“Reinstate Professor Hawkins”: Read open letter by political scientists from Wheaton College

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Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College (Illinois). Photo by RyanSuh31 via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanhsuh31/9074184609

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College (Illinois). Photo by RyanSuh31 via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanhsuh31/9074184609

A group of twenty political scientists who graduated from Wheaton College (Illinois) wrote an open letter to the president and board of trustees of their alma mater. The alumni are supporting political science professor Larycia Hawkins, who has been placed on leave and is facing termination for cause. Written by alumni who are in the field of political science (including myself), the letter provides a unique take on the controversy. 

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College (Illinois). Photo by RyanSuh31 via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanhsuh31/9074184609

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College (Illinois). Photo by RyanSuh31 via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanhsuh31/9074184609

February 3, 2016

Dear President Ryken and the Wheaton College Board of Trustees:

We write to you as graduates of Wheaton College who are now professors of political science.* We are proud of the education we received at Wheaton. In particular, we are thankful for the outstanding faculty of Wheaton’s Department of Politics and International Relations who prepared us for our vocations in political science. We are saddened by the events regarding Professor Larycia Hawkins. We offer our insights as alumni in the field of political science in the hope of encouraging reconciliation.

We are political scientists and, as such, we have an interest in protecting due process and academic freedom. We have followed the events of the past six weeks as closely as we can from afar. While we cannot presume to know all of the details, we share the Wheaton College Faculty Council’s “grave concerns about the process.” Disciplinary procedures against tenured faculty members should be guided by established rules and procedures. This commitment to due process should be the strongest when it affects academic freedom. Political science faculty are often required as part of their job to provide scholarly insights on controversial matters to their students, their communities, and their colleges/universities. We agree with the American Political Science Association that Professor Hawkins’ public statements “cannot be separated from her scholarly focus on religion and politics.” We strongly recommend that Wheaton College reinstate Professor Hawkins and work toward reconciliation if there have been violations of due process or an infringement of her academic freedom.

We are very concerned about the harm to Professor Hawkins and the potential for further damage. Administrative leave of a tenured professor should be avoided except in extreme cases. Being placed on leave often damages the reputation of a professor, both at her home institution and in her professional field. If, as Wheaton College appears to indicate, Professor Hawkins was placed on leave before a review, then Professor Hawkins’ leave would likely be irregular and prejudicial. We are saddened by the recommendation for termination with tenure, as this is usually a career-ending punishment. After years of graduate education and nearly a decade at Wheaton College that included earning tenure at the College, Professor Hawkins now faces the most severe punishment in our profession. As her colleagues in the field, we encourage Wheaton College to welcome efforts toward reconciliation rather than continue down the current path.

As professors, we fear that Wheaton College is hampering its ability to attract first-rate professors who make “excellence in the liberal arts” possible. To attract and retain the best professors, Wheaton College must have a reputation as a place that respects the basic rights of faculty and nurtures its faculty. What is more, because Professor Hawkins is the first African American woman tenured at Wheaton College the actions taken against Professor Hawkins will raise questions about how Wheaton College treats minority and female professors. Public reports of administrative control of faculty speech and differential treatment will be taken as a warning to high-quality candidates. A willingness to slow down and work collaboratively will do much to restore Wheaton College’s reputation.

We are also greatly concerned about the effect this incident will have on Wheaton College graduates pursuing an academic vocation. There have always been some in higher education who hold unfair stereotypes of Christian colleges. The Department of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton College, however, has established a well-earned reputation within political science as a place that produces serious scholars who are well prepared for graduate study. In light of the American Political Science Association’s letter to Wheaton College denouncing the treatment of Professor Hawkins, however, there is now good reason to believe that Wheaton graduates applying to graduate school and to academic jobs will be judged as less-qualified or less-serious scholars simply because of the damage Wheaton is making to its own reputation within the field. We hope that a change in course will help demonstrate Wheaton College’s commitment to quality education.

We implore Wheaton College to find a way to allow Professor Hawkins to continue her service to the college and its students as a tenured professor. We believe that a good first step will be to reinstate Professor Hawkins and suspend the termination process so that everyone can work toward a common goal of reconciliation.

* Those who are not professors in political science departments received doctorates in political science (or in closely-related fields); graduated from Wheaton College as political science majors; and/or study politics as part of their research and teaching.


Alumni are listed by class year. Each person signs as an individual; organizations are listed for identification only and do not imply organization endorsement.

