Revolution #93, June 24, 2007

Thoughts on a Very Special Professor Under Attack

I’ve been out among the students at DePaul University, including those protesting the denial of tenure for Professor Norman Finkelstein, and the stakes and reality of this battle have really been coming home to me. One thing I was thinking about is that when you talk with Finkelstein's students, you get the real sense that he is one of those too-hard-to-find, really special teachers who really affects students in a unique way.

One said that Finkelstein was much of the reason she came to DePaul. After reading one of his books, she was struck by how fearless and honest, and how committed to the truth, he was. She wanted to be in his class and be part of the University of which he was a part. Another talked about how life-changing taking Finkelstein's class had been for him. A number of students have remarked that one really special thing about Finkelstein is that both conservative and liberal students really love his class because it challenges them to think.

I think it's really telling that students are so drawn to this person. He challenges students to think. You can really start to see--if that was wiped out--even if it was just Finkelstein or Ward Churchill or one professor, that's bad enough because these individuals can really have a major impact on the lives of so many students. And if Finkelstein goes down--look, that has a major impact on that campus, not to mention campuses everywhere. Add to that, the fact that now they're trying to deny Professor Mehrene Larudee's tenure--and there’s a lot of buzz that’s connecting her support of Finkelstein to this--and you can see how chilling this really is.

All eyes should be on this case right now at the campus. This is a major push by Horowitz and the Hitler youth, and the whole reactionary agenda and forces of which that is a concentration and spearhead. To get more specific--if you can't challenge the role of Israel and the U.S. in the Middle East right now, as the U.S. is aiming to remake the Middle East in the interests of its empire, and if students are never exposed to the reality of what historically has gone on, and what is going on today--that's a serious horror story. Talk about training "Good Germans"!

We need to connect the dots here. You go out to the campus and it feels like a normal campus--you can buy overpriced chicken fingers and diet coke, the students are running around in track pants and tee-shirts, with their hair a mess, looking exhausted during finals week. But this whole giant thing is going on, where they're on their way to for-real transforming the campus and the whole society in a fascist direction.

No one wants to be in Finkelstein's shoes (and now think about the implications with Larudee!!!). This is part of what World Can’t Wait talks about when they say “The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come. We must act now; the future is in the balance.” This is what that looks like, this is what it feels like.

Yes, you can still get (some) videos at Blockbuster and read the New York Times (for now)--but all that same old stuff is increasingly in a new context, a new framework. One student said she went on a trip not too long ago with DePaul University President Holtschneider, and that they had a lot of discussions and he is a really good, progressive guy. But now she's finding herself across the "negotiating table" as part of the sit-in, and she can hardly believe her eyes--he is still the same friendly guy, but she thinks he's basically just capitulating to the extreme pressure that's on him from forces like Alan Dershowitz.

What these students and faculty have been doing, sitting in at the president’s office and going straight up against all of that and demanding that their professor be granted tenure, is extremely important. I know there are things going on where other professors and public intellectuals are taking extremely important stances of support with Churchill and Finkelstein. I think it’s important that the students especially need to be connected more with the national movement to defend critical thinking (the site is a good resource), so they have more of a sense of their strength and importance. It’s true that the forces they’re up against are very daunting--but the outcome of this battle has major implications for the future of critical thought and dissent in this country, and for the world and humanity as a whole.

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