Teaching an art-history survey course this fall, a professor at Hamline University—a small liberal-arts college in St. Paul, Minnesota—dedicated a class session to Islamic art. That day, the professor showed students two medieval paintings of Mohammad, both by Muslim artists, and discussed the various Muslim attitudes toward such depictions. The president of the campus Muslim Students Association soon complained of Islamophobia, and Hamline administrators then announced that the instructor had been dismissed. Jonathan Zimmerman writes:
One Hamline faculty member—just one—publicly defended the professor, writing an essay for the [student newspaper] that pleaded for a historically informed discussion of the paintings. Two days later, the paper removed the essay from its website. And the day after that, in a message to all university employees, Hamline’s President Fayneese S. Miller and Associate Vice-President of Inclusive Excellence David Everett declared that “respect for the observant Muslims in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”
How about non-observant Muslims, and everyone else in the class? They get no respect. Nor does academic freedom, which was established to protect faculty against precisely the kind of attacks that sank the Hamline professor.
In dismissing its professor, Hamline claimed to be striking a blow for “inclusive excellence,” to quote David Everett’s grimly Orwellian title. But it actually reinforced ugly stereotypes of Muslims as intolerant, small-minded, and provincial. And it excluded the views of anybody else—including many Muslims—who might see the world differently from the offended students. That’s not excellence; it’s cowardice.