Prof accuses Wheaton of pandering to donors in effort to fire her
by Leigh Jones
Posted 1/07/16, 04:20 pm
Surrounded by supporters from Chicago’s diverse religious community and students from Wheaton College, political science professor Larycia Hawkins, who wore a head scarf during Advent in support of Muslims, took a defiant stand during a news conference yesterday. She accused her employer of using “double speak” and capitulating to donors in its effort to fire her.
Hawkins offered in a lengthy statement her version of events in her increasingly acrimonious confrontation with Wheaton administrators. Wheaton responded with a two-paragraph repudiation.
“While Wheaton College disagrees with some of the facts presented in the press conference, the college admires Dr. Hawkins’ commitment to caring for our Muslim neighbors,” administrators said in a statement. “As previously stated, at issue are the theological implications of Dr. Hawkins’ statements and requested explanation. The college will continue the internal review process set in place for tenured professors.”
In the next 30 days, Hawkins will have a hearing before a faculty panel that will make a recommendation about whether to revoke her tenure and terminate her employment. Hawkins did not address the upcoming hearing directly, but laid out her case for exoneration
Repeatedly, Hawkins affirmed her agreement with the university’s Statement of Faith, from which she said she has never wavered. She told of “walking the aisle” of her grandfather’s church in Oklahoma to accept Jesus as her savior when she was 11 years old. She described herself as a woman on a spiritual journey that has always pointed her to Jesus.
But Wheaton administrators fear that journey has taken Hawkins too far off the path of Christian orthodoxy with her claims of solidarity with Muslims.
The trouble started in December after Hawkins made comments on social media about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God. Her statements were part of a campaign of solidarity with Muslims sparked by recent debates about refugees and terrorism. To show support for her Muslim neighbors, Hawkins announced she would wear a hijab, the traditional head covering for Muslim women, during Advent. Wheaton administrators didn’t oppose Hawkins wearing the hijab, but said her claims about similarities between Islam and Christianity raised questions about her commitment to the university’s Statement of Faith.
Administrators placed her on paid leave and asked her for a theological statement explaining her comments. In a letter dated Dec. 17, Hawkins affirmed her agreement with the Statement of Faith and said her understanding of the similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam is based on the work of several prominent evangelical theologians.
“Like them, I acknowledge that the statement ‘we worship the same God’ is a simultaneous ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the question of whether Christians and Muslims (as well as Jews) turn to the same object of worship, namely, the ‘God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Eph. 4:6),” she wrote.
At first, Hawkins said, Provost Stanton Jones told her the letter was sufficient to address administrators’ concerns. But the next day he wanted more clarification, she said. When she wouldn’t agree to a two-year process of review, during which time her tenure would be revoked, Hawkins said Jones encouraged her to get a lawyer.
Wheaton’s response to Hawkins’ news conference did not address that claim.
But Hawkins does now have a lawyer and intends to fight any attempts to fire her. She said she refused to allow administrators to hold her to a higher standard than other faculty members.
“Wheaton College will never induce me to kowtow to their double speak concerning the Statement of Faith so as to appease an imaginary constituency that clearly knows little about what academic freedom or Christian love means or to placate platinum donors to their coffers,” she said.
Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.