I don’t want to leave any doubt about where this piece is heading so I will begin at the end:
Norman Finkelstein dishonors himself and his elegant reputation by leaving Mehrene Larudee behind to fend for herself. I don’t know how Larudee feels about it but if I went out on a limb to defend someone and he made a deal that left me hanging, I might regret that I had supported him in the first place.
We dishonor ourselves and everything we believe in if we leave Larudee behind to fend for herself. DePaul can abuse Mehrene Larudee indefinitely because she is not protected by a big reputation. Sooner or later, the best of us—the ones who have the courage to stand up for what is right—will end up in Larudee’s position. If we abandon her, we say to anyone dumb enough to defend us. “Don’t expect us to have your back when the scat hits the fan.” Mehrene Larudee deserves the support of all of us, including Norman Finkelstein. If we abandon her, we abandon ourselves.
A Refresher Course on Mehrene Larudee’s role in the travesty at DePaul
Like thousands of other people who followed Norman Finkelstein’s battle with DePaul, I circulated petitions, offered help and spread the word in any way I could. Several weeks into the DePaul saga, I learned that a DePaul economics professor had been denied tenure for defending Norman Finkelstein. DePaul fabricated legitimate-sounding reasons for denying her tenure just as they had for Finkelstein. The professor who stood up for Finkelstein was Mehrene Larudee. I had great respect for her courage but I had no idea who she was. As far as I know, she was the only DePaul faculty member who publicly defended Finkelstein, yet most of the articles I read didn’t even mention her. When they did mention her, she was little more than a footnote.
We knew from the beginning that Norman Finkelstein was innocent of the charges against him. DePaul confirmed it when they settled with him. Mehrene Larudee is even more innocent of wrongdoing than Finkelstein. Her only crime was standing up for Finkelstein and saying what DePaul later confirmed. Dr. Larudee is so good at her job that she was promoted to director of International Studies. The promotion was to take effect on July 1.
23 days before her scheduled promotion, Larudee received a letter denying her tenure. Everyone in her department, including the Dean who promoted her, was shocked.
Most of us knew from the start that no matter what happened at DePaul, Norman Finkelstein would emerge a winner. Finkelstein is, and deserves to be, one of Rock Stars of the Left. If DePaul was stupid enough to make him a martyr, he would be more famous than ever.
Mehrene Larudee is not famous, she is merely very honorable. The fact that she risked her career and reputation to stand up for Norman Finkelstein says more about her courage than any words. Defending yourself against your attackers as Professor Finkelstein did, no matter how well you fight, is not entirely heroic. You are fighting to save your own ass. You almost have no choice. Mehrene Larudee was not fighting to save herself. She had a choice. She chose to defend Dr. Finkelstein. Her choice was selfless, not in a self-negating way, but heroically: If you brutalize my brother, know that he will not be alone.
To me, Larudee seemed to be the most heroic person in the DePaul cartoon travesty, but I must be the only person who felt that way because most articles barely mentioned her.
Even more disturbing, after Norman Finkelstein settled with DePaul, all of the righteous indignation that saved Finkelstein disappeared. I don’t mean “lost a bit of its intensity”—I mean disappeared! For a few days I had a “Google alert” for Mehrene Larudee. Whenever any news item with her name appeared, Google would zap me. Nothing appeared. Not in CounterPunch or WRMEA (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs) or Dissident Voice or Nation.
DePaul settles with Finkelstein, keeps Larudee in a cage and the Left, absolutely certain the battle is finished, sits on its own face. Larudee isn’t a Rock Star, so DePaul can do as they like with her.
If we abandon her, we give our tacit approval to every group of bullies and thugs who will stop at nothing to silence critics of Israel (unless they’re famous). (Am I the only one who noticed that a Catholic University had morphed into part of the Israel Lobby?)
For our own good, we must resurrect the energy and commitment that convinced DePaul to undo the harm they had done to Norman Finkelstein and focus that energy to support Mehrene Larudee. What can those of us who are not students at DePaul do?
1. Begin by asking the students at DePaul for their advice. They provided the energy to make their university rethink its terrible, bullying decision(s) re Finkelstein. They know better than any of us how to deal with their oxymoronic (“Vincentian” and “Dershowitzian”!!!) university.
2. Circulate petitions in support of Larudee as we did for Norman Finkelstein. (To this day I have never seen a petition to save Mehrene Larudee, have you?)
3. Ask the finest magazines in the U.S. (CounterPunch, WRMEA, Dissident Voice, etc) to work together to defend Larudee. (It might set a precedent that gave the Left back its testicles.)
4. Ask Norman Finkelstein to use his Rock Star status to publicly and loudly defend Larudee. Finkelstein was right in saying that Larudee’s mistreatment “will remain an open wound” at DePaul. What he didn’t say is that his failure to support her will leave a larger wound in his reputation as a person who fights injustice without giving up. I am sure that he had good reasons for fleeing the scene when he settled with DePaul. He may have been ravaged emotionally by his public battle with DePaul and the difficult year preceding it. But does Finkelstein, a relentless fighter, want to use that as a reason to abandon the only faculty member who stood up for him?
5. If Professor Larudee is not reinstated, tenured and given the promotion she deserves by September 27, Saint Vincent DePaul’s feast day, those of us who are able to go to Chicago should go to DePaul University and raise as much hell as we can.
DePaul University is fond of talking about its “Vincentian” values. I spent ten years in Catholic Schools. Vincent DePaul was, is, one of the least ambiguous saints in the history of the Church. His name evokes the spirit of being of service to humanity, of helping whoever needs help, of charity. A university that claims to be Vincentian but uses its power to bully and intimidate is an insult to Saint Vincent DePaul and everything he stood for.
DePaul University’s mission statement includes among its Vincentian values, “commitment to academic freedom” and “intellectual excellence.” Either live up to it or drop the bull.
A Note to Professor Finkelstein
As far as I know, no one on our side has been honest enough (and bad-mannered enough) to ask if, by dismissing the Mearsheimer and Walt paper and downplaying the influence of the Israel Lobby (“It’s Not Either / Or”; CounterPunch, May 1, 2006) Professor Finkelstein may have contributed to the abusive treatment he and Larudee got from DePaul? Do you think the university would have been as likely to blindside the two professors if the Left, led by Chomsky and Finkelstein and all of the our most formidable brainiacs, had echoed M & W and said “YES! The Israel Lobby controls or disproportionately influences every decision in America that relates in any way to Israel!” Would the sycophants at DePaul have acted in such brutal haste if they knew we were united in our determination to oppose the Lobby’s control over our universities? I don’t think so.
Do I think this note might tick off the volatile Mr. Finkelstein? Maybe, but if his annoyance with me makes him prove how wrong I am by leading the fight to defend Mehrene Larudee, nothing would please me more.
Whatever it takes to give Mehrene Larudee back what was stolen from her, let’s do it.
Matthew Abraham, the untenured professor of English who wrote perceptively and honestly throughout the situation, knows that DePaul may wage a campaign to harm others who supported Finkelstein. If that is the case, John Abraham will be near the top of the hit list.
We must make it clear that we will defend people who have the courage to speak the truth.
I went back and forth about whether to include this or not. The longer I vacillated the more important it became: Mehrene Larudee is a woman, a Palestinian woman. If she had been not only a man, but a Jewish man, we would be erecting statues in her honor. The woman is a hero and she should be treated like one.
PS: Dear DePaul—You can save us a lot of trouble and spare yourselves some shame by apologizing to Dr. Larudee and restoring everything you took from her, including her reputation.