▲ LISTEN: WBEZ reporter Odette Yousef was at Wednesday’s press conference, where Wheaton Professor Larycia Hawkins said the controversy is now about much more than her.
CHICAGO (AP) — The professor of a Christian college who asserted Christians and Muslims worship the same God said Wednesday that her views are in line with the suburban Chicago college’s mission and disputed university accounts of interactions with administrators who’ve taken steps to fire her.
Larycia Hawkins, who’s Christian, was placed on leave at Wheaton College in December after posting her views on Facebook. She also wore a headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims. College officials said her views were inconsistent with the college’s “doctrinal convictions.”
On Tuesday, they said she refused to participate in further conversations about theological issues and initiated termination-for-cause proceedings. However, Hawkins said she tried to reconcile with university officials during a news conference Wednesday at a downtown Chicago church where she received backing from religious leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Hawkins, a political science professor, said she met with administrators several times after the Facebook posting and provided statements explaining her beliefs which she said don’t contradict the college’s. Hawkins said she was told further discussions weren’t required, but college officials then changed their requirements and said she’d have to participate in two years of ongoing conversations during which time her tenure would be revoked. She said university officials advised her to get an attorney, and the next communication was the notice of termination proceedings.
“The rules changing, the goal post keeps moving. And I said, ‘I have dignity, I’ve answered your questions and my statement stands,’” she said Wednesday.
She said nothing about her views contradict the college’s statement of faith, which all instructors sign. Among other things it affirms belief in “one sovereign God,” views on Adam and Eve and the existence of Satan.
Students, alumni, professors and clergy members from several faiths spoke Wednesday in support of Hawkins, with Jackson comparing her to Rosa Parks. Hawkins, who has been at the university since 2007, detailed her religious upbringing in Oklahoma as the granddaughter of a pastor.
She reinforced her views, saying that she believed Muslims, Christians and Jews were all “people of the book.” She also alleged that the university’s actions were to “placate platinum donors.”
“Wheaton College cannot scare me into walking away from the truth that all humans, Muslims, the vulnerable, the oppressed of any ilk, are all my sisters and brothers. And I am called by Jesus to walk with them in their oppression,” she said. “Wheaton College cannot intimidate me into cowering in fear of the enemy of the month as defined by real estate moguls, senators from Texas, Christians from this country, bigots and fundamentalists of all stripes.”
The liberal arts university, which has posted frequent responses to the matter on its website, offered a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that while it “disagrees with some of the facts presented in the press conference, the College admires Dr. Hawkins’ commitment to caring for our Muslim neighbors.”
The university reiterated its stance that at issue was “the theological implications” of Hawkins’ statements, along with requested explanations.
College officials have said they had had frank conversations with Hawkins as they pursued the possibility of reconciliation but remained at impasse since Hawkins “stated clearly her unwillingness to participate in such further clarifying conversations.”
The termination process involves a hearing before a faculty committee and a decision by the college’s board of trustees.
Nearly 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend Wheaton College, which is roughly 30 miles from Chicago.