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Dean Blocks Norman Finkelstein's Tenure

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    Furor Over Norm Finkelstein Scott Jaschik http://insidehighered.com/news/2007/04/03/finkelstein Norman G. Finkelstein has been more controversial off his
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2007
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      Furor Over Norm Finkelstein
      Scott Jaschik

      Norman G. Finkelstein has been more controversial off his campus than
      on it. On his frequent speaking tours to colleges, where he typically
      discusses Israel in highly critical ways, Finkelstein draws protests
      and debates. When the University of California Press published
      Finkelstein's critique of Alan Dershowitz and other defenders of
      Israel in 2005, a huge uproar ensued — with charges and countercharges
      about hypocrisy, tolerance, fairness and censorship. But at DePaul
      University, Finkelstein has taught political science largely without
      controversy, gaining a reputation as a popular teacher.
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      But the debate over Finkelstein is now hitting his home campus — and
      in a way sure to create more national controversy. Finkelstein is up
      for tenure. So far, his department has voted, 9-3, in favor of tenure
      and a collegewide faculty panel voted 5-0 to back the bid. But
      Finkelstein's dean has just weighed in against Finkelstein.

      In a memo leaked to some supporters of Finkelstein and obtained by
      Inside Higher Ed, Chuck Suchar writes that he finds "the personal
      attacks in many of Dr. Finkelstein's published books to border on
      character assassination" and that Finkelstein's tone and approach
      threaten "some basic tenets of discourse within an academic
      community." Suchar says that Finkelstein's record is "inconsistent
      with DePaul's Vincentian values, most particularly our institutional
      commitment to respect the dignity of the individual and to respect the
      rights of others to hold and express different intellectual positions."

      While the leaked memo led to some false online reports that
      Finkelstein had been denied tenure, his case is very much alive and no
      final decision will be made until June, according to a university
      spokeswoman, who added that the dean's memo was not meant for public
      consumption and that no administrators could comment.

      Debates over scholars who take controversial views on the Middle East
      are, of course, nothing new to academe. But Finkelstein's case may be
      in a category all its own. He portrays himself as a courageous
      scholar, bringing rationality to discussions of the Holocaust and
      Israel — all the more bold for being Jewish and doing so. While
      criticizing people who invoke the Holocaust to justify political
      positions, he constantly identifies his parents as Holocaust survivors.

      His supporters tend to characterize Finkelstein as the victim of
      right-wing, pro-Israel forces — and there are plenty of conservative
      supporters of Israel who despise Finkelstein. But among the groups
      he's currently sparring with is Progressive magazine, a decidedly
      left-of-center publication that regularly publishes pieces that are
      highly critical of Israel's government. Finkelstein and his supporters
      also say that criticisms of his tone are an excuse for attacks on his
      political views — and that issue appears to be key to the DePaul
      dean's review.

      Much of the criticism from the dean focuses on Finkelstein's book The
      Holocaust Industry. The book argues that supporters of Israel use the
      Holocaust unreasonably to justify Israel's policies. While the book
      does not deny that the Holocaust took place, it labels leading
      Holocaust scholars "hoaxters and huxters." A review of the book in The
      New York Times called it full of contradictions (at one point he
      rejects the idea that the United States abandoned Europe's Jews and
      then he later praises a book for which that idea was the central
      thesis) and full of "seething hatred" as he implies that Jews needed
      the Holocaust to justify Israel. The reviewer, Brown University's Omer
      Bartov, a leading scholar of the Holocaust, described the book as "a
      novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, `The Protocols of the
      Elders of Zion.' "

      Finkelstein said he could not comment on his tenure case in detail
      until later in the week, although he confirmed via e-mail that he had
      been approved at the departmental level and college levels, and that
      the dean was opposing his tenure. He also questioned the fairness of
      being judged by whether he adheres to Vincentian values. He said that
      the issue was never mentioned in his annual reviews and that he had
      always been told that his research would be judged by "the
      conventional academic requirements for scholarship." It is wrong for
      DePaul to raise these issues now, he said. "You can't spring new
      criteria at the second stage of the last year of a tenure-track
      position," he said.

