Over 800 Wheaton College alumni have signed a petition threatening to withhold financial gifts to school until it reinstates a professor who was suspended last month for claiming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Earlier in January, Wheaton College Provost Stanton Jones recommended termination proceedings for associate political science professor Larycia Hawkins after she took to Facebook to share a photo of herself wearing a hijab along with the caption, "I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God."
In a statement, the Evangelical institution explained that the professor's "theological statements [seemed] inconsistent with Wheaton College's doctrinal convictions."
According to a report from the Daily Herald, on Friday, at least 815 Wheaton graduates signed a letter addressed to Wheaton President Philip Ryken and the Wheaton Board of Trustees, which was delivered to school officials Friday.
Reads the letter, in part: "We, the undersigned, respectfully request that all termination proceedings against Hawkins cease immediately, that she be fully reinstated as a tenured associate professor of Political Science, and for administration to issue a public acknowledgement for the grave institutional missteps that have irreparably damaged Hawkins' reputation within the academy and credibility among Evangelical Christians. Until full restoration and reconciliation are reached, each of us will prayerfully re-consider our commitment to financially support the mission of Wheaton College."
"This is not the Wheaton we know," the letter added.
The letter, penned by Clara Kent, a 2014 graduate, goes on to list a number of concerns that the alumni have with the school's behavior in dealing with Hawkins, arguing that the school failed to provide "substantial basis" for attempting to revoke Hawkins' tenure.
It also claims that the college has "held Hawkins to an unprecedented level of repeated scrutiny, not experienced by any other tenured faculty member," as she has been asked to re-affirm the school's statement of faith four times since she began teaching there.
The letter charges that the school placed Hawkins on administrative leave even though "no such category is stated in the Faculty Handbook," and also "failed to uphold biblical guidelines for dealing with conflict" by sending "other faculty" to confront the professor instead of having Wheaton officials speak with her directly.
"It is our sincere hope that administration will act with humility and contrition and show the world a better path, by inaugurating intentional discussions to clarify and resolve any issues in dispute, for the good of Wheaton College and for Christ and His Kingdom," the letter concludes.
Wheaton spokesperson LaTonya Taylor told the Daily Herald last week that the college has received the letter and is "committed to addressing their concerns."
As earlier reported by the Gospel Herald, the college met with Hawkins in December to see if a reconciliation agreement could be reached. However, the professor reportedly turned down a proposal that would have stripped her of her tenure for at least two years, prompting Wheaton to announce that the two sides had reached an impasse.
"On the part of the College, further theological clarification is necessary before such reconciliation can take place, and unfortunately Dr. Hawkins has stated clearly her unwillingness to participate in such further clarifying conversations," the college said in a statement. "This represents an impasse on our efforts toward reconciliation."
In turn, Hawkins recently told NPR that Wheaton misinterpreted her statement, which she says was not a theological treatise but about showing support for Muslims.
"The post was not about theology," she said, explaining that she hopes to stay at Wheaton. "It was about solidarity, which is a Christian principle."
The Christian Post notes that since her suspension, Hawkins has sought the help of the faith-based labor advocacy group Arise Chicago, to which she is a board member.
On Friday, Arise Chicago Director of Operations Shelly Ruzicka explained in a press release that the council that represents Wheaton's teaching faculty has voiced concerns about the institution's treatment of Hawkins.
"The only way forward is if we first go back, back to the beginning when Hawkins was first put on leave," , the press release quotes Wheaton Faculty Council member Gary Burge as saying. "The dismissal recommendation and her leave of absence should be rescinded. Once she is reinstated then we can begin the hard theological work of sorting out Islam and Christianity like a college should: with study, a conference perhaps, and established national speakers."