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Religious leaders back Wheaton College professor facing firing

Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins talks about the school's decision to fire her. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Facing the loss of her job as a professor at Wheaton College, Larycia Hawkins on Wednesday defended her Christian faith and her devotion to the ideal of academic and spiritual debate.

Hawkins was notified Monday the suburban Christian college had taken steps toward firing her over remarks expressing solidarity with Muslims and her decision to wear a headscarf during the monthlong Advent season. But Hawkins struck a defiant tone as she addressed reporters from the pulpit of the church inside the Chicago Temple Building downtown.

Wearing her hair down and uncovered, and flanked by religious leaders from across the region, Hawkins both praised Wheaton College and questioned the school’s commitment to fostering discussion of faith and support for non-Christians.

“I am flummoxed and flabbergasted by the events of the past two weeks,” Hawkins said, lauding the school for its standing among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges while maintaining a Christian mission.

“Wheaton College does liberal arts well, yet I am left to ponder: How well does Wheaton College treat its employees who dare to challenge students and peers to stand with, not merely for, people outside the Christian faith?”

Professor Larycia Hawkins was suspended by Wheaton College in December. | Sun-Times file photo

The Christian college of 2,400 students in west suburban Wheaton, best known as the alma mater of notable evangelist Billy Graham, announced Hawkins had been suspended last month, claiming statements Hawkins made in a Facebook post that Muslims and Christians “worship the same God” conflicted with the “statement of faith” the school requires all faculty to sign each year. A political science professor, Hawkins had been the first African-American woman granted tenure by the school and had clashed previously with the college administration.

The school on Monday notified Hawkins it had begun a weeks-long administrative process that could lead to her firing. In a previous statement, the college has said Hawkins had declined to have “conversations” with college officials to clarify her statements.

Hawkins said Wednesday she had written a statement at the college’s request but declined to provide further statements Provost Stan Jones asked for afterward, claiming the college was “moving the goalposts.” Hawkins has posted the four-page “theological statement” she provided to college officials on her webpage, drlaryciahawkins.org.

In a meeting with Jones about the controversy last week, Hawkins said several options for her return to the classroom were put forward by the provost, though the “best-case scenario” involved revoking her tenure and subjecting her to “two years of multi-layered, ongoing conversation about the theological implications of my Facebook post and my actions in wearing the hijab.”

The letter notifying Hawkins that Jones had recommended she be fired included more than 30 pages of “charges” as grounds for her termination. A final decision on her firing will come down to a vote of the board of trustees.

A college spokesman did not immediately return a call from the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday.

Religious leaders, including the director of the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, on Monday praised Hawkins for her stance, and for donning the hijab during a period when presidential contenders such as Donald Trump have singled out Muslim Americans.

“I had never seen an expression that represents what Jesus stands for [such as] as I have by Dr. Hawkins,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago. “That did not cause me to wonder whether she was diluting the message of Christianity, but it taught me that that’s what Jesus is all about.”