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Finkelstein Denied Tenure at DePaul

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June 8th was a black day for academic freedom and a black day for free and open debate about issues of concern to the Jewish community like the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a banner day for the intellectual thought police represented by Alan Dershowitz who has triumphed with an intense, fiercely fought and ugly smear campaign entirely devoid of intellectual content. Instead the campaign was fought on overheated rhetoric and twisted arguments. And Dershowitz has won. DePaul has rid itself of the meddlesome professor by denying him tenure.


This statement from DePaul’s president beggars belief:

“Over the past several months, there has been considerable outside interest and public debate concerning this decision,” Rev. Dennis Holtschneider said. “This attention was unwelcome and inappropriate and had no impact on either the process or the outcome of this case.”

Some will consider this decision in the context of academic freedom. In fact, academic freedom is alive and well at DePaul. It is guaranteed both as an integral part of the University’s scholarly and religious heritage, and as an essential condition of effective inquiry and instruction. On a daily basis, DePaul faculty and students explore the most important ideas of our time, including difficult and contentious issues, and they do so in ways that adhere to professional standards of academia and respect the dignity and worth of each individual.

Dershowitz and the pro-Israel hatchet-folk didn’t have any impact on the internal campus debate surrounding tenure? Right.

I want to make clear that while I don’t agree with Finkelstein’s anti-Zionist position, I think he has much to say in his critique of the Jewish community’s obsession with the Holocaust as the supposedly defining element of Jewish identity. And as eminent a historian as Raul Hilberg–dean of Holocaust historians, in fact–agrees with me. I urge anyone who cares about intellectual fairness and justice in this case to read the DemocracyNow interview with Hilberg and Avi Shlaim, an Oxford historian. They are not always in full agreement with Finkelstein. They take him to task for the incendiary nature of some of his discourse. But what they say in his support is very strong and very important:

I am impressed by the analytical abilities of Finkelstein. He is, when all is said and done, a highly trained political scientist who was given a PhD degree by a highly prestigious university. This should not be overlooked…

However, leaving aside the question of style — and here, I agree that it’s not my style either — the substance of the matter is most important here, particularly because Finkelstein, when he published this book, was alone. It takes an enormous amount of academic courage to speak the truth when no one else is out there to support him. And so, I think that given this acuity of vision and analytical power, demonstrating that the Swiss banks did not owe the money, that even though survivors were beneficiaries of the funds that were distributed, they came, when all is said and done, from places that were not obligated to pay that money. That takes a great amount of courage in and of itself. So I would say that his place in the whole history of writing history is assured, and that those who in the end are proven right triumph, and he will be among those who will have triumphed, albeit, it so seems, at great cost.

This smug statement by Dershowitz makes me sick:

“It was the right decision, proving that DePaul University is indeed a first-rate university, not as Finkelstein characterized it, ‘a third-rate university.’ Based on objective standards of scholarship, this should not have even been a close case.”

Harvard should be ashamed that it gives academic cover to such a mendacious, overblown bully.

DePaul has made a very serious mistake. It has set a very bad precedent for American universities. Given the worldwide recognition that Finkelstein’s academic books and articles have received it is ludicrous to say he has not met the threshold for publishing. And if you want to argue that he’s not a nice person or collegial enough or that he has a sharp tongue–well, get in line with the tens of thousands of other tenured professors who share those qualities.

I an incredulous that DePaul would essentially deny a professor tenure claiming (though of course this is a smokescreen reason) that Finkelstein’s rhetoric toward his academic peers was overheated. Here’s what Peter Kirstein–who has read the dean’s memo denying tenure–has to say:

The university’s decision to deny tenure is basically a repetition of the Suchar Memorandum’s charge of inappropriate tone, collegiality and manners. I think this case will continue to be examined by national organisations that exist to protect professors from such arbitrary and egregious display of contempt for controversial research that may offend some but on its merits represent significant and valuable scholarship.

UPDATE: In the president’s letter to Finkelstein (pdf file) he quotes this lame passage from the faculty tenure committee which voted 4-3 against granting him a promotion:

…Some may interpret parts of his scholarship as “deliberately hurtful” as well as provocative more for inflammatory effect than to carefully critique or challenge accepted assumptions. Criticism has been expressed for his inflammatory style and personal attacks in his writings and intellectual debates. These concerns are relevant in the recognition that an academic’s reputation is intrinsically tied to the institution of which he or she is affiliated. It was questioned by some whether Dr. Finkelstein effectively contributes to the public discourse on sensitive societal issues.

