A maelstrom of letters: everything you need to know 

Anika Besst, Guest Reporter

Since the initial coverage of an October incident in Professor Erika López Prater’s classroom, there has been a flood of letters written by members of Hamline and higher education. 

Since the beginning of this situation hitting the news media, many members of the Hamline community, past and present, as well as people outside the university, have used letters as a way to share their experiences, perspective and hopes related to this topic. Publications often offer opinion letters as a way of broadening the voices included in the discourse. 

Here is everything you need to know from these most recent letters: 


A group of students’ letter of support for President Miller 

A group of 13 Hamline students published a letter of support for President Fayneese Miller on Jan. 25 in response to Hamline faculty’s vote on a statement requesting Miller resign. 

This letter was also sent to the Hamline Board of Trustees on Jan. 25.

Students will be posting this letter to social media during the evening of Jan. 25 alongside a Google Form for students to sign to show support for Miller. This will only be open to Hamline students. They will be collecting names and emails in order to monitor signature submissions.

“Throughout all of the press and the conversations at Hamline, students have often been left out, have always been left out of the conversations regarding this incident and in conversations between faculty and administration and it’s about time students have a voice that’s actually heard,” senior Travis Matthews said when describing the letter. “We wrote this letter to just voice some of our complaints and our thoughts, regarding Hamline, and its faculty and the administration. And we hope that everyone is listening.” 

Students began writing this letter yesterday after the news of the faculty’s vote spread. 

In the students’ letter, they recognize how their voices have been left out of the conversations happening and feel betrayed by faculty neglecting their perspective and betraying student needs. 

Students feel supported by Miller, they write, and see her as needing to carry the concerns of both students and faculty, while “she has been the shield defending this institution entirely taking the brunt of everyone’s disdain.”

“As at all institutions of higher learning, students and administration have had their differences, but we do not wish for President Miller to resign, especially when our vulnerable students need her the most,” students said in the letter.  

The student letter quotes the faculty’s statement as they outline how it does not represent their values. 

“Is it because select members of the faculty want a scapegoat for more significant institutional structural issues, such as issues of racism, sexism and faculty discontent?” they write. “Why now? What about this moment in time has emboldened the faculty in attempting to oust President Miller?”

Students share that they recognize faculty who have supported them and others who have “used this as a chance to twist our words and use them against us. Weaponizing the experiences of marginalized students for their ends.” 

The students also raise attention to how this conversation has taken a turn into something it did not start with: academic freedom. The students do agree with the faculty in that both academic freedom and reducing harm can exist. 

In this letter, the students conclude by stating that this vote by faculty “reflects poorly” upon them and the institution.  

“As members of Hamline University, we stand with President Miller. We ask the Board of Trustees and the faculty of this institution to listen to what we have to say,” they write. 


MSA students’ letter to Hamline faculty members

Hamline’s Muslim Student Association shared a letter with Hamline faculty on Jan. 23 through mass email. 

In their letter, which the Oracle obtained, the MSA thanks members of the community who have been supportive of them throughout this difficult time including President Miller, Dean Marcela Kostihova, Interim Provost Andy Rundquist, Director of Inclusive Excellence David Everett and Dean of Students Patti Kersten, the Athletic Department, some faculty and staff from the School of Education and a few other members of faculty as well. 

The students shared about themselves, the lives they lead on campus and why they chose Hamline. For many of these students, they were drawn to the university for its emphasis on diversity and inclusion. 

“While we have been getting threats and targets on our backs, what hurts the most is knowing our faculty members don’t care much for us,” wrote the students.

The MSA explained how they hope everyone can start the process of improving Hamline: students, faculty and staff. 

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned from being at Hamline, it is that there’s still work to be done to make this place a place where everyone can belong despite their differences,” they wrote. 

The students, who did not sign their names, noted that incidents with faculty members have a bigger impact than incidents with their peers. Faculty are members of the Hamline community whom they look up to and depend on for support; harmful events hurt all the more when coming from someone they are told they can trust. 

The MSA acknowledges the nuance of students’ experiences where some feel they belong and others carry the burden of their traumatizing classroom and campus experiences, while everyone urges faculty to consider the space they facilitate and the power they have. 

