By Peter Kirstein
DePaul University denied Dr. Norman Finkelstein tenure and promotion to associate professor on Friday, June 8, 2007. I posted on my blog several leaked documents, none from Finkelstein I might add, including College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Chuck Suchar’s infamous non-recommendation for tenure.
I was attending the AAUP annual meeting in Washington when I received an e-mail that DePaul President Reverend Dennis H. Holtschneider had announced Finkelstein’s denial of tenure and simultaneously informed AAUP General Secretary Roger Bowen. I then broke the story on my blog.
It is quite rare if not unprecedented for a university president to notify AAUP in this manner. DePaul was clearly in damage-control mode, due to the fervent national controversy that the case had generated. Yet its concern over possible AAUP sanctions and investigations did not come to fruition despite its blatant disregard of academic freedom reminiscent of the McCarthy Era academic purges of 100 professors in the 1950s.
I was fairly new as a member of the Illinois Conference of the AAUP but wondered who was going to defend Finkelstein whose academic freedom was so blatantly violated? While awkwardly written and somewhat dated, AAUP and the academy pay homage to the seminal 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. It contains this statement that AAUP did not adequately defend in this epic case of academic repression: “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties[.]”
The AAUP did not initiate a Committee A investigation of DePaul and chose not to vigorously contest the violation of Finkelstein’s academic freedom to publish without censorship or coercion. Finkelstein became an academic prisoner of conscience who was locked out of academia for transformative and controversial research that advanced society’s knowledge of Israel and the Palestinian quest for human rights and statehood.
The AAUP, to its credit, criticized DePaul’s intention to quarantine Norman Finkelstein during his terminal-contract year. DePaul canceled Dr. Finkelstein’s classes for the 2007-2008 academic year despite his reputation as a superior instructor. In September 2007, with students occupying the campus and demanding the restoration of his classes, a settlement was reached and Finkelstein left Chicago and returned jobless to the borough of Brooklyn.
The AAUP disengages itself from an academic-freedom case if a settlement is reached between the university and a faculty member. The provenance of this approach is unknown. This unfortunate if not irrational policy does not appear in any document that I could find in the Redbook. It does not appear as policy in any report that I have seen from Committee A and in the interest of justice and academic freedom it should be abandoned. If there are exceptions to the rule, they are not published for the academy to examine.
Settlements do not settle; they are frequently acts of desperation to avoid homelessness and general immiseration. If Dr. Finkelstein’s settlement included such vital sustaining elements as health care coverage, salary and pension benefits, they were assuredly not on a continuous basis as afforded to tenure and track-track faculty. Settlements do not repair the damage to a professor’s career and self-esteem. Finkelstein’s settlement did not allow him to remain a faculty member at DePaul despite his reputation as one of the university’s leading scholars and, as DePaul declared in its settlement, one of its “outstanding teacher[s].” Even inspiring and popular professors are fired if they speak truth to power about racism, occupation, quasi-concentration camp fencing declared illegal by the International Court of Justice, colonialism, and apartheid in the twenty-first century.
The settlement and AAUP did not protect a professor from the brutal tactics of Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz with his orchestrated, hate-filled national crusade to deny Finkelstein tenure. Professor Dershowitz wanted to get even for Finkelstein’s exhaustive and careful appraisal in his book, Beyond Chutzpah, of Dershowitz’s alleged plagiarised and scholarly incompetent work, The Case for Israel. According to Finkelstein, the case against Dershowitz included his devious claim to have consulted primary and secondary sources that were lifted from Joan Peters’s Time Immemorial, without crediting the author. In my classes, such cheating would merit an F for the course as it has in the past. In my profession, such plagiarism could lead to dismissal from the academy.
One of the little known academic transgressions in the Finkelstein case was when Patrick Callahan, who has served three times as Department of Political Science chair, solicited a fifty-page document from Dershowitz that denounced and excoriated Finkelstein’s scholarship. Apparently Dershowitz from his lofty perch as Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law is allowed to critique harshly Finkelstein’s scholarship, but a non-tenured assistant professor claiming egregious transgressions in Dershowitz’s work loses his position and forfeits his career.
The DePaul Political Science Department Personnel Committee reluctantly accepted the Dershowitz diatribe materials despite its policy of not accepting unsolicited third-party assessment in tenure and promotion cases. The committee unanimously determined (4-0) that it “found no evidence… of academic misconduct or dishonesty” in Finkelstein’s scholarship.
Norman Finkelstein’s department subsequently supported the granting of tenure and promotion with a vote of 9-3. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Personnel Committee voted unanimously (5-0) to recommend the granting of tenure. Dean Suchar and the University Board on Promotion and Tenure (UBPT), the star chamber that operates in utter secrecy without sharing its report with the faculty member, opposed the granting of continuous tenure. President Holtschneider accepted their recommendation.
Dr. Finkelstein was not accused in any DePaul document of academic misconduct including plagiarism, faulty research, defamation or falsification of data. He was charged with violating the Vincentian values of the university due to rhetoric that was deemed “hurtful,” “inflammatory” and lacking “civility.” These flimsy and gratuitous charges led to Finkelstein’s denial of tenure and promotion and drove him into exile. A son of holocaust survivors, Finkelstein wrote for the voiceless and demanded human rights in Palestine. He questioned Zionism and allied himself with the dispossessed. He searched for the truth and did so with great effectiveness; he achieved international fame and was fired for his success.
In the five years since this tenure travesty, little has changed. DePaul has been the object of national derision and scorn for its broken tenure evaluation system. Only faculty of color such as Namita Goswami in the Department of Philosophy were denied tenure and promotion in 2009-2010. The DePaul Three, Melissa Bradshaw, Jennifer Holtz, and Penny Silvers, have an active gender-discrimination lawsuit filed against the university.
The AAUP was founded in 1915, the year that Scott Nearing, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, was fired for his political activism. His “crime” was opposing child labor in the coal mines and embracing socialist humanism. Ninety-seven years later Norman Finkelstein was crucified on the cross of the New McCarthyism. What will be the state of academic freedom as we move toward the centennial of the AAUP? I presume even worse than it is now as the winds of coercion, racism, anti-Muslim bias, incessant standardized testing and conformity blow strong across the academy. Who will stop the wind, I ask?
Peter N. Kirstein is Chair of Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and Vice President of the Illinois Conference of the AAUP. He is a professor of history at St. Xavier University (firstname.lastname@example.org), and writes a blog.