Revolution #93, June 24, 2007
Escalation in the Attacks on Dissent and Critical Thinking:
DePaul University Denies Tenure to Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee
In the latest outrageous attack on academic freedom, political scientist Norman Finkelstein of DePaul University has been denied tenure. On Friday, June 8, University President Dennis Holtschneider announced that he would uphold the university's tenure and promotion board's ruling against tenure for Finkelstein, even though Finkelstein's department and a college-level personnel committee both voted in favor of tenure.
Finkelstein is an internationally regarded scholar and popular teacher whose criticism of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and of its supporters in this country, has made him a constant target of U.S. and Israeli apologists such as Harvard law professor and torture advocate Alan Dershowitz. (See Revolution #85, April 22, 2007 The Clash Over Prof. Finkelstein's Tenure. and the Assault on Critical Thinking on Campuses (http://revcom.us/a/085/finkelstein-en.html)
Adding to the outrage is the denial of tenure to another DePaul instructor, assistant professor of international studies Mehrene Larudee. In her case, she received unanimous support from her department, the college personnel committee and the Dean of her college, who praised her as "outstanding." Larudee was slated to become the director of DePaul's program in international studies when she learned of the decision against her. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, she said "there is no good explanation for why I was denied tenure. So one has to look elsewhere." According to a statement from student activists, “The decision to deny Professor Mehrene Larudee tenure seems based wholly on her support of Prof. Finkelstein.”
Academic tenure is a formal status that gives professors protection from being fired for their research, writing, and speech--it's designed to ensure that thinkers and researchers on campuses who come under political attack are not threatened with losing their positions. When tenure is denied, in essence the professor is fired, effective one year from the tenure decision. Even worse, it is usually damaging to a scholar's reputation and is difficult to recover from.
The Pretense of "Academic Misconduct"
The denial of tenure for Norman Finkelstein follows the witch-hunt, led by David Horowitz, against University of Colorado Professor of Native American Studies Ward Churchill, a tenured professor now threatened with losing his position. (See "The Case of Ward Churchill: A Witch-Hunt That Must Be Defeated," in the special supplement "WARNING: The Nazification of the American University" in Revolution #81, and “University of Colorado President Calls for Firing of Professor Ward Churchill,” Revolution #92, June 17, 2007).
As in the Ward Churchill case, there have been accusations against Finkelstein of scholarly misconduct. These have been augmented by a constant barrage of slanders that Finkelstein--son of Holocaust survivors--is "anti-semitic" and a "Holocaust denier." However, despite all the accusations (and Dershowitz's 50-page dossier of Finkelstein's supposed "egregious academic sins…outright lies, misquotations, and distortions"), the Personnel Committee concluded that there was no evidence of academic or research misconduct. It could only point to Finkelstein's "inflammatory style and personal attacks in his writing and intellectual debates" and a lack of collegiality as a reason for denying tenure.
Indeed, in his letter to Finkelstein explaining the reasons for denial, DePaul's president described Finkelstein as "a nationally known scholar and public intellectual, considered provocative, challenging, and intellectually interesting." He then quoted the Personnel Committee's report and said there was "no compelling reason" to overturn their decision. It is very rare for someone to be turned down for tenure at a higher level when it has been approved at a lower level. It is even rarer for a scholar to be turned down who has extremely high student evaluations, an international reputation, and published five books since at DePaul (including at major academic presses like UC Press and Verso).
Finkelstein was quoted in The Guardian (UK), "I met the standards of tenure DePaul required, but it wasn't enough to overcome the political opposition to my speaking out on the Israel-Palestine conflict." He said that DePaul's decision was based on "transparently political grounds," an "egregious violation of academic freedom" and the result of a "vicious, sordid campaign to dirty my name so that there's a pretext for getting rid of me" (Chronicle of Higher Education, 6/11/07).
