The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
John K. Wilson of Academe Blog interviewed Norman Finkelstein via email about his thoughts on the 5th anniversary of being denied tenure by DePaul University.
Academe Blog: Have you been considered for any faculty jobs since leaving DePaul? Do you feel like you’ve been blacklisted from academia?
Norman Finkelstein: The first two years after being denied tenure I conscientiously sought employment both in the U.S. and abroad. I never came close. In fact, although I received a lot of verbal support among academics during the tenure battle, not a single professor (except for a mathematician in California) has invited me to speak at any college or university in the United States. It’s quite a sight to behold. I live in New York. There are numerous institutions of higher learning in the vicinity, including Columbia University and New York University. Not one professor, let alone department, has invited me to give a talk, even at a brown-bag lunch. Columbia University recently inaugurated a new Center for Palestine Studies. I am told some 300 people were invited to the opening. I was not. The Center holds several events each month. I have yet to be invited to present.
Academe Blog: What did you think of the AAUP response to your case? Do you believe that the AAUP did enough to help you?
Norman Finkelstein: To be perfectly honest, the whole last year at DePaul is a blur in my memory. I was on automatic pilot. I don’t remember many of the details, and would prefer to forget all of them. I do recall being pleasantly surprised at the support AAUP lent my case. My recollection is that they sent at least two strong letters to the DePaul administration, for which I am of course grateful.
Academe Blog: Did your settlement with DePaul include any restriction on you and DePaul criticizing each other? If so, did you ask for any limits on criticism, or did DePaul want it? And what do you think of the practice of universities using confidentiality clauses?
Norman Finkelstein: The final agreement did include a confidentiality clause and in fact we argued about it at some length during the three months preceding the settlement. But it is still not entirely clear exactly what the agreed terms mean as a practical matter. This past year I spoke at DePaul on my tenure case and did go through many of the grisly details. The university did not consider this a breach of the agreement so it seems I am free to say whatever I want so long as, to the best of my knowledge, it is factually accurate.
Academe Blog: While any controversial professor runs the risk of a backlash, do you think that scholars working on Israel-Palestine issues are more likely to face repression? Do you think that defenders or critics of Israel are more likely to be silenced on college campuses?
Norman Finkelstein: I do not believe speaking in support of the Palestinians entails many risks nowadays. In fact, it’s much more hazardous to be “pro-Israel” than “pro-Palestinian” on most U.S. campuses. The real risks are these: 1) the Israel lobby machinates behind the scenes to preempt events sympathetic to Palestinians from taking place, threatening suspension of alumni contributions, etc.; 2) the Israel lobby doesn’t really care if you stick to writing for academic publications and attending academic conferences. It went after me because I was reaching fairly large audiences and was reasonably effective at what I did. They went after me not because I was a professor per se, but because I was a politically active professor.