 10).
Student Aram Wedatalla had chosen to forgo Prof. Erika López Prater's warnings in the syllabus and again in class of images that may be hurtful to some and that accommodations had been implemented for students not wanting to view them. In her own words, Wedatalla stated that during the lecture "she heard the professor give a 'trigger warning,' wondered what it was for 'and then I looked and it was the prophet.'" Had she been paying attention, this event would most likely not have occurred. Instead, Wedatalla was deeply offended by an image of the Prophet Muhammad and complained to the Hamline administration that the professor's warnings were inadequate. The university insisted seeing images of the prophet was in no way Wedatalla's fault but that of Prof. López Prater. Yet Wedatalla wasn't forced to view a forbidden image. She made a conscious choice to not give Prof. Lόpez Prater's class the attention it deserved.
Too often in colleges and universities, it's adjunct instructors who are reprimanded for policies students dislike. I once had a student who complained to the dean he didn't like my attendance policy. It was subsequently changed, but the message that I was in the wrong by taking attendance was clear. Adjunct faculty generally work long hours for little money or benefits and are expendable on a whim. Guidelines may have changed since I taught, but we adjuncts were paid only for the hours spent in front of the classroom. Office hours, course preparation and grading assignments were undertaken for free.
For all the valid discussions this case has raised regarding the violation of academic freedom and respect for all religions, taking responsibility for one's actions and giving part-time academic staff more job protection should not be left out of the debate.
Kathryn Schleich, Woodbury
As president emerita of Hamline University, I am concerned about the effect on Hamline's reputation from the recent incident in which an art professor's contract was not renewed and the missed opportunity for students to understand and expand their knowledge of Islamic art and history. This decision has sent the wrong message to Hamline faculty, alumni and the communities it serves. Since Hamline's founding in 1854, faculty have taught within the principle of academic freedom and examined subjects through the lens of open inquiry and respect for the beliefs, rights and opinions of the students they teach. Generations of Hamline faculty have taught with the belief that adhering to the bright line of academic freedom and supporting students are not mutually exclusive.
Whether through a miscalculation of the outcomes of the decision or through a hastened process that did not explore what Islamophobia is, it is time for the university to reinstate the professor and use this incident as an opportunity for discussion, student learning and support for academic freedom in Hamline classrooms. Thousands of Hamline alumni have benefited from the faculty who have taught them within the scope of intellectual exploration of academic subjects and, importantly, inspired educated students to enter careers and life journeys that cultivate curiosity, understand beliefs other than their own, and contribute to society in meaningful ways. Hamline University's reputation as an exceptionally student-centered institution can and must coexist within a culture of academic freedom.
Linda N. Hanson, Lakeville
The writer was president of Hamline University, 2005-2015.
Regarding the public relations disaster occurring before the nation and the world at Hamline, I thought of Charles Simic, former U.S. poet laureate who died this week. He wrote this for the New York Review of Books in the Oct. 19, 2000, edition:
"In our time, ideologues of new utopias, from the Soviet Union to China, turned out to be far more bloodthirsty overseers of poetry. Even in the United States, poetry books with real or imagined erotic and blasphemous content are regularly removed from the shelves of school libraries to please some self-appointed thought policeman."
Now, nearly 23 years later, "in our time," the "self-appointed thought policeman" can be found even in our "liberal" colleges like Hamline. An art professor, who did everything right as an instructor before introducing a significant Islamic painting that depicted Muhammad, gets banished from the school's classrooms for committing some pedagogical form of "blasphemy" and labeled Islamophobic in a university email.
But not all Muslims would agree with Hamline or the protesting student. The Muslim Public Affairs Council just released this statement: "The painting was not Islamophobic. In fact, it was commissioned by a fourteenth-century Muslim king in order to honor the Prophet, depicting the first Quranic revelation from the angel Gabriel" (emphasis original). Others in the Star Tribune article made similar observations that contradict Hamline's extreme position.
Hamline's affront to academic freedom brings to mind Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, when students sabotaged their teachers for alleged political incorrectness such as praising a "bourgeois" novel like "Madame Bovary." In this case Hamline's leaders didn't even offer the professor a chance at "self-criticism" in a "re-education camp," something thousands of Chinese teachers and artists were forced to endure in the 1960s. Teachers quickly learned to watch their back and self-censor.
One of Charles Simic's last books of poetry is called "Come Closer and Listen." Perhaps Hamline's leaders should take that book title as an admonition or just plain good advice: Apologize to Erika López Prater and renew her contract.
David Rathbun, Minneapolis
Barely a week in, Moriarty blunders
I found the dismissal of charges against an accused child rapist by new Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty to be curious and disturbing ("Rape case dismissed after lie to judge," Jan. 10). Curious because she should have found a better way to discipline the prosecutor who was not honest with a trial judge about the content of a note that had no bearing on the criminal charge. There is no excuse for that decision, but dismissal of a serious case doesn't strike me as the proper management response from the standpoint of our community. An alleged rapist is now free without the process of determining accountability for his conduct having been completed. This is disturbing because I fear it reflects the perspective of finding a way to get an accused offender off, which was Moriarty's old job through the important function of public defense.
Her new responsibility as a prosecutor is to seek fair and just outcomes for victims and the public at large, which is very different. I supported Moriarty's opponent in the last election but very much believe she deserves the benefit of the doubt as she assumes office. To me, this is not an encouraging start.
Steve Cramer, Minneapolis
The writer is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
Enforcement is a pipe dream
The Jan. 11 article "8 takeaways from Minn. Democrats' legal pot bill" mentioned that adults "could grow up to eight cannabis plants in their private residence, but no more than four could be mature and flowering at a time."
It would be impossible to monitor the homes in one city block, much less monitor all the homes in Minnesota! Did someone with a brain come up with that idea? Unbelievable!
I noticed there were no names mentioned in the article. I can understand why.
Arlene Ledin, Minneapolis