“As faculty; what are you doing to create a safe space for your students? How well do you know your students? You have the privilege, as a knowledgeable individual with power, to not only educate your students but to also be willing to learn from your students,” they wrote. 


Members of the Faculty of Hamline University

86 Hamline faculty members signed a letter written to Hamline students. It was published at the Oracle on Jan. 16. 

This letter begins with the faculty recognizing that they are thinking of the students throughout the “current media tempest.” 

The faculty signees took a stand in support of both the students’ experience and academic freedom while outlining how these do not exist separately from each other. 

“The public debate is often being cast as if we must work for academic freedom or for religious and cultural sensitivity, and that characterization is wrong and destructive. These aren’t opposites,” they write in the letter. 

It is through thinking these are separate that no changes can be made to the way teaching and learning are facilitated. 

The faculty commit to listening, growing and continuing to support the students, while also thanking the students for the work they do in shaping the Hamline community.  

“We want you to know that we are fully committed to listening to and working with you to keep refining and improving the educational experience for all students, even while our classrooms may sometimes be challenging — even uncomfortable — spaces,” they write in the letter.


American Association of University Professors: Statement From Hamline AAUP Faculty on Academic Freedom and Responsibility

Stephen R. Arnott, the president of the AAUP Hamline Chapter, wrote a letter recognizing how support for students and academic freedom neither “contradict nor supersede each other,” which is a similar idea as the Faculty of Hamline University message. 

Arnott outlined how this should not result in professors shying away from specific material that may challenge students’ beliefs. For Arnott and others at the AAUP, this connects to the importance of faculty selecting how a class functions free from administrative interference. 

“Such administrative respect for faculty judgment is essential to faculty being able to continue to provide innovative and challenging student learning opportunities, consistent with Hamline’s long history,” Hamline’s AAUP members write in the Jan. 16 letter. 

They shared their regret for a fellow faculty member accused in the “divisive public statement that has exacerbated the incident.” 

“We are dismayed that some of the Administration’s responses to student complaints about the teaching of images that offended them—rather than encouraging broad, respectful dialogue about complex issues—were instead guided by decisions that have mired our campus in controversy,” they write. 

They condemn the hateful speech and threats that targeted students.   

They also wrote about the importance of faculty creating rigorous and engaging classroom spaces and what the administration’s role in that process looks like. For them, it includes administration recognizing “the faculty’s perspective on academic freedom, which respects religious or other differences, and which is also unwaveringly committed to the university’s role in encouraging students to think broadly, think critically, to explore intellectually and to learn from others.” 


The President’s office’s letters

There have been four emails since Dec. 9 sent by the President’s Office to the Hamline community. 

An email with the subject line of “This week’s Hamline Oracle and Thursday’s Community Conversation” was sent on Dec. 9, three days after the Oracle’s initial coverage. This letter primarily focuses on respect and responsibility.

“We understand and appreciate that tough, but important questions will arise in our community and we need to address them head-on. Yet, because we are human, no matter how hard we try to educate on tough issues, we will make mistakes,” the email said. “While some are borne of ignorance, that is never an acceptable excuse. We must always try to do better, be better. We must also take responsibility for our actions, especially when others find them offensive.” 

In their letter, which was a joint effort between Miller and Everett, the administration explains the way the Muslim community is hurting and the importance of recognizing harmful actions in order to support everyone and grow for the betterment of the community. 

They also called attention to their first email regarding the classroom incident. They identify that in their response, they did not “disregard or minimize the importance of academic freedom.”

It does state that respect, decency, and appreciation of religious and other differences should supersede when we know that what we teach will cause harm,” they go on to write. 

The emphasis of their message in this email is not on what is taught, but rather how it is taught. 

They addressed the incident specifically by stating: “It is not our intent to place blame; rather, it is our intent to note that in the classroom incident…respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”

This email, dated over two months after the incident, ends with a thank you to both the Muslim students for their patience and the student body for believing in their work. 


The next email: Dec. 31

The next email came on Dec. 31 with a prepared statement that Hamline was sharing with media outlets as coverage of this incident went international.

In this statement, the President explained how Hamline works towards including the diverse perspectives, identities and experiences present. The email also included a brief retelling of the event and its aftermath.

