Norman Finkelstein’s Return to the Classroom

BY PETER N. KIRSTEIN

Norman G. Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University in one of the most significant academic freedom cases of our time. It haunts many in the academic-freedom struggle, and has left an indelible wound in the Chicago area as many continue to feel the outrage of such persecution and inattention to due process and the right to publish freely in the United States.

Usually a victim of an academic freedom denial that engenders national attention becomes radioactive and rarely returns to academia. Institutions avoid hiring faculty that have a trail of controversy regardless of whether that trail is dripping with violations of due process and blatant violations of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

To some extent, Dr. Finkelstein has broken that taboo. In 2014-2015 he taught in Turkey at the Sakarya University Middle East Institute that is east of Istanbul. He traveled once a month on an eighteen-hour journey to his teaching destination. Like Steven Salaita, he had to travel to the Middle East to return to the classroom. It is ironic, that the land of the free and home of the brave, requires some of its outstanding scholars to seek refuge and occupational asylum elsewhere.

Yet Dr. Finkelstein has broken, at least partially, the taboo of hiring controversial faculty in this country, with a further escape from academic exile and ideological cleansing. He is currently teaching a course in the Brooklyn Commons titled, “NO FREE SPEECH FOR FASCISTS”. It actually has a more classical pedagogy with a primary focus on John Stuart Mill’s, On Liberty. In addition, he is offering another political theory course on Plato, titled, “What Would Plato Say.” It is taught under the auspices of the Brooklyn Public Library.

One cannot avoid the observation that these venues are not academic institutions, and the course topics are outside of Dr. Finkelstein’s primary area of expertise, the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Yet they represent a breaking of the blacklist, and the possibility that controversial public figures, denied academic freedom and tenure, can return to teaching and continue to inspire students that so desperately need inspiration and guidance.

4 thoughts on “Norman Finkelstein’s Return to the Classroom

  1. I don’t see a lecture at the library as the end of a blacklist, but a sign of its power: Even public libraries are less afraid of controversy than any university in America. The fact that Finkelstein cannot even get an adjunct position (a job so poorly paid that a Ph.D. with a pulse is well qualified) shows how widespread the blacklist is. It is interesting that Finkelstein is teaching Mill as a kind of Marxist openness to different ideas while Jonathan Haidt writes about Marx and Mill (http://www.mindingthecampus.org/2016/10/universities-torn-between-truth-seeking-and-social-justice/) as extreme opposites in terms of academic freedom.

  2. He has returned to the classroom but I agree, obviously, since I was one of his chief defenders in 2007 that the blacklist remains. I think at least it has been cracked but not broken. Yet he is teaching a course at the Brooklyn Library: http://www.bklynlibrary.org/calendar/norman-finkelstein-what-w-central-library-room-216-101916 I am happy for him that he has a few courses because he notes this with great fanfare on his website, but as I indicated the wound of his persecution has not healed. Whether he would consider an adjunct position I don’t know. I assume he would; it maybe a way to rebuild his career. At least he is teaching and that I believe is significant.

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