I don’t know what’s going on in Chicago these days. I’ve always thought of it as a progressive, tolerant and diverse place by and large. But something’s gotten into Chicago folk over the past few months…First DePaul University unceremoniously dumped Norman Finkelstein for reasons that even the school’s administration’s haven’t been able to articulate convincingly to anyone but Alan Dershowitz.
Then the Chicago Global Affairs Council, after inviting Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer to speak about their new book on the Israel Lobby, canceled the invitation unless they agreed to debate Abe Foxman. It seems that some Council members (no doubt also supporters of AIPAC) decided Walt and Mearsheimer were far too incendiary to speak without some rejoinder from the pro-Israel community. The two original speakers quite rightly balked at being so singled out and thus they were also unceremoniously booted.
Hearing this, some Jewish Chicagoans scoured the Jewish community for a facility (synagogue of community center) that would house a Walt-Mearsheimer event. Guess what, none could be found.
And returning to DePaul, not content to be made a laughingstock of the academic world in their treatment of Finkelstein DURING the tenure process, they’ve practically stuck their asses in the air and asked the world to kick them with their latest round of campus buffoonery. It seems Norman Finkelstein is such a danger to the faculty, administrators and students of DePaul that the classes he was to teach during his final year there have all been canceled. His office has been shuttered and he has been denied another office. Even his possessions in his old office have not yet been released to him. This is the equivalent of a corporation’s calling security guards to escort a disgraced ex-employee out of the building. Except in that case they usually give the poor shlub a cardboard box with his possessions in them:
On Friday, August 24th…DePaul’s University…decided to cancel Professor Norman G. Finkelstein’s classes for the autumn quarter.
…What is the stated reason for the cancellation of Finkelstein’s courses…? Professor Finkelstein, it seems, in the judgment of DePaul’s administration, constitutes a security threat to DePaul faculty and staff. In a previous article, I documented that Finkelstein simply confronted Dean “Chuck” Suchar outside of 990 Fullerton on June 14th after the special LA&S emergency meeting devoted to discussing the procedural and academic freedom violations in the Finkelstein and Larudee cases…Suchar apparently alleged that he felt harassed by Finkelstein, calling for the administration to issue a restraining order against his colleague.
In an irony sure not to escape Dissident Voice readers, Finkelstein is being barred from teaching courses devoted to examining “Freedom and Empowerment” and “Justice and Social Equality”. In addition, Finkelstein is being thrown out of his office and might not even have access to office space this coming academic year at DePaul.
According to what I’ve read, this is behavior that is absolutely unheard of in the usually laid back world of academe. To me, this is like a university administration holding up a big sign saying: “SUE ME, PLEASE, for lots of money!” I don’t know much about faculty employment contracts. But I do know that DePaul has broken so many usual conventions that should Finkelstein wish I bet he could sue them for a great deal of money.
An academic blogger is quoted in Inside Higher Education denouncing DePaul’s decision:
John K. Wilson, on his blog College Freedom, wrote: “If anyone doubted whether DePaul was violating Finkelstein’s rights, that doubt must end with this decision…. Even if DePaul pays off Finkelstein, it is violating his academic freedom (and the freedom of its students) by refusing to let him teach and effectively silencing his voice in its classrooms.”
Finkelstein, not the sort to take any insult lying down, has has let the Administration know he will give as good as he gets:
DePaul University has canceled all of Norman G. Finkelstein’s courses, taken away his office, and put him on administrative leave for his final year, but the controversial political scientist said that will not stop him from coming back to teach this fall. If necessary, he said, he will go to jail.
In an e-mail message, Mr. Finkelstein told The Chronicle that he intends “to show up on the first day of the academic year to teach my classes (students are currently searching for an alternative venue) and to use my regular office in the political-science department. If the university attempts to impede my movements, I intend to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and go to jail. If incarcerated, I intend to go on a protracted hunger strike until DePaul comes to its senses.”
“It is regrettable,” Mr. Finkelstein continued, “that I have been driven to such drastic actions to defend basic principles of academic freedom and my contractual rights, upon which DePaul has been riding roughshod for so long.”
I don’t think the Vincentians at DePaul bargained for what a tough Jew Norman Finkelstein would turn out to be. And I think they better reconsider their idiocy before it bites them big time. How much more horrible publicity like this can they take? Apparently, they’ve hired the celebrities’ favorite crisis PR flack Howard Rubenstein to guide them through this gauntlet of bad press of their own making. But I don’t even think Rubenstein can make lemonade out of the lemons he’s been given by DePaul.
The American Association of University Professors as well has taken strong exception to DePaul’s treatment of Finkelstein:
Jonathan Knight, who directs the program in academic freedom and tenure at the American Association of University Professors, said…that the fact that DePaul is continuing to pay Finkelstein does not end questions about the university’s “extraordinary” actions. Knight noted that Finkelstein’s classroom conduct has never been questioned, and said that removing a professor from teaching in such a case is only justified by real fears about a danger the professor could pose. “That’s a terrible commentary to be making on an individual,” Knight said, and should require real evidence and faculty input.
Unless there has been a real hearing and the opportunity for due process, Knight said, the move is not a matter of placing someone on leave, but a “summary dismissal…”
Given all of these nightmares in Chicago, the DePaul Academic Freedom Committee and other local students and peace activists have decided to plan a mass public forum on academic freedom scheduled for the University of Chicago campus on October 12th. The conference’s keynote speakers are Noam Chomsky (MIT), John Mearsheimer (Univ. of Chicago), Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia), Neve Gordon (Ben-Gurion University, Israel), and Tariq Ali (New Left Review). They ought to invite Dean Suchar and President Holtschneider to be the panel respondents. Maybe they’d learn something.