      In Dean Suchar's letter, he starts by noting that there has been no
      dispute at DePaul over the quality of Finkelstein's teaching. He has
      received "consistently high" course evaluations, Suchar writes, and
      many students report that they have had "transformative" experiences
      in his classes.

      The dispute over the tenure review focuses on research. The College
      Personnel Committee, a faculty-elected body that reviewed
      Finkelstein's candidacy and unanimously endorsed it, raised concerns
      about the "tone" and "frequent personal attacks" in Finkelstein's
      work, Suchar writes. That committee, however, concluded that "the
      scholarship was, on balance, sufficiently noteworthy and praiseworthy
      to merit their support for the application for promotion and tenure."

      Suchar disagrees. "I find this very characteristic aspect of his
      scholarship to compromise its value and find it to be reflective of an
      ideologue and polemicist who has a rather hurtful and mean-spirited
      sub-text to his critical scholarship — not only to prove his point and
      others wrong but, also in my opinion, in the process, to impugn their
      veracity, honor, motives, reputations and/or their dignity," Suchar
      writes. "I see this as a very damaging threat to civil discourse in a
      university and in society in general."

      Finkelstein has also threatened to sue DePaul if he is denied tenure,
      Suchar writes, adding that this fits into the pattern. "Disagreements
      over the value of his work seem to prompt immediate threats and
      personal attacks. This does not augur well for a college and
      university that has a long-standing culture where respect for the
      dignity of all members of the community and where values of
      collegiality are paramount."

      Suchar's memo was sent to a universitywide committee that will now
      review the case, which will then work its way to the president.

      Supporters of Finkelstein take issue with the dean's letter. "This is
      all because of Dershowitz wanting him to be fired. These people play
      rough," said Peter N. Kirstein, a professor of history at Saint Xavier
      University who has blogged about the case and who is on the board of
      the Illinois conference of the American Association of University
      Professors. (Via e-mail, Dershowitz — who has previously battled with
      Finkelstein — said he had no information about the case.)

      Kirstein questioned why the dean would mention Finkelstein's threat of
      a lawsuit. "Doesn't this country allow people to do things like
      suing?" he asked.

      It would be appropriate for a dean to question the accuracy or
      significance of a professor's work, but not to focus on its tone,
      Kirstein said.

      On the question of the tone of one's writing, Kirstein said he had
      plenty of experience. In 2002 he was suspended from his job after he
      sent an e-mail to a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, calling the
      cadet "a disgrace to this country" and criticizing the "aggressive
      baby-killing tactics" of the military. Kirstein was reviled by many
      conservative groups and defended by many civil liberties groups.

      "Tonality is usually a red herring to destroy controversial speech
      that elites don't like," Kirstein said.

      Anne Clark Bartlett, a professor of English and president of the
      Faculty Council at DePaul, said that it is "not common" for deans to
      write letters disagreeing with the views of a department and
      collegewide panel reviewing a tenure candidate. But she also said that
      the faculty handbook did give deans that right.

      Bartlett, who said she does not know Finkelstein, said that she has
      not taken a stand on his case and wants to see how the process plays
      out. She said that it was important that administrators respect that
      the university's regulations "give the faculty primary responsibility
      over promotion and personnel matters" for professors.

      Robert Kreiser, associate secretary of the American Association of
      University Professors, said that the national office of the group had
      recently received the dean's memo and was paying close attention to
      the case, but had not been asked to play a formal role. He said that
      the dean's involvement and raising the issue of tone were not — in and
      of themselves — cause for concern with regard to academic freedom. He
      said that any questions about academic freedom would focus on the
      fairness of the dean's comments, the due process afforded to
      Finkelstein, and how those comments were viewed in the totality of the
      evidence about Finkelstein's tenure bid.

      However, Kreiser said that the AAUP believes that "ordinarily a dean
      would defer to the judgment of a faculty member's peers." AAUP policy
      calls for administrators to have "compelling reasons" that they can
      present before they overrule a faculty recommendation on tenure.

      "The dean would have to provide compelling reasons," Kreiser said. The
      question going forward will be: "Were the dean's reasons compelling?"



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