The Tenure Denial of Norman Finkelstein

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 (, and writes a blog.

17 thoughts on “The Tenure Denial of Norman Finkelstein

  1. Pingback: Peter Kirstein-The Tenure Denial of Norman Finkelstein | Norman G. Finkelstein

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  3. Pappe moved to England from Israel, Finkelstein stayed in US where he can’t find a job. Is it a same situation, probably is. Pappe provoked even more international outrage when he moved, that’s the difference …

  4. I highly recommend reading Dershowitz’s ‘The Case for Israel,’ Finkelstein’s ‘Beyond Chutzpah,’ and any of Dershowitz’s several articles responding to ‘Beyond Chutzpah,’ some of which can be found online. It becomes glaringly clear very quickly who is guilty of academic misconduct, and that is Dershowitz. Leaving aside the travesty that is ‘The Case for Israel,’ which Finkelstein laboriously dismantled, it suffices to simply compare the arguments and evidence in ‘Beyond Chutzpah’ and the way Dershowitz represents them in his counter-attack/damage-control articles – which is to say, grossly inaccurately. But if you do want to read ‘The Case for Israel,’ try not to pay for it.

  5. The vitriol of your critique of DePaul University betrays your underlying Anti-Semitism and racism. If Alan Dershowitz is such a reckless and caustic academician, then why is he a fully tenured and distinguished professor of law at Harvard University – arguably the most prestigious academic institution in the entire world? Are you completely dismissing Harvard’s ability to discern academic competence from fraudulence? Or are you insinuating that Harvard is colluding in some global Jewish conspiracy? And conversely, if Norman Finkelstein is such a reliable and important academician, why did he never rise above Assistant Professor, and was subsequently denied tenure – and is now a pariah, utterly dismissed by the academic community and the very cause he so-called championed (the Palestinian Solidarity Movement has disowned him)? Are you saying EVERYBODY has it wrong but you and a select few Anti-Semites? That only you and your Israel-bashing cronies know the indisputable truth about Alan Dershowitz and Norman Finkelstein? My money is on the preponderance of evidence that suggests Norman Finkelstein is a charlatan and deserves all of the ill-will he currently enjoys. And you, sir, considering your post as chair of a committee on “academic freedom”, are an absolute disgrace.

  6. It is disappointing a person in Professor Kirstein’s position would choose to defend someone as notoriously biased and anti-social as Norman Finkelstein. DePaul University was very specific in their reasons for denying Mr. Finkelstein’s application for tenure – it had nothing to do with his academic performance or opinions, in or out of the classroom, nor his overall method – rather, they deemed he had violated the Vincentian principals on which the school had been founded. These principals call for the highest degree of respect and tolerance for others with differing opinions, something of which Mr. Finkelstein shows he is completely incapable. The record is strewn with too many examples of his callous disregard for genuine discourse, and his reckless modus operandi of vicious character assassination and ad hominem attack (something which he is fond of didactically accusing others). It seems perfectly reasonable for an institution such as DePaul University to determine if one of their faculty is not upholding the very moral principals for which they stand, and to deny him privileged status as a consequence. Mr. Kirstein may consider this rationale “flimsy and gratuitous”, but I applaud the wisdom and courage of DePaul University for placing moral decency above other academic qualities in determining the value of its tenure applicants. As for the quality of the “settlement”, some may say Mr. Finkelstein got what he deserved. History has proven wrong most of the pseudo-scholars such as Finkelstein, Chomsky and Blumenthal – it gives me hope to know there is at least one institution willing to distance itself from their ilk and the anti-social diatribe they espouse. Perhaps if Mr. Kirstein were to see DePaul’s actions as serving the greater good, rather than the McCarthy-esque assault on academic freedom he so dramatically asserts, he would be able to answer his own question, “Who will stop the wind?” – we can.

    • I am glad that you acknowledge that the firing of Finkelstein had nothing to do with his academic performance. We obviously disagree on how faculty should be evaluated. I think they should be judged on academic performance, and you think that should be judged based on how nice they are to other scholars in their research. I’m not sure who you would trust to run the Politeness Police, but I hope I’m not being rude when I notice that you only seem to think leftists are impolite.

      • Here, you are clearly equating Morality with Politeness. This requires something of a fantastical leap of faith. Norman Finkelstein is guilty of far more than simply being impolite to his fellow academics – were I allowed to, I would come right out and say he is a fiendish Anti-Semite – however, in fairness to genuine academic discourse and decorum, I will refrain from going that far.
        If Norman Finkelstein tattooed a swastika on his forehead, would you still be willing to hold him up as the poster-child for academic freedom? I am not opposed to your championing the cause of academic freedom – I simply think you can choose a better ’cause celebre’. And likewise, my desire to see a moral conscience applied to academic discourse is not a critique of ‘Leftists’, but of the entire establishment.

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  9. ultimately, the university is free to grant tenure or not as long as they act within the law.

    Finkelstein is a brilliant man and barely rational and the university owed him nothing other than consideration for a permanent appointment.


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