A group of over 800 Wheaton College alumni are threatening to withdraw their financial support for the Evangelical institution until the school reinstates a tenured professor who was suspended last month for asserting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
After Wheaton College Provost Stanton Jones recommended termination proceedings for associate political science professor Larycia Hawkins, who started a media firestorm in December after she wrote on Facebook that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, a letter signed by at least 815 Wheaton graduates was delivered to school officials Friday, telling the administration to cease in its termination effort or face the consequences.
"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," the letter asserts. "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, which was shared with The Christian Post, lists a number of concerns that the alumni have with the school's behavior in dealing with Hawkins, who has taught at the school since 2007 and is the institution's first female African-American tenured professor.
The letter argues that the school failed to provide "substantial basis" for attempting to revoke Hawkins' tenure and 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 also contends that when the school placed Hawkins on "administrative leave" on Dec. 15, 2015, it did so even though "no such category is stated in the Faculty Handbook." Additionally, the letter charges that the Wheaton administration "failed to uphold biblical guidelines for dealing with conflict" by sending "other faculty" to talk to Hawkins 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.
According to the Daily Herald, the letter was sent by 2014 graduate Clara Kent by email to Jones, Wheaton President Philip Ryken and the Wheaton Board of Trustees. The letter was signed by alumni of all ages, including those who graduated in the 1950s.
Although Hawkins was initially suspended over of her "same god" assertion and ensuing defense of that assertion, Wheaton maintains that Hawkins' termination recommendation is a result of her unwillingness to continue to take part in theological discussions with the school over her assertion.
Although Hawkins filed a four-page theological statement on Dec. 17 explaining her same God argument, the administration believes that more discussion is required before she can be reinstated. Hawkins, however, has declined to continue discussion.
Wheaton spokesperson LaTonya Taylor told the Daily Herald last week that the college has received the letter and is "committed to addressing their concerns."
Since her suspension, Hawkins has been aided by 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 press release included a quote from Wheaton New Testament professor and Wheaton Faculty Council member, Gary Burge, who argues that the school must reinstate Hawkins.
"The only way forward is if we first go back, back to the beginning when Hawkins was first put on leave," Burge was quoted 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."
A national petition has been launched on Change.org calling for the school to reinstate Hawkins and has received over 67,000 signatures.