Then the president continues:

…Reviewers at all levels…commented upon your ad hominem attacks on scholars with whom you disagree…Your unprofessional attacks divert conversation away from consideration of ideas, and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration…Your work not only shifts toward advocacy and away from scholarship, but also fails to meet the most basic standards governing scholarly discourse within the academic community.

…Nor can I conclude that your scholarship honors our University’s commitment to creating an environment in which all persons engaged in research and learning exercise academic freedom and respect it in others.

Can you imagine this academic jackanape has the chutzpah to accuse Finkelstein of not respecting “academic freedom??” And since when do college faculty NOT engage in ad hominem attacks or even savage debate about subjects on which they are passionate? This is beyond lame.

Kirstein also reports that another DePaul professor who prominently supported Finkelstein was denied tenure. This makes a laughingstock of the DePaul president’s statement above.

I am glad that Finkelstein has the right attitude toward this travesty of academic justice and his persecutors:

“As it happens, I was just this past week teaching about Paul Robeson in my political science class. When Robeson was crucified for his beliefs, he said, ‘I will not retreat one-thousandth part of one inch.’ That’s what I say to the thugs and hoodlums who are trying to silence me. They don’t want to talk about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. So they make Norman Finkelstein the issue.”

No doubt, Finkelstein has enough fame that he will publish and earn a living from his books and the lecture circuit and not need an academic appointment. But should he wish to return, one has to wonder what university would hire him and be willing to risk the “hit” it would take from Dershowitz and his academic Brownshirts. There would be a massive campaign to enlist alumni to cancel donations much like Daniel Pipes’ blackmail at Brandeis recently. It would get ugly. What faculty department or university president is willing to take on such a burden? DePaul didn’t.

The Inside Higher Education has one of the better articles on the subject.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andy June 10, 2007, 9:08 AM

    If Mr. Holtschneider is unwilling or unable to say “F*ck off, we’ll make our own decisions” to those outside interests, then he shouldn’t be president of a university, and should be pumping gas or working at McDonalds instead.

  • george June 10, 2007, 6:33 PM

    Or maybe (gasp!) it wasn’t a vast Jewish conspiracy that prevented Finkelstein from getting tenure. Maybe, like with the case of so many others who have failed to get tenure, the tenure committee made its own decision without some sort of nefarious mind control causing it to happen. It’s remarkable to me that all it takes is a bit of overblown, shrill, hateful anti-Israel and quite frankly anti-Jewish rhetoric, and suddenly everyone cares that you didn’t get tenure.

    For a blog calling itself ‘tikkun olam’ to go to bat for such a hateful, hateful individual… ata lo midbayesh?

  • Herbert Kaine June 10, 2007, 6:47 PM

    If Steven Plaut had been denied tenure at DePaul, would you rise to his defence, even though his opinions are different from yours? Whatever Finkelsteins scholarly contributions are, he undermined himself by making accusations that he could not back up, basically accusing anyone he didnt like of plagiarism. He is just as guilty of character assassination as Steven Plaut

  • Richard Silverstein June 10, 2007, 6:51 PM

    frankly anti-Jewish rhetoric

    You’re out of yr cotton-pickin’ mind. How can Jew, child of Holocaust survivors be “anti-Jewish.” You’re raving.

    V’ani lo mitbayesh clal. Pls. don’t try to quote transliterated Hebrew here unless you know what you’re talking about. It’s mitbayesh. Not midbayesh.

  • Richard Silverstein June 10, 2007, 9:00 PM

    If Steven Plaut had been denied tenure at DePaul, would you rise to his defence

    There may be some objectionable things about Norman Finkelstein, maybe a lot of objectionable things but being found guilty of libel and writing about my alleged sex acts on a fake blog in my name aren’t any of them. You can disagree w. Finkelstein, you can hate him. But he’s a person of principle. You may not agree w. them, but he has them.

    Steve Plaut is a deformed human being who’d be worthy of pity if he weren’t such a disgusting son of a bitch. So in short, no I’d dance a jig if he ever were denied tenure.

    basically accusing anyone he didnt like of plagiarism.

