Wheaton College faculty, administration meet about professor's suspension

  • Wheaton College faculty members sent a letter to the school's administration Wednesday, requesting the withdrawal of political science professor Larycia Hawkins' suspension.

      Wheaton College faculty members sent a letter to the school's administration Wednesday, requesting the withdrawal of political science professor Larycia Hawkins' suspension. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/22/2016 12:07 AM

Many Wheaton College faculty members joined together this week to seek answers from administrators about the suspension of one of their colleagues that has sparked protests both on and off the campus.

The evangelical school's faculty council sent a letter Wednesday to President Philip Ryken and Provost Stan Jones asking them to withdraw their suspension of political science professor Larycia Hawkins. Hawkins has been on paid administrative leave since Dec. 15 and is in danger of being fired for saying Christians and Muslims believe in the same God.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In the letter, faculty members also asked administrators to halt Hawkins' termination proceedings and requested responses to five questions about why she was suspended.

Those questions included:

• Does the College have a position on what can or cannot be said regarding the question: 'Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?'

• What is the process for determining acceptable interpretations of the Statement of Faith? Do faculty have a role in this process? How will faculty know if their views and/or statements are in danger of being judged unacceptable?

• Is it considered proper process to place a faculty member on leave based on public statements that could be outside the statement of faith before there is a process of interpretation?

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• What is Administrative Leave, and how does the Employee Handbook relate to the Faculty Handbook in the case of disciplinary situations?

• What polices (sic) are in place for administration to deal with 'emergency' social media situations?

A similar letter, signed by more than 800 alumni, was sent to administrators last week.

On Thursday, more than 200 faculty members attended a gathering on campus with Ryken and Jones, according to psychology professor Michael Mangis.

While the session was held in an effort to return a sense of unity between the administration and faculty, Mangis said he and many others walked away feeling disappointed and frustrated.

"The president and the provost said they weren't going to reverse their decision," he said. "Basically, the end result was no change."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The college posted a response Thursday on its website that said the faculty council was acting within its guidelines by making a recommendation to the administration.

But, the posting said, "The college administration is following the established process under the faculty handbook for handling employment decisions pertaining to tenured faculty members.

"The next step in this process is a hearing before the faculty personnel committee. The faculty personnel committee will receive presentations from the Provost and Dr. Hawkins regarding the substantive and procedural issues each would like to raise, will review the evidence presented, and will make a formal recommendation regarding the termination of tenure. The ... recommendation will then be taken into consideration by President Ryken, as he makes his recommendation to the board of trustees.

"President Ryken and the faculty council have discussed a review of current policies and processes, with a view to addressing or clarifying areas of concern. However, Dr. Ryken has also asked faculty council to understand that the faculty personnel committee hearing is the method through which the particulars of Dr. Hawkins' personnel matter will be addressed."

Mangis, who was reprimanded last month by Jones for a Facebook comment indicating he was going to teach Muslim prayer in class, said he has faith in the faculty personnel committee that comprises nine tenured faculty members.

"They're doing a good job of gathering all the facts," he said.

Shelly Ruzicka, director of operations for Arise Chicago, an interfaith workplace group that has supported Hawkins since she was put on leave, said Hawkins recently was notified her hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 11. It originally had been scheduled for Saturday.

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