Officials at a Christian college in suburban Chicago have begun efforts to fire a tenured associate professor who was placed on administrative leave last month after she asserted that Christians and Muslims worship the same God — a statement she made while wearing a hijab to show solidarity.
Wheaton College announced its action against Larycia Hawkins in a statement on Tuesday, saying Provost Stanton Jones initiated termination proceedings after Hawkins refused to participate in "clarifying conversations" about theological issues.
In a press conference with community and interfaith leaders on Wednesday, Hawkins pushed back, saying she met with administrators several times and provided statements explaining her beliefs, which she contends are in line with the college’s mission.
College officials initially told Hawkins that further discussion wasn't required, she said. Then they changed their position, saying that her tenure would be revoked while she participated in mandatory conversations that could take up to two years.
The private evangelical school west of Chicago said it placed Hawkins, 43, on paid administrative leave in December and relieved her of all teaching and programmatic duties for the Spring 2016 semester because of theological statements "that seem inconsistent with Wheaton College's doctrinal convictions, which she voluntarily agreed to support and uphold when she entered into an employment agreement with the college."
Hawkins, a devote Protestant Christian and professor of political science, wrote on Facebook on Dec. 10 that she was donning the hijab, a headscarf traditionally worn by Muslim women, during the Christian Advent season to show solidarity with Muslims, who in the United States have experienced “unconstitutional and Islamophobic” attacks. In her post, Hawkins said, "We worship the same God."
She told reporters last month that her actions "were motivated by a desire to live out my faith." Hawkins, who remains firm in her action, updated her Facebook profile on Wednesday with photographs of her wearing a hijab.
Wheaton College has said that Hawkins’ decision to wear the hijab is not why she was placed on administrative leave. The college also said it has had frank conversations with her on doctrinal issues as it pursued the possibility of reconciliation but that "Hawkins has stated clearly her unwillingness to participate in such further clarifying conversations."
School officials will announce a final decision on Hawkins’ future with Wheaton College following a hearing with a faculty committee and other reviews. However, it’s not clear when the process will be complete.
Despite the controversy, Hawkins said she has “no hatred” for the school. "Throughout my years of service at Wheaton College, I have never wavered from my commitment to the Christian doctrines elucidated in this statement of faith,” Hawkins said.
Al Jazeera and wire services. Ehab Zahriyeh contributed to this report.