Wheaton College and Larycia Hawkins, the political science professor who started a furor over theology and academic freedom after declaring on social media that Christians and Muslims serve the same God, announced Feb. 5 they are amicably parting ways.
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.
The surprise announcement came just days before Hawkins was to go before a faculty panel at the evangelical university in Wheaton, Ill., to defend her comments. Several groups of faculty members had voiced support for Hawkins, who maintained throughout the conflict that Wheaton was treating her unfairly and had no reason to question her adherence to the evangelical college’s statement of faith.
Hawkins made her controversial comments in mid-December as part of a campaign to show solidarity with Muslims. She announced she also would wear a hijab, the traditional head covering for Muslim women, during Advent. Wheaton administrators quickly put her on paid leave pending an official review.
Hawkins was a tenured professor who had worked at the school for about nine years.
“In pursuit of further public reconciliation,” Hawkins and Wheaton administrators held a joint press conference. During the news conference, leaders announced an endowed scholarship, created as part of reconciliation efforts, for summer interns working on peace and conflict projects.
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 [Feb. 10] 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.
“Wheaton College sincerely appreciates Dr. Hawkins’ contributions to this institution over the last nine years,” Wheaton College president Philip Graham Ryken said in the joint statement. “We are grateful for her passionate teaching, scholarship, community service, and mentorship of our students.”
As part of the public reconciliation attempt, Provost Stanton Jones told faculty members he had apologized to Hawkins for the way he handled the situation. Jones recommended in January that the college fire Hawkins, which triggered the formal review process that would eventually have ended with a Board of Trustees vote.
“I asked Dr. Hawkins for her forgiveness for the ways I contributed to the fracture of our relationship, and to the fracture of Dr. Hawkins’ relationship with the College,” Jones wrote in an email to the faculty that was obtained by The Washington Post. He said he had shown a “lack of wisdom and collegiality” in dealing with Hawkins through another colleague, rather than directly.
The situation caused such an uproar on campus that Ryken said he has asked the board to weigh in on the process and the way it was handled.
“Because concerns have been raised about many aspects of this complex situation – including concerns related to academic freedom, due process, the leaking of confidential information, possible violations of faculty governance, and gender and racial discrimination – I have asked the Board of Trustees to conduct a thorough review,” Ryken wrote, according to the Post.
On Feb. 5, slightly more than one-third of the school’s faculty signed a letter asking for Hawkins’ reinstatement. She has previously accused administrators of being on a witch hunt to pander to “platinum donors.”