WHEATON, Ill. — The Board of Trustees at Wheaton College in Illinois has released a report on a situation that resulted in the parting of ways with a professor who declared on social media earlier this year that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.”
“Placing Dr. Hawkins on administrative leave at the conclusion of their first face-to-face meeting was an error in judgment, especially since she agreed to prepare a written response to [Provost Stan Jones’] concerns,” it wrote in the report, released on Tuesday. “Publicly announcing the imposition of administrative leave exacerbated the conflict and was distressing to Dr. Hawkins.”
“She should have been informed that the administration believed a public response to the situation was necessary and given adequate notice of the public announcement that she was being placed on administrative leave,” the board stated.
As previously reported, last December, Larycia Hawkins posted to Facebook two photos of herself wearing a hijab, and stated in a lengthy explanation that she planned to wear it everywhere she went during the Advent—including at the Christian-identifying college and to church.
“I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind—a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014,” Hawkins wrote.
She asserted that not only does she have a common ancestry with Muslims, but that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” Hawkins asserted. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
In light of controversy over her statement, the professor was placed on paid administrative leave by university officials while a review would be conducted.
“Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion, and theological clarity,” the college said in a statement. “As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s evangelical Statement of Faith.”
But talks soon reached a stalemate, and officials soon issued Hawkins a “Notice of Recommendation to Initiate Termination-for-Cause Proceedings.”
In February, just days before a meeting was to be held over the proceedings, Wheaton announced that the two parties had agreed to part ways.
“The administration and Dr. Hawkins have come to a place of resolution and reconciliation,” President Philip Ryken, who formerly led Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, said in an email to the campus. “With a mutual desire for God’s blessing, we have decided to part ways.”
The college also announced that it had revoked its charges against the professor. Provost Jones advised that he personally apologized to Hawkins.
“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,” he explained in a separate email. “I apologized for my lack of wisdom and collegiality as I initially approached Dr. Hawkins, and for imposing an administrative leave more precipitously than was necessary.”
Jones, however, also added, “I stand by my concerns that Dr. Hawkins’s theological statements raised important questions.”
This week, following analysis by an appointed Review Task Force, the Wheaton Board of Trustees outlined both what the school handled rightly and wrongly in the situation.
“We find Provost Jones’ apology offered to Dr. Hawkins on February 3, 2016 identifies many of the actions of the administration that we regret and wish to learn from going forward. President Ryken agrees that as president of the institution, these regrettable actions happened under his leadership,” it wrote.
“We agree with the Review Task Force that a more appropriate public announcement on December 15, 2015 should have been limited to an affirmation of the College’s commitment to our Statement of Faith, a reminder that all faculty annually affirm the Statement of Faith and Community Covenant, an intent to conduct an internal review under normal protocols, and a statement that no further public comments would be forthcoming until completion of this review,” the Board said.
It said that it would have also been preferable for Jones to “reach out to Dr. Hawkins again prior to initiating termination proceedings on January 4, 2016, despite her stated unwillingness to engage in any further theological conversation.”
However, the school stood by its decision to discuss with Hawkins the “same God” post on her Facebook page and how it could have reflected on the college.
“We affirm the president and provost’s pursuit of theological conversation with Dr. Hawkins concerning her Facebook posts as well as her written theological response to the Provost’s questions,” the board wrote. “The Review Task Force and the Trustees affirm that the confessional identity of Wheaton College made it necessary to engage Dr. Hawkins about these statements—and especially those about human origins and the relationship between Christianity and Islam.”
“We note that the college did not oppose Dr. Hawkins’ decision to wear a hijab during Advent and commended her gesture of care for Muslims in the face of discrimination,” it clarified. “While her Facebook posts and media interviews seemed primarily intended to invite others to join her in this gesture of solidarity with Muslims who were unfairly associated with violent terrorist acts, her theological statements in support of this solidarity could be interpreted in ways that were inconsistent with the college’s Statement of Faith.”
Read the full 15-page report released this week by clicking here.