The minority report has been leaked. Three men — James Block, Patrick Callahan, and Michael Mezey — are behind the minority report that swayed DePaul University Liberal Arts and Sciences dean Chuck Suchar and president Dennis Holtschneider to agree (against the majority of the faculty) to terminate the employment of professor Norman Finkelstein.
The minority bases its rejection of tenure on two points: 1) scholarship, and 2) collegiality. The arguments proffered to buttress its “opinion” are risible and easily refuted, reflecting poorly on the minority professors who sit in judgment over their peers.
Despite a 5-0 vote by the College Personnel Committee in favor of granting tenure to Finkelstein, Dean Chuck Suchar wrote in a letter that the committee “was less than unanimous [sic; strange wording for an academic since unanimity is 100%; it is not less or more] in its overall assessment of Dr. Finkelstein’s scholarly contributions.” First, Suchar is being disingenuous. The disingenuousness of playing down the College Personnel Committee’s unanimity is magnified many fold by the fact the dean plays up the unanimity of the minority. Second, despite the dean’s circumlocution, the vote was an overall assessment and the committee’s vote was 100%!
Suchar writes, “While, on balance, the voting members of the Committee were persuaded that his scholarship, while extremely controversial was, to use the words of one member of the Committee, ‘… consistent with the academy and [gave] evidence of a passionate scholarship of high standard’, there were some reservations.” The question that immediately stands out is how does the dean, a professor of sociology, get involved in deciding on the scholarship of a professor in political science? He doesn’t. He focuses on the “tone” and what he alleges are “needlessly inflammatory” “personal attacks” in Finkelstein’s scholarship.
The minority expresses itself through three headings for its opinion. The threesome hold:
1) Finkelstein’s “writing” is “polemical” and “tendentious” — in less charged language: non-neutral. In other words, Finkelstein is charged with the brand spanking new sin of taking a position on that which he teaches. But professors do not merely report on findings and observations; they analyze phenomena and try to synthesize related and/or disparate information to present a comprehensible theory or picture. Theorizing is based on conclusions, and the very act of concluding on a matter is that of having taken a position! Therefore, to berate a researcher for being “polemical” or “tendentious” is absurd. It is also a red herring. Important is whether the professor has assembled all relevant information and that his theorizing or drawing of the bigger picture is logically and factually sound.
Nonetheless, according to the logic of the minority, professors should be neutral participants in scholarship. I have not read any of the writings of the minority professors, but I would be extremely surprised if their writing did not exhibit non-neutrality. If their writing should reveal such non-neutrality, then the honorable action would be to apply the same judgment upon themselves and accept the same repercussions as applies to Finkelstein: no tenure and loss of employment.
2) Finkelstein’s “writing” is “suffused with personal attacks.” This is a very subjective judgment. One wonders at what point writing becomes “suffused.”
3) Finkelstein’s relationships with several members of the DePaul community are “mean-spirited” (this charge, in itself, constitutes a personal attack on Finkelstein) and “in some cases unprofessional [in] tone.” The minority then draws a link between his character and his writing. The implication is that Finkelstein is not a nice guy — a new requisite for a professor. If we don’t like you, then you can be fired.
The minority states, “Scholarship is characterized by respect for information. Conclusions are drawn to account for all pertinent information, rather than information tailored to a pre-determined conclusion.” This sounds reasonable, but it is obviously stated as a prelude to insinuating Finkelstein’s disrespect for information and the process of drawing disinterested conclusions from such information.
The minority charges that Finkelstein’s work is “dubious, often deceptive, and one-sided [in] argumentation and documentation.”
Because Finkelstein’s “writing” prior to his employment was already a matter of public record, it can only be that his writing subsequent to becoming a DePaul U professor should be open to criticism in the tenure decision. To do otherwise is to heap scorn on the hiring practices of DePaul U.
I will, therefore, only analyze what the minority says about Finkelstein’s book published by the U of California Press after he joined DePaul U: Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.
First, the minority focuses on what it calls double standards in Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah.
Since I have not read the book, I will rely solely on what the minority writes. It states that Finkelstein was correct to chastise Harvard University professor Alan Dershowitz for dismissing the criticism of Israeli actions by American journalist Chris Hedges in Palestine without proof. Then, the minority criticizes Finkelstein for calling the testimony of an Israeli officer “self-serving” and giving no evidence that it was untruthful. Patently, the comparison does not stand up to scrutiny and is bogus. Any professor should know that one barometer in assessing the verisimilitude of testimony is by simply asking what the speaker stands to gain or not lose by her statements. When a person stands to gain something or is protecting herself through speech, that speech must be regarded with a higher degree of skepticism. However, when a person does not stand to gain from his words or when that person might harm himself through his statements, then the credibility of such statements increases. In the case of the American journalist, there is no apparent reason to lie. The statement by an American reporter that runs contrary to American government policy in Israel/Palestine cannot be construed by any sane ratiocination as “self-serving.” It is quite the opposite. It gains credibility because the reporter has nothing to gain and more to lose. There is no ostensible reason for the reporter to be untruthful against the Israelis. In fact, if the reporter were expected to be untruthful, it would be against the Palestinians. The Israeli officer, however, merely sided with his military in denying the war crimes being perpetrated by it. It is what would or might be expected.