    This statement shows you’re either completely uninformed or showing bad faith. He’s only accused Dershowitz of plagiarism. He disagrees w. many people but has only accused one that I know of of plagiarism. Dersh on the other hand has accused Finkelstein of similar charges & the DePaul academic committee which examined Dersh’s dirt found his charges completely w/o merit.

    Dershowitz has no character so Finkelstein can’t be guilty of character assassination. The former is one of the lowest of the low (though not as low as Plaut who’s a gutter slug).

  • D June 10, 2007, 9:39 PM

    Finkelstein had the whole American intellectual community against him from day one when he exposed them as frauds back in the early 80′s:

    http://www.chomsky.info/books/power01.htm

    Well, he got back one answer, from me. I told him, yeah, I think it’s an interesting topic, but I warned him, if you follow this, you’re going to get in trouble—because you’re going to expose the American intellectual community as a gang of frauds, and they are not going to like it, and they’re going to destroy you. So I said: if you want to do it, go ahead, but be aware of what you’re getting into. It’s an important issue, it makes a big difference whether you eliminate the moral basis for driving out a population—it’s preparing the basis for some real horrors—so a lot of people’s lives could be at stake. But your life is at stake too, I told him, because if you pursue this, your career is going to be ruined.

  • Herbert Kaine June 11, 2007, 3:06 AM

    So Steve Plaut has insulted you and Norman Finkelstein has insulted Dershowitz. Being a man of principle, as you have described Finkelstein, is hardly a defence. Ahmadinejad and Hitler are men of principle-do they merit your defence?
    When someone agrees with you, ie Finkelstein, all of their merits outweighs their sins. When someone disagrees with you, ie Plaut, they are a disgusting individual not deserving of mercy. What Finkelstein did to Dershowitz, accusations of plagiarism, are far more serious then what Plaut did to you. Your double standards are evident in your defence of Israeli law. You fully approve of Israeli law when it comes to the the 18,000 dollar judgment against Plaut, which would not occur in the US. However, you condemn Israeli law when it comes to Asmi Bishara, who was basically found guilty of treason against Israel, and at least has his freedom, which most individuals who are accused of treason do not have. Apparently, whats good for the goose aint good for the gander

  • Melvin Schnell June 11, 2007, 8:40 AM

    Wouldnt a better use of your time would be to take radioislam and ziopedia off the web than to defend Norman Fynkelstein

  • Richard Silverstein June 11, 2007, 11:22 AM

    Wouldnt a better use of your time would be to take radioislam and ziopedia off the web than to defend Norman Fynkelstein

    Why would you presume to tell me how to make the best use of my time? You make good use of yr time doing whatever you like & I’ll determine what my own priorities should be, thank you.

  • Richard Silverstein June 11, 2007, 1:58 PM

    Ahmadinejad and Hitler are men of principle

    I do not define mass murderers or those who advocate lunatic policies as “men of principle” & Finkelstein is certainly not in the same category. The fact that you would mention them in the same breath indicates that you’re engaging in propaganda rather than serious discourse.

    When someone agrees with you, ie Finkelstein

    You must’ve missed the post. I clearly stated that I don’t always agree w. Finkelstein. And he is hardly the issue. The issue more importantly is whether or not academia can tolerate a scholar w. views that diverge fr. the consensus w/o consigning him to oblivion as DePaul has done.

    When someone disagrees with you, ie Plaut, they are a disgusting individual not deserving of mercy.

    No, you disagree w. me. As far as I know you’re not a disgusting individual. If you can’t tell the diff. bet. Plaut & yrself then I’m not the person to explain the diff. to you.

    What Finkelstein did to Dershowitz, accusations of plagiarism, are far more serious then what Plaut did to you

    Now, that’s really going to endear you to me isn’t it? Would it hurt you to try to show some derech eretz to someone who feels injured by a deformed person like Plaut?

    Of course a charge of plagiarism is serious. But Finkelstein didn’t make it lightly & merely because you say it’s serious doesn’t mean it’s not legitimate & accurate. Dershowitz is a foul individual of whom I’m fully prepared to belief just about the worst of anything he can put his hand to.

    You fully approve of Israeli law when it comes to the the 18,000 dollar judgment against Plaut, which would not occur in the US.

