'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Demand Tenure for Norman Finkelstein 

Anti-Zionist scholar Norman Finkelstein is facing the end of his academic career unless we publicly demand that he obtain the tenure at DePaul University that he has earned. Finkelstein has been a tireless researcher into the abuses of anti-semitism as justification for the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinians, with numerous publications.

As observed by lenin over at Lenin's Tomb:

You may not have heard that Norman Finkelstein is under threat of being excluded from tenure. It became clear last week that, while he had the overhwelming support of students, his department and his college, the Dean was refusing to endorse his candidacy (probably under pressure from the University president). Finkelstein is routinely nominated for the top teaching award from DePaul's students, and had been nominated for it again this year. However, if he fails to get tenure, his professional life at the institution will be more or less finished: he will no longer be able to teach or have access to university facilities. It has emerged that Alan Dershowitz has been working away to disrupt his tenure bid, circulating a dossier accusing him of antisemitism and "egregious academic sins". DePaul faculty staff have written to its President, and to Harvard University to decry this interference, and internal investigations have rebutted Dershowitz's claims, but the faculty dean has effectively taken Dershowitz's side, saying: "I find the personal attacks in many of Dr. Finkelstein's published books to border on character assassination and, in my opinion, they embody a strategy clearly aimed at destroying the reputation of many who oppose his views."

Efforts have already emerged to publicly support Finkelstein, and you can add your name to them. Here's one :


April 11, 2007

The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D.
DePaul University
55 East Jackson Boulevard, 22nd Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60604 U.S.
Phone: +1.312.362.8000
Fax: +1.312.362.6822

Dr. Helmut Epp, Ph.D.
DePaul University
55 East Jackson Boulevard, 22nd Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60604 U.S.
Phone: +1.312.362.8760
Fax: +1.312.362.6822

Dear Rev./Dr. Holtschneider and Dr. Epp:

As scholars and teachers in various institutions throughout the U.S. and abroad, we are writing to inquire about Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s tenure case. We have seen a memo, dated March 22, 2007, from Charles Suchar, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to the University Board on Tenure and Promotion, recommending against tenure for Dr. Finkelstein, despite favorable votes at two levels of faculty review. Dean Suchar justifies his recommendation on the ground that Dr. Finkelstein’s scholarly work, though sound in its content, is often uncivil, disrespectful, mean-spirited, inflammatory, and so on, in its tone. We object to this weighting of criteria, especially when a scholar’s polemical style is cited as evidence that he lacks “values of collegiality.” The American Association of University Professors has explicitly challenged the use of criteria such as “collegiality” in tenure and promotion evaluations, precisely because these terms are subject to a wide range of interpretations. The AAUP rightly notes that criteria of this sort are often used to mask retribution as well as disciplinary or other biases. We note that they often stand in for political disagreement. The likelihood increases, in our view, when the criteria are couched as vague institutional principles, such as “personalism” and “Vincentian values.” Moreover, Dean Suchar’s use of “Vincentian” values is at odds with DePaul’s mission statement, which advocates social justice, a “Vincentian” value at the heart of Dr. Finkelstein’s scholarly work, service, and teaching.

We know that any teaching and writing about culture, and politics can seem controversial. This is especially so in fields such as Latin American studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies, and Middle Eastern studies. In such areas of intense debate, a polemical tone is not unusual, and does not discredit the underlying scholarship. Tenure exists precisely to allow scholars the pursuit of candid intellectual inquiry, even the most controversial fields, without fear of retribution. To challenge the status quo of Zionist historiography in the U.S., as Finkelstein has done in his scholarship, most certainly ignites controversy; but his ability to address the subject with thorough documented evidence that encourages readers to see the subject of Palestine and Israel anew is precisely why scholars around the world value his work. While researchers—like diplomats and heads of state—cannot avoid appearing polemical given the highly charged nature of fields such as Dr. Finkelstein’s, it is imperative that we protect the right of research scholars and teachers to work in this field unhindered by fears of retribution.

Faculty specialists are the most reliable judges of a peer’s teaching, research and service contributions. Dean Suchar’s overriding of faculty assessments, using malleable and subjective criteria, is a clear violation of the principle of intellectual freedom that is a hallmark of higher education. Without the protection of this valued principle the integrity of higher education is irreparably harmed. The professional reputation of DePaul University also stands to suffer if an internationally recognized and reputable faculty member’s tenure is denied on such reasoning.

We respectfully request that you investigate the matter at hand. Dean Suchar’s letter sets a dangerous precedent, and also sends the signal that arts and sciences are now endangered at DePaul University and in the American academy in general. In this tenure case, there appear to be gross violations of professional protocol (e.g., the Dean’s decision in reference to a possible lawsuit as further evidence of Dr. Finkelstein’s lack of “personableness”). Many academics are following this case and are legitimately interested in the outcome as our own careers, and the very mission of the academy, also rest in the balance.


Scholars, Teachers, and Professionals for Intellectual Freedom In Support of Dr. Norman Finkelstein

And, here's another. Please consider adding your names to both in his support.


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