They also include an appreciative message to the Hamline community for their understanding and patience. This email was the first to include mentions of the hateful and threatening language members of the Hamline community were experiencing. To that, they included an email address to share those messages with. 


The third email: Jan. 17

 In this email, which was sent on Jan. 17, Ellen Watters, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Miller describe Hamline as the “epicenter” for the discussion surrounding academic freedom and students with diverse beliefs. 

In this email, the President’s Office describes what has happened as “a misstep.”

There have been many communications, articles and opinion pieces that have caused us to review and re-examine our actions. Hamline is a multi-cultural, multi-religious community that has been a leader in creating space for civil conversations. Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” they write. 

They identify the use of the word “Islamophobic” as flawed based on the knowledge they have since gained. 

They also share that Hamline will host two major conversations to facilitate the debate about how “academic freedom and support for students can and should co-exist.” After everything they have learned about Islamic beliefs throughout this conversation, they want to welcome the community to also be able to grow and be exposed to this knowledge. The date of these events is not included.  

They also include a statement about how it was never their intention to imply that “academic freedom is of lower concern or value than [their] students,” since they do and must co-exist. With faculty’s care for students, that is present at Hamline, they believe this supports the classroom experience with such strong connections guiding curricula decisions. 


The Board of Trustees’ letter 

An email was sent through the President’s office on Jan. 13 with a message from the Board of Trustees. 

In this statement, the Board outlines Hamline’s historical identity and what that perspective, as the first university in Minnesota, has taught them. 

As the Board, it is their role to review Hamline’s policies and responses to student concerns and those of faculty regarding academic freedom.

“Upholding academic freedom and fostering an inclusive, respectful learning environment for our students are both required to fulfill our Mission,” they write in the email. “We will move forward together and we will be stronger for it.” 

This email was signed by Chair of Hamline University Board of Trustees Ellen Watters.


Retired professor Aida Audeh writes to Board of Trustees 

Aida Audeh, who was a Hamline Art History professor from 2002-2021, wrote a letter on Jan. 19 to the Board of Trustees.

She was the only full-time tenured faculty member in her field throughout this time. Audeh states how she may still be at Hamline had it not been for the 2021 Expedited Program Review process that removed the Art History program. 

Audeh supports both the professor’s decision in showing the depictions while also understanding where the students’ concerns over their faith and beliefs lie. She also “bemoans” how the Hamline administration handled the situation. 

Overall, she is dismayed that the situation has become so strongly associated with the Art History program that she spent so long building. Audeh created parts of the curriculum and courses that are still offered within Art History at Hamline. 

Throughout her career, she cannot remember a time when students “suggested or demanded that I should refrain from showing particular works of art” within her classes. 

“To suggest or demand such a thing is tantamount to censorship and this is a very dangerous precedent, particularly in the arts,” she wrote. “While I understand student concern, and the university’s desire to respond to it, censorship of any kind is far worse than any disruption a work of art might cause. Censorship is detrimental to education, to the exploration of knowledge and to our growth as human beings.” 

Audeh expressed her thoughts for the purpose of public record. 

“I believe Hamline made an error in eliminating the Art History program, as it is clear to me that classes that contextualize the visual arts within their historical period and culture of origin are still very much needed within the liberal arts curriculum,” she wrote. 


Linda Hanson: Hamline’s former President 

Linda Hanson, president emerita of Hamline University, wrote a letter that was published Jan. 11 in the Star Tribune. 

In this letter, she shares her concern about Hamline’s reputation after the incident and coverage. She outlines how the decision to not renew the faculty’s contract has “sent the wrong message” to Hamline community members and supporters. 

She states how it is time for the university to reinstate the professor. Hanson also advocated for the university to “use this incident as an opportunity for discussion, student learning and support for academic freedom in Hamline classrooms.” 

The importance of faculty challenging their students and exposing them to other perspectives and ideas has benefited thousands of alumni, Hanson outlines. 

Hanson faced her own, separate controversy during her presidency at Hamline due to the construction of the Anderson Student Center and for receiving a 42% pay raise in the ‘06-’07 fiscal year amidst financial concerns, as reported in the Oracle