    The case wasn’t brought in the U.S. so how does the fact that it might not pass muster here have any bearing?

    you condemn Israeli law when it comes to Asmi Bishara

    First, the prosecutions are based on 2 diff. sets of laws. Plaut was prosecuted under Israeli civil law & Bishara under criminal law. If you don’t understand why someone might approve of the use of a civil law but have objections to an entirely diff. criminal law, well then again I’m not the person to explain it to you. Second, I don’t know that it’s the law so much I have a problem with. I more have a problem w. the misuses of the Shin Bet of the law or the ways in which it finesses the law & the fact that the court allows the Shin Bet to make a mockery of transparency & fairness in its approach to the case.

  • amshi kpara yana June 11, 2007, 10:34 PM

    Richard Silverstein wrote:

    No doubt, Finkelstein has enough fame that he will publish and earn a living from his books and the lecture circuit and not need an academic appointment. But should he wish to return, one has to wonder what university would hire him and be willing to risk the “hit” it would take from Dershowitz and his academic Brownshirts.

    Brownshirts? That was a loathsome analogy, and you know it. Such analogies serve only to distort and diminish the crimes of the Nazis.

  • Richard Silverstein June 11, 2007, 10:48 PM

    Brownshirts? That was a loathsome analogy, and you know it. Such analogies serve only to distort and diminish the crimes of the Nazis.

    Aw, get off yr high horse. What is truly loathsome is Alan Dershowitz and his gussied up schoolyard bully tactics against anyone who sees the need for balance in examining the I-P conflict. Dershowitz is an out of control monster, truly a repulsive human being.

    As for the analogy–strong? Yes. Loathsome, not at all. I’m not diminishing or distoring the crimes of the Nazis by using the term “brownshirts.” If you bothered to read this blog you would find my work on the subject including a survivor oral history. I understand the singularity of the Holocaust. But just because the Holocaust was singular doesn’t mean there aren’t other human beings today who adopt qualities that are reminiscent of the worst in human nature.

  • george June 13, 2007, 12:17 PM

    I like your response — “You’re out of yr cotton-pickin’ mind.” — it seems to come directly from the Finkelstein school of “rebuttal.” You ask “How can Jew .. be ‘anti-Jewish.’” And if you read what I wrote more carefully, you would have asked “How can a Jew be guilty of anti-Jewish RHETORIC. But regardless, it’s quite easy for a Jew to be anti-Jewish or to be guilty of anti-Jewish rhetoric. For the latter, here’s a great example: Jews are bad. There, I’m Jewish, and yet I just spewed anti-Jewish rhetoric. As to the former, you seem to be arguing that it is impossible for Christians to be anti-Christian or Jews to be anti-Jewish, as if some sort of gene prevents that type of though. Of course, that isn’t the case at all.

    Finally, as to your statement “Pls. don’t try to quote transliterated Hebrew here unless you know what you’re talking about,” it’s just comical that you would jump on my transliteration as if that somehow disqualifies my ideas. (Spelling errors notwithstanding, Hebrew is my first language. What’s yours? The language of insults? The language of hatred? Tikkun Olam — ha.

  • Richard Silverstein June 13, 2007, 9:37 PM

    Jews are bad.

    Finkelstein has never said that JEWS are bad. He has said that SOME Jews are bad. Jews who exploit the Holocaust to extort funds fr. European parties who have no culpability for Holocaust crimes & who take these funds to line their nests. Jewish leaders who invoke the Holocaust to stir fear in the hearts of other Jews that the next Holocaust is just around the corner.

    He has criticized Israel harshly. But critizing Israel harshly does not make someone an anti-Semite. it doesn’t even qualify as “anti-Jewish rhetoric.” You throw out great sound bites & slogans. Let’s dispense w. that & see some examples of F’s so-called “anti Jewish rhetoric.”

    Hebrew is my first language

    Then you should know the difference between a tof and a daled. You think because I corrected your transliteration mistake that I hate you or speak the “language of hatred???” Please. You’ll have to do better than that. I believe in precision in language and ideas. I have studied Hebrew since the age of 9, spent undergrad & grad yrs. studying Hebrew Lit in Israel, & a decade earning undergrad & grad degrees in Heb. Lit. Hebrew isn’t my first language & I’m not a perfect speaker. But if I make mistakes regarding Hebrew or other issues here I expect to be corrected (& am). Even people whose views I don’t like sometimes note mistakes which I acknowledge & correct.

    And you should examine the tone of yr own comments here. Have you shown me any respect? If not, why would you expect me to roll out the red carpet for you? But I don’t hate you.