Brent Nelsen, ’81
Ph.D. Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Professor of Political Science, Furman University
Chair of the South Carolina Educational Television Commission
Member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Corporation for Public Broadcasting

David E. Dixon, ’85
Ph.D. Political Science, University of Notre Dame
Chair and Professor of Political Science, California State University, Dominguez Hills

James M. Scott , ’86
Ph.D. Political Science, Northern Illinois University
Herman Brown Chair and Professor of Political Science, Texas Christian University
Co-editor of Political Research Quarterly

Robert Woodberry, ’87
Ph.D. Sociology, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Associate Professor of Political Science, National University of Singapore
Senior Research Professor, ISR, Baylor University
Director, Project on Religion and Economic Change

Linda M. Beail, ’90
Ph.D. Political Science, University of Iowa
Professor of Political Science and Director of the Margaret Stevenson Center for Women’s Studies, Point Loma Nazarene University

Fay Botham, ’90
Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University
Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Neil Carlson, 90
Ph.D. Political Science, Duke University
Director, Center for Social Research, Calvin College

John Schmalzbauer, ’90
Ph.D., Sociology, Princeton University
Blanche Gorman Strong Chair in Protestant Studies and Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Missouri State University

Joan M. Blauwkamp, ’92
Ph.D. Political Science, University of Iowa
Professor of Political Science, University of Nebraska – Kearney

Loramy (Mimi) Gerstbauer, ’93
Ph.D. Political Science, University of Notre Dame
Associate Professor of Political Science, Gustavus Adolphus College

Leah Seppanen Anderson, ‘95
Ph.D. Political Science, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Associate Professor and Chair of Politics and International Relations, Wheaton College

Stephen Offutt, ’95
Ph.D. Sociology, Boston University
Assistant Professor of Development Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary

Kimberly Horn Conger, ’96
Ph.D. Political Science, The Ohio State University
Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Cincinnati
President of Christians in Political Science

Tobin Grant, ’96
Ph.D., Political Science, The Ohio State University
Professor of Political Science, Southern Illinois University
Co-editor of Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

Jana Morgan, ’98
Ph.D., Political Science, University of North Carolina
Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, University of Tennessee

Nathan Kelly, ’99
Ph.D., Political Science, University of North Carolina
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Tennessee

Jacob Lesniewski, ’99
Ph.D Social Welfare, University of Chicago
Assistant Professor, Dominican University Graduate School of Social Work
Member, Visiting Committee, Center for Urban Engagement, Wheaton College

Timothy Pachirat, 99
Ph.D. Political Science, Yale University
Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst.  

Noah Toly, ’99 MA ’12
Ph.D., Urban Affairs & Public Policy, University of Delaware
Associate Professor of Politics & International Relations, Wheaton College
Director of the Center for Urban Engagement, Wheaton College
Senior Fellow for Global Cities, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Ryan Brasher, ’01
Ph.D., Political Science, Indiana University
Assistant Professor, Forman Christian College, Lahore Pakistan

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  • Kurt Peterson

    Historians for Hawkins: I’m in too:

    Kurt W Peterson, ’89 (History/Philosophy)
    Ph.D., The University of Notre Dame;
    Former Professor of History, Department Chair, Assoc. Dean,North Park University;
    Director of Development, College of Arts and Sciences, Loyola University Chicago

  • Pingback: Wheaton College alumni in political science support Professor Larycia Hawkins - Religion Press Release Services()

  • John

    I do believe that Professor Hawkins should be reinstated but also Wheaton College must make it abundantly clear that Muslims need to be saved. That is the problem. Wheaton College must affirm there is only one way to Heaven through Jesus Christ alone. So we can maybe say that Allah is the same as Yaweh but Muslims will not make it unless they turn to Jesus through faith and repentance.

  • JW

    I love learning and Wheaton College is the place to do it. I am deeply grieved that we seem to have forsaken our first love. I used to be a self-described defender of God as I held tightly to a young earth and tribal wars. Then I studied the story of the tower of Babel. Back then, God’s people had a plan and a purpose but however sincerely they believed they were helping God, instead they were miscontruing God’s character to the watching world. God’s response was to tear down their constructs and scatter them. He rebuilds but only when His people are humbled first. Now I continually ask myself, are we building a name for ourselves, clinging to our own understanding while claiming it’s God we defend, or are we teachable for Christ and His Kingdom?

  • Nancy Messner

    Islamic doctrine misrepresents the gospel. This is at the heart of the objections that the college has made. Even if some process has been imperfect…as some have stated, it doesn’t change the fact that solid Evangelical Theological scholars find Dr. Hawkins’ statements unsatisfactory. I find her response unsatisfactory. Also, we must remember that those who cannot accept Jesus as Christ and Son of God are not just “lukewarm”, but spat out of the mouth of God. Those not confessing Jesus as God’s son are against God and his church. There is Evil at the foundation of Islam and the Insider movement. I am sad that my generation is lost in the intellectual word play that is confusing so many around the world today. Jesus is the narrow way and I will confess him as Lord and no other. Loving Muslims doesn’t involve perverting the truth, but proclaiming truth boldly and erasing confusion. God have mercy on Wheaton College and preserve her as a faithful bride of Christ!