Mounting Outrage and Opposition
The Finkelstein case has attracted considerable national attention and academics and others are discussing it. At one point, the article on CNN's website on the tenure denial was its most emailed. More importantly, there has been a strong and determined response in defense of Finkelstein and academic freedom. Hundreds of people have sent emails of support to Finkelstein (which he has posted on his website (http://www.normanfinkelstein.com). Even a former CIA analyst in Santa Fe called for a street protest, saying he would be out there even if he was the only one. Noted linguist and scholar Noam Chomsky said before the announcement that the dispute over Finkelstein's tenure was "outrageous. [He] is an outstanding scholar. It's amazing that he hasn't had full professorship a long time ago."
Despite being in the midst of exam week, DePaul students and faculty have responded forcefully. On Monday, June 11, students presented the president of DePaul with a petition of over 700 signatures calling for a reversal of the decision. Dozens of students then occupied a meeting room across from the president's office. Though the president told the students that they could stay as long as they wanted, on Wednesday afternoon the students were threatened with arrest and forced from the room (see "Thoughts on a Very Special Professor Under Attack"). As we go to press, students are now occupying the Student Center and are making more plans for supporting professors Finkelstien and Larudee.
Also on Wednesday, there was an emergency meeting of the University's Faculty Council. A 27-3 vote called for an appeal to be made on behalf of both professors, citing "violations of academic freedom" and procedural problems in the tenure process. DePaul University President Fr. Holtschneider has said that Finkelstein has no right of appeal and that the faculty had no "structural authority" to challenge his decision. However, students protesting the decision have noted that the Faculty Handbook of DePaul University states that dismissal, which occurs as a result of tenure denial, may be appealed in case of abuse of academic freedom or when there has been a violation of procedure. The students maintain that both of these requirements for appeal have been met.
Faculty are also considering taking votes of no confidence in the school president and other officials. Last November, the Liberal Arts and Sciences' Faculty Governance Council voted unanimously to send a letter to administrators at both DePaul and Harvard to "express the council's dismay at Professor Dershowitz's interference in Finkelstein's tenure and promotion case."
Academic Freedom is NOT Alive and Well at DePaul
Holtschneider claimed in his statement that "academic freedom is alive and well at DePaul." The truth is the exact opposite--academic freedom has been dealt a serious blow, and not just at DePaul. Holtschneider's decision was greeted with joy by various attack dogs opposed to critical thinking and academic freedom in general, and in relation to Israel in particular. Dershowitz "applaud[ed] the University for its actions." In keeping with his habit of turning reality upside-down, he claimed that DePaul had reached the correct decision despite being inundated by a massive pro-Finkelstein campaign from the "hard-left."
The denial of tenure to Finkelstein gives inspiration to the right-wing program which seeks to turn universities into zones of uncontested indoctrination, free of outspoken dissident professors and with little in the way of a commitment to an atmosphere which fosters critical thinking and open debate. Raul Hilberg, one of the most distinguished historians of the Nazi holocaust who had called Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry "a breakthrough," was quoted in the Chicago Tribune saying that "I have a sinking feeling about the damage this will do to academic freedom."
As Revolution wrote in "WARNING: The Nazification of the American University:" "If this reactionary program wins out, the university will be turning out students who will have had little, if any, opportunity to think critically, into a society qualitatively more severely repressive than anything seen in this country's history." [For a hilarious, and stingingly accurate, indictment of this program, check out Stephen Colbert's commentary "On Having to Watch An Inconvenient Truth," available at http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/05/steven_colbert.php]
Finkelstein told The Chronicle of Higher Education that, as a result of the campaign against him, "no administration would have me on its faculty because of the hysteria that would evoke. These people have pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks." Still, Finkelstein told the Chicago Tribune, "As it happens, I was just this past week teaching about Paul Robeson in my political science class. When Robeson was crucified for his beliefs, he said, 'I will not retreat one-thousandth part of one inch.' That's what I say to the thugs and hoodlums who are trying to silence me…. They can deny me tenure, deny me the right to teach. But they will never stop me from saying what I believe."
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