Wheaton, Hawkins profess no hard feelings
Higher Education | College to name scholarship for the departing political science professor it once wanted to fire
by Leigh Jones
Posted 2/10/16, 05:40 pm
As part of reconciliation efforts with one of its former professors, Wheaton College will create an endowed scholarship for summer interns working on peace and conflict projects.
Leaders at the evangelical Christian college in Wheaton, Ill., announced the scholarship during a news conference this morning held jointly with former political science professor Larycia Hawkins, for whom the grant will be named. During her time at the school, Hawkins had developed a certificate program in peace and conflict studies.
Today’s public event followed the announcement Saturday that the college and Hawkins had reached a confidential settlement to end efforts to revoke her tenure and remove her from the faculty. Hawkins has not said what she plans to do next or whether she will continue her academic career at another university.
Neither Hawkins nor Wheaton administrators took questions this morning after reading from prepared remarks.
“We want to learn everything that we can from this situation,” university president Phillip Ryken said, noting the college and Hawkins are moving forward in “genuine” friendship. “We hope to become a better, stronger community with a shared understanding of academic freedom in the context of Christian convictions.”
On Saturday, Ryken said he had asked the school’s board of trustees to conduct a review of the process for addressing faculty and personnel issues in the future, especially when it comes to possible violations of the school’s statement of faith. Hawkins started a furor over theology and academic freedom in December after declaring on social media that Christians and Muslims serve the same God. School administrators quickly placed her on paid leave and initiated the process required to fire her. She insisted she had not violated the school’s statement of faith and planned to fight to keep her job.
This morning, Hawkins said she would cling to happy memories of her nine years at Wheaton. She also repeated the calls for unity among all people that she voiced on Facebook in December.
“Today is Lent, the beginning of a season of fasting, a season to reflect where we are on our spiritual journeys, who we are and what we are becoming,” she said. “So, I ask you: Who are you? Do you find yourself in your neighbor? Because yes, we are all created in the image of the divine. But we find ourselves in our neighbors, we find ourselves in other people.”
While Hawkins and Ryken spoke of reconciliation, a group of about two dozen Wheaton students, alumni, and religious leaders called for repentance. The group gathered on the school’s campus to call for Wheaton and other Christian universities to “confess and repent of the sins of racism, sexism, and Islamophobia, and recognize that all humans have dignity and are created equal in the eyes of God.” The group planned to pray and fast for 40 days.
Hawkins’ December statements about Christians and Muslims came as part of a campaign to show solidarity with Muslims in America facing suspicion and hostility after November’s high-profile terror attack in Paris, which prompted political leaders to call for tighter restrictions on Muslim refugees entering the country. During Advent, Hawkins wore a hijab, the traditional head covering for Muslim women.
Ryken said Wheaton believes in religious freedom and opposes any repression, including of Muslims.
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.