  • Kerry

    Hi, Nancy:

    Can you explain what about her statement you find “unsatisfactory?” I’m guessing maybe you haven’t read it but just have gone on others’ statements?


    She seems to me to have answered reasonably and in full agreement with Wheaton’s Statement of Faith, which is one of the main issues here. It seems to me that Wheaton had every chance to accept her statement as well within the bounds of agreed-upon doctrine that the college upholds, but they chose instead to continue to insist that she holds beliefs that she clearly does not. I suspect there are rather Pharisaical trustees and large donors who have a problem with her, and this is the opportunity the college is taking to rid themselves of this “problem.” I hope I am wrong on this, but I have reason to suspect that I am sadly correct. Good day and Peace to you!

  • Pingback: 20 Wheaton Alumni Professors Say College Is Damaging Reputation by Suspending ‘Same God’ Prof. Larycia Hawkins | Pacific Piano Performance Posts()

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  • Dr. Christopher Sanchez

    It is remarkable that this group of graduates from Wheaton College fail to acknowledge the theological significance of the remarks made by Dr. Hawkins. It is also remarkable that this group so easily disregards Wheaton’s Statement of Faith that Hawkins herself affirmed and later contradicted. She has been afforded the opportunity to explain her views and yet declined to participate in further dialogue.

    The college is acting in accordance with the theological position long articulated by they the school. You implore Wheaton College to find a way to allow Professor Hawkins to continue her service to the college and its students as a tenured professor yet make no appeal to Hawkins herself to be reconciled to the SoF of the institution. Hawkins had a choice to make and she very publicly did so. The consequences of her choice are predictable.

  • joe c

    Let’s all take a step back for a moment. None of us are privy to all the communications between the college and the professor. Let’s open our minds a bit and consider that perhaps Professor Hawkins has not played fair behind the scenes. Do any Professor Hawkins proponents know all these details?

    Put yourselves in the shoes of an administrator who may be dealing with a very difficult (and perhaps subversively insubordinate) employee. I ask each of you: if you were an employer having to deal with an employee who does not publicly display your company’s ideals and then proceeds to attempt harm to your reputation, which of you would continue her employment?

    Unless you (or I) know all the facts, we are merely jumping to conclusions. Why not give the administration the benefit of the doubt? I for one trust that the administration is made up of well-intentioned and fair-minded players who genuinely care about the Kingdom.

    Let’s be careful and keep open minds unless all the facts…

  • Kerry Cox

    Give the benefit of the doubt to the privileged institution and not to the nearly powerless individual here? That’s bizarre. Peace to you though.

  • Joe c

    Yes, get to know this “privileged institution” a little better and your bias may change.

  • Kerry Cox

    ’93 graduate. And the school took issue with her first, which means the clear responsibility to give the benefit of the doubt to someone was clearly upon Wheaton towards Prof Hawkins. Despite her detailed and thorough response to the school in attempt to clarify her stance, which should have easily settled the issue, they continued to harass her, at which point she backed off on her cooperation, and rightfully so. There are many things about Wheaton I love, which is why I so passionately hope they either get this situation correct, or, at the very least, err on the side of love. Peace.

  • Joe c

    Yes, I’m happy to hear they worked it out to their mutual satisfaction.

  • JW

    In Jeremiah, the people said the message was burdensome. They didn’t want to deal with it. They wanted it to go away. I sometimes catch myself with this same attitude. This isn’t about one person or one institution. Having a mutual reconciliation/$ettlement agreement with confidentiality does in no way make the message go away.
    Jeremiah 6:14-17

  • JW

    Now Ryken is handing it over to the Board of Trustees…
    “But if we can get our own act together, this can be the church’s finest hour. That can happen only if we resist current-day Pharisees who perpetually seek to pervert the gospel of freedom into a mind-numbing legalism and if we reject the pleas of ever-present accommodationists to invest into the “bigger, better, faster” idolatry of American consumer culture. We need a gospel that embraces suffering, not as judgment or punishment, but as solidarity with the persecuted, marginalized, and oppressed of the world. We need a gospel that offers transcendence and hope instead of perpetual fear and judgment. We need a gospel that stands fearlessly in front of both persecutors and persecuted and offers grace to all.”

  • Pingback: When I survey the impact of one person, like my Lord Jesus, I am thankful for His resurrection power to replant me into higher education as a woman and a minority. I hope God will bless me to be brave like this young Professor from Texas. | jesusbringssom()