The very next example provided by the minority is again prima facie flawed. First the minority incorrectly states that Finkelstein “claims” Israeli assassinations of Palestinian leaders fuels a terrorist backlash. But this “severe indictment” is not a claim by Finkelstein as the minority later points out. Finkelstein has quoted three Israelis (not Palestinians!). It is not Finkelstein’s claim but the “assertion” of three Israelis! Using the same logic as stated above, what could three Israelis have to gain by speaking against their country’s policy? The minority trots out that two of the quoted sources were opposition parliamentarians. The reasoning of the minority is mind-boggling. Israeli politics is characterized by coalition governments between the two major parties (three now) and other parties. Yet Israel perpetually exists in a state of war, and parliamentarians tend to unite across party lines under such circumstances. To adduce this observation, one needs look no further than US politics where the Democrats and Republicans line up behind whatever government is in power when US troops are dispatched into combat. Such is the nadir of criticism proffered by a minority of political scientists!
It gets no better in the next minority criticism targeted at Beyond Chutzpah. The minority accuses Finkelstein of misleading language. In their own tendentious interpretation of the 3650 Palestinians killed by one million rounds of Israeli ammunition, the minority comments that this is remarkably inefficient. Based on this inefficiency, the minority dismisses Finkelstein’s “assertion based on no apparent evidence that Israel was deliberately targeting children.” The minority comes up with its own assertion that Israelis were not targeting Palestinian children based on inefficiency. An, arguably, more plausible explanation is that the Israelis were recklessly firing without regard for Palestinian life. Given the recklessness of the indiscriminate firing, inefficiency (as defined by a low fatality to rounds of ammunition ratio expended) would be expected. The minority would also have one believe that the corpses of slain Palestinian children is “no apparent evidence.” Misleading language obviously depends on one’s ideological bent and position occupied on the continuum of morality. The minority stands exposed of what they accuse Finkelstein: “information tailored to a pre-determined conclusion.” The minority complaint is logically flawed, futile, and bi-directional, as the argument can just as easily be pointed back at its authors. The obvious and inescapable conclusion is that the minority is grasping for pretexts to justify tenure denial to Finkelstein.
In the following complaint about Beyond Chutzpah, the minority charges that Finkelstein conjures up false dichotomies. Scant examination of the examples dredged up by the minority points the false dichotomy conjuration charge back at the minority. First, the minority asks one to believe that Finkelstein, by refuting Dershowitz’s plea that Israeli forces are bound by ethical concerns, implies a bipolar model of either ethical constraint or excessive violence. The minority seeks to buttress Dershowitz’s argument by noting that Palestine has the military power to kill many more Palestinians; ergo, it implies that Israeli fighters are exercising restraint. This facile explanation ignores several other factors at play. For example, greater lethality exercised by Israeli fighters would evoke a heightened Palestinian defense possibly leading to more Israeli deaths as well. Hence, a reduced offense preserves Israeli lives. Second, an all out assault by Israel should evoke an international outcry against Israel. This would be seen as an attempt to keep Israel’s already battered international reputation from diminishing even further. Zionists prefer to keep their crimes out of the public eye (hence, the vituperation aimed at Finkelstein). If the people of the world are at long last sufficiently provoked by the crimes against humanity that are being committed by the Jewish state of Israel (abetted by much of the western world), the awakened international moral outrage would pose the most serious threat to Zionism.
Next, the minority quibbles with the cause for the mass expulsion of Palestinians outside the borders of Palestine. The minority sees war and a program of terror as distinctly different. The fact is that war is a program of terror. The quibbling is another red herring from the minority.
The minority also accuses Finkelstein of red herrings. First, they argue that Israel’s having a culture of death is irrelevant as to whether Palestinians have a culture of death. This is blatantly false. If one side minimizes boundaries for itself in warfare, it would be at an advantage against a foe that more severely restricts its actions. Therefore, if Jewish Israelis willingly sacrifice citizens for the protection of the Jewish Israeli masses, then an advantage is opened if Israeli foes would not willingly self-sacrifice to the same extent and for the same purpose. To make this clearer, imagine if one side in a war restricted itself to rock throwing while the other side allowed itself to destroy the rock throwers with live ammunition. Would this cultural difference be irrelevant?
Sensing the weakness of its arguments, the minority attempts to substantiate its self-confessed nitpicking by asserting that these examples are “illustrative of [the minority’s] assessment that Dr. Finkelstein’s work is designed for advocacy rather than scholarly enlightenment.” To buttress this opinion, the minority refers to book reviews in the bastion of scholarship, the New York Times and the bastion of neutrality, the Middle Eastern Journal. It is something more than ironic that the minority would expect a US newspaper that solidly supports Zionism to proclaim without tendentiousness on Finkelstein’s scholarship. The same irony holds for the in-vain hope of an iota of neutrality from an American journal that sees itself as “an important conduit of information between Middle Eastern nations and American policymakers, organizations and the public.”
