815 Wheaton College alums: Don't fire professor

  • More than 800 Wheaton College alumni signed a letter emailed to administrators Friday asking that the college halt termination proceedings against professor Larycia Hawkins.

      More than 800 Wheaton College alumni signed a letter emailed to administrators Friday asking that the college halt termination proceedings against professor Larycia Hawkins. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/15/2016 5:36 PM

More than 800 Wheaton College alumni are threatening to withhold financial gifts to the school unless it reconciles with a political science professor put on administrative leave last month for saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Clara Kent, a 2014 graduate, emailed a letter signed by 815 alumni to President Philip Ryken, Provost Stanton Jones and the college's board of trustees. Those who signed are former students who graduated from the 1950s to last year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The letter said the manner in which the administration has questioned and scrutinized Larycia Hawkins since she expressed solidarity with Muslims on Facebook "brings us to seriously question Wheaton's judgment and will to engage in discourse about complex and important issues of our time with civility and integrity."

"We, the undersigned, respectfully request that all termination proceedings against Dr. Hawkins cease immediately, that she be fully reinstated as a tenured Associate Professor of Political Science, and for administration to issue a public acknowledgment for the grave institutional missteps that have irreparably damaged Dr. Hawkins's reputation within the academy and credibility among evangelical Christians," the letter says. "Until full restoration and reconciliation are reached, each of us will prayerfully reconsider our commitment to financially support the mission of Wheaton College."

The college responded with a one-sentence statement Friday afternoon.

"The college is aware of the letter from alumni," spokeswoman LaTonya Taylor wrote, "and is committed to addressing their concerns."

Kent said other smaller groups of alumni have sent letters to the school since Hawkins was put on leave, but this is the first large-scale, unified effort by alumni to address the administration. She said the letter was not sent out of anger or revenge, but to steer the college in what supporters believe is the right direction.

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"We wouldn't push back if we didn't still love the college," she said. "We love Wheaton. That's why we're fighting so hard."

The college informed Hawkins on Jan. 4 that it was initiating termination proceedings.

Hawkins, who is Christian, was placed on administrative leave Dec. 15 after she posted several comments on Facebook expressing support for Muslims.

"I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book," she wrote. She also wrote, "As Pope Francis stated ... (Christians and Muslims) worship the same God."

At the time, college officials said Hawkins was put on leave to "give more time to explore significant questions regarding the theological implications of her recent public statements."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college's evangelical Statement of Faith," college officials said in a written statement at that time.

The decision to start Hawkins' termination process has caused a divide on the evangelical campus. Some professors and at least 100 current students rallied on her behalf earlier this week, calling on the two sides to reconcile.

Shelly Ruzicka, director of operations for Arise Chicago, an interfaith workplace group that has supported Hawkins since she was put on leave, said she didn't know how much money the college may lose if the alumni who signed Friday's letter stop giving, but "the college has potentially already lost donations."

Ruzicka said Hawkins' termination proceedings are scheduled to begin Saturday, Jan. 23, with a hearing before a committee of nine tenured faculty members.

The committee will make a recommendation regarding Hawkins' tenure that will be considered by the college president. A recommendation then will be forwarded to the college's board of trustees, which is responsible for making a final decision regarding Hawkins' employment.

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