Wheaton College has begun the process of firing a professor who said Muslims and Christians worship the same God, the teacher and the west suburban school confirmed Tuesday.
Larycia Hawkins, a tenured political science professor who in December demonstrated solidarity with her Muslim neighbors by wearing a hijab, said at the end of last year that the college appeared ready to force her out after she had rejected recommendations to resign. This week she received word from Provost Stanton Jones that the termination process had begun.
“The Notice is not a termination; rather, it begins Wheaton College’s established process for employment actions pertaining to tenured faculty members,” the private evangelical college said in a statement confirming the latest development.
Hawkins, 43, announced last month that she would don the hijab as part of her Advent devotion to show support for Muslims who have been under scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Though the college did not take a position on her wearing the headscarf, some evangelical Christians said her statement should have spelled out what makes Christianity distinct from Islam. Not doing so put her in conflict with the statement of faith that all Wheaton faculty members must sign and live out, they said.
“While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer,” Wheaton College said in a statement.
The college placed Hawkins on paid administrative leave through the spring semester, pending a review. Hawkins fulfilled the college’s request to submit a theological response to questions about her statement of solidarity. But Jones told the Tribune that “the statement in itself does not resolve all of the issues.”
“On the part of the College, further theological clarification is necessary before such reconciliation can take place, and unfortunately Dr. Hawkins has stated clearly her unwillingness to participate in such further clarifying conversations,” the college said in a statement. “This represents an impasse on our efforts toward reconciliation.”
Hawkins’ attorney Robert Bloch, who also represents the Chicago Teachers Union, said Hawkins will fight the efforts to fire her but that he doesn’t know whether the proceedings halt negotiations between the professor and the college.
“I can’t at this point ascertain whether that signals an end of the process or not,” Bloch said. “We’re certainly prepared to continue to resolve our differences with the college.”
Hawkins has been asked to affirm the college’s statement of faith four times since she started teaching at Wheaton nearly nine years ago. She was first admonished for writing an academic paper about what Christians could learn from black liberation theology, which relates the Bible with the often-troubled history of race relations in America. Jones said Hawkins’ article seemed to endorse a kind of Marxism.
She was called in a year later to defend a photograph someone posted on Facebook showing her at a party inside a home on Halsted Street the same day as Chicago’s Pride Parade. Last spring she was asked to affirm the statement again after suggesting that diversifying the college curriculum should include diplomatic vocabulary for conversations around sexuality.
Last month she faced questions a fourth time over her Facebook post that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. She said she was simply reiterating that there is common ground among the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, which many theologians have said for centuries.
As part of the process, Hawkins will attend a hearing in the next 30 days with the college’s Faculty Personnel Committee, an elected body made up of nine tenured faculty members. The committee will hear testimony and evidence from both sides and make a recommendation to President Philip Ryken regarding Hawkins’ tenure.
Ryken then will make a recommendation to the Wheaton College board of trustees. While an adviser may accompany Hawkins at the hearing, the college prohibits that person from having a law degree.
“It’s not unheard of,” Bloch said. “It’s a procedure that’s created by contract so they can set limitations. It’s regrettable .”
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