Unequivocally, the minority has failed miserably to impugn, or even dent, Finkelstein’s scholarship. This explains the dean’s and president’s recalcitrance to target Finkelstein’s scholarship in their decisions. The only target left is Finkelstein.
The minority sets about attacking Finkelstein for his alleged propensity for personal attacks. This should be the mother of red herrings when it comes to deciding on someone’s suitability for tenure. That his personality is not wholly offensive is admitted by the minority’s acknowledgement of Finkelstein’s great popularity among students.
Nevertheless, the minority criticizes Finkelstein for his polemics. The department agrees that Finkelstein’s scholarship is polemical. But the minority opinion seeks to redefine polemical as “mean[ing] not only taking a position, but unfairly dealing with others who take a contrary position and doing so in a manner that personally vilifies them.” So the minority dictionary has come up with a new definition of “polemical” based on its opinion that will allow it to criticize Finkelstein more harshly for being “polemical.” Is that dealing fairly with Finkelstein?
The minority identifies the cynosure of Finkelstein’s attempts at vilification as Dershowitz. In an extreme inversion, Finkelstein is asserted as out to get a tenured professor fired by destroying his reputation. The minority claims that Finkelstein has never pointed out where Dershowitz is in error. The minority admits it does not know who triggered the feud, but yet it portrays Finkelstein as the vilifier. Is this dealing fairly with Finkelstein?
The minority backs up it position with, well, nothing … because an assertion is nothing. It is merely the minority’s say-so that Finkelstein has done this before and that he does not “respond in kind.” No evidence offered. And so what if he gives back more than he gets.
The minority also says that it believes Finkelstein intended to impugn an Israeli historian. Can the minority not put forward a case with facts, or does it have to resort to beliefs?
The depths of the name calling that the minority could dredge up from Finkelstein’s quotations is “fraud,” Charlatan,” “liar,” and “blackmailer.” However, for such phrases to be defamatory they must be demonstrated to be false. To call a liar a liar is hardly unsettling.
The minority turns to the DePaul U Handbook which says faculty “must respect the rights of other persons to hold and express different intellectual opinions.” The professors of the minority must realize that there is a big difference between respecting an “intellectual opinion” and respecting the “right” to hold and express such opinions. There is nothing to suggest that Finkelstein opposes the “right” to hold and express opinions. It is just another specious red herring thrown out by the minority.
Then the minority delves into bathos, relying on anecdotal tidbits about a colleague who closes his office door, is reticent to say hello, and, worst of all, he even allegedly called someone a “bitch” once. If true, it is not nice; but these are not crimes. Because of this the minority concludes Finkelstein is a “danger” to junior faculty. In a self-undermining move the minority has resorted to attacking Finkelstein personally.
The minority in its shopping list of Finkelstein’s bad behaviors draws a link with his writing to indicate that this is the man. But the minority members do not explain the glaring disconnect between the man they describe and the teacher who they acknowledge is popular among students. Also, it is apparent that Finkelstein has his large share of supporters among faculty in DePaul U.
I don’t know Finkelstein personally, but if I ride on a bus with a snarly bus driver, I certainly would not expect the bus driver to be fired for such a reason. A bus driver does not have to be liked to do her job well.
It is demonstrably clear that the minority report is a logically unsound polemic ever so slightly balanced only by acknowledgment of Finkelstein’s inconcealable teaching excellence. As the old adage “two heads are better than one” points out, one would expect the reasoning of a minority to be flawed when it deviates from the majority. But for some reason, the president has chosen to side with the minority. The question is: why? In so doing, the president has put his integrity and decision-making ability into doubt. At best he owes Finkelstein, the DePaul U students and faculty, especially the departmental board, a public apology. Holtschneider must also reverse the ugly and unjust denial of tenure and grant it forthwith.* At worst, Holtschneider has so sullied his reputation and that of DePaul U that he should resign. What applies to Holtschneider applies equally to dean Suchar.
Finkelstein’s views were already public when he was hired for a tenure track position; the level of his scholarship was already known; and his refusing to genuflect before titled individuals was known (and, frankly, that is something to be admired). That DePaul U brings up old canards long down the road to deny this man tenure is deceitful at best.
One lesson is painfully clear from the academic debacle at DePaul U. That a minority backed by a single president could ignore the will of the students and the wider faculty exposes DePaul University for what it really is: a form of academic dictatorship. In such an environment, academic freedom will always be imperiled.
That is why Finkelstein’s tenure denial must be reversed. It is vital that more and more people oppose, and continue to steadfastly oppose, this Zionist-backed abomination against academic freedom. At its heart, the battle for academic freedom is a brazen attempt to cover up the theft of a land and the slow-motion genocide against the indigenous Palestinians.
* As stated previously, I am unfamiliar with the scholarship of professor Mehrene Larudee who was widely supported by her colleagues but also denied tenure, rumored to be because of her support for Finkelstein. To Larudee and any other professors who might have been unfairly and unjustly treated for their views, the sentiments expressed in this article also apply.