WHEATON COLLEGE PERSONNEL CONTROVERSY RESOLVED
MARCH 4, 2016
In my January 15 blog, I commented on the personnel controversy that had developed between Wheaton College and political science professor, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, over statements she had made about Muslim and Christian relations. The College had moved to fire Hawkins after placing her on administrative leave following a claim she had made on Facebook that Christians and Muslims "worship the same God." Her comments (and gesture of solidarity--wearing a hijab during Advent) were meant to express the common bond of the two religions "of the book." Wheaton characterized her remarks as theological in nature and potentially at odds with the College's understanding of Christian doctrine, as expressed in the Statement of Faith and the Community Covenant, which all employees must sign.
While I commended my alma mater for position they had taken and for the termination steps they were pursuing in defending their theological beliefs, I also expressed concern for the public relations nightmare in which they found themselves embroiled. I was fearful that this personnel controversy would result in litigation with the outcome potentially having implications for many other Christian colleges and universities.
However, I am pleased to report that Wheaton College and Dr. Larycia Hawkins did come together and found a mutual place of resolution and reconciliation. The two parties reached a confidential agreement under which they were able to part ways. This was announced at a news conference on February 10. Since that time, Hawkins has accepted a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture of the University of Virginia. At Virginia, she will study the relationship between races and religions.
I am quite pleased that Wheaton College was able to reach an agreement with Dr. Hawkins and avert further controversy, but I am quite sure that more cases such as this will develop on Christian college and university campuses in the future over freedom of speech and academic freedom. With this in mind, I again assert my conviction that the statements of faith and community covenants of a religious institutions set the boundaries for the conduct and speech for all employees. Christian institutions are not bound by the First Amendment relative to freedom of speech. They may limit speech on their campuses based upon their religious teachings. This is a basic religious liberty that we enjoy, and it must be protected!
Larry J. McKinney
Higher Education Consultant