DePaul U. Turns Norman Finkelstein Down for Tenure

Norman G. Finkelstein, the controversial political scientist who has been engaged in a public battle for tenure at DePaul University, learned on Friday that he had lost that fight. In a written statement, the university confirmed that Mr. Finkelstein had been denied tenure.

Mr. Finkelstein has inspired heated debate with his writings and commentary on such highly charged topics as the Israel-Palestine conflict and what he has termed “the Holocaust industry,” and has sparred publicly over such issues with Alan M. Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard University. Last fall, Mr. Dershowitz sent members of DePaul’s law and political-science faculties what he described as “a dossier of Norman Finkelstein’s most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions” (The Chronicle, April 5).

Mr. Finkelstein’s departmental committee voted 9 to 3 in support of granting him tenure, and a five-member college-level personnel committee then voted unanimously in favor of tenure. But the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences wrote a memorandum recommending against it, and the University Board on Promotion and Tenure then voted not to grant tenure.

The final decision rested with the university’s president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, who said in a three-page letter sent to Mr. Finkelstein on Friday that he had found “no compelling reasons to overturn” the tenure board’s recommendation.

An electronic copy of the letter has now been posted on Mr. Finkelstein’s Web site.

In the letter, Father Holtschneider quotes extensively from the report of the university’s tenure-and-promotion board, which describes Mr. Finkelstein as “a nationally known scholar and public intellectual, considered provocative, challenging, and intellectually interesting,” and then comments that Mr. Finkelstein’s dossier “reveals some division of opinion as to the soundness of some of his scholarship.”

Father Holtschneider’s letter dwells on allegations that Mr. Finkelstein engaged in “ad hominem attacks” on scholars with opposing views. “In the opinion of those opposing tenure,” the university president writes, “your unprofessional personal attacks divert the conversation away from consideration of ideas, and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration.”

The president goes on to invoke the American Association of University Professors and its standards of scholarly conduct, as well as standards articulated in the DePaul Faculty Handbook.

“On the record before me, I cannot in good faith conclude that you honor” those collegial obligations, Father Holtschneider told Mr. Finkelstein in the letter. “Nor can I conclude that your scholarship honors our university’s commitment to creating an environment in which all persons engaged in research and learning exercise academic freedom and respect it in others.”

In an interview over the weekend with The Chronicle, Mr. Finkelstein took strong exception to the letter’s verdict on his character as a scholar and to what he called “this vicious, sordid campaign to dirty my name so that there’s a pretext for getting rid of me.” He said that the university tenure-and-promotion board had relied on the so-called minority report — a document put together by the three members of the departmental committee who opposed giving Mr. Finkelstein tenure — rather than the “majority report” compiled by the nine committee members who supported him.

“I met the requirements of tenure. I met them, and then some,” Mr. Finkelstein said. “But meeting those requirements, and playing by the rules, was not sufficient to overcome the outside pressures that were exerted on DePaul.”

The case has excited widespread interest, in part because of Mr. Dershowitz’s open involvement. The Harvard professor threatened to sue the University of California Press if Mr. Finkelstein’s 2005 book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History went to press containing allegations that Mr. Dershowitz plagiarized portions of his book The Case for Israel. And in recent months he has written about Mr. Finkelstein in op-ed commentaries in prominent venues such as The Wall Street Journal and The New Republic. He also comments on the dispute on his Web site.

Informed of the tenure denial on Friday evening, Mr. Dershowitz said, “It was the right decision, proving that DePaul University is indeed a first-rate university, not as Finkelstein characterized it, ‘a third-rate university.’ Based on objective standards of scholarship, this should not have even been a close case.”

(Mr. Dershowitz was referring to comments Mr. Finkelstein made in April to The Harvard Crimson. In an article headlined “Feud Weakens Prof’s Tenure Bid,” the paper quoted the DePaul professor as saying, “I think Dershowitz is desperate to discredit me to be able to say that this Finkelstein guy couldn’t even get tenure at a third-rate Catholic university, so how can we take him seriously?”)

Mr. Finkelstein’s supporters have also worked actively on his behalf, conducting letter-writing campaigns and gathering petition signatures. The scholar denied any involvement in those activities. “I did not solicit outside support,” he told The Chronicle on Sunday. “I never orchestrated, instigated, or in any way initiated the campaign on my behalf. That was completely spontaneous on the part of those who felt an injustice was being inflicted on me.”

In both his letter to Mr. Finkelstein and the statement released by the university, Father Holtschneider denied that the tenure decision had been influenced by the “unwelcome attention” the case has received.

“I am well aware of the outside interest in this decision, and the many ways in which the university community was ‘lobbied’ both to grant and to deny tenure,” he wrote in the letter. “I am satisfied that the faculty review process maintained its independence from this unwelcome attention. As much as some would like to create the impression that our process and decision have been influenced by outside interests, they are mistaken.”

A spokeswoman for DePaul, Denise Mattson, said on Saturday that the university had considered 42 tenure cases this year. Of those, three scholars (including Mr. Finkelstein) were denied tenure and promotion, one was denied tenure only, and five were denied promotion only. Ms. Mattson also confirmed rumors that Father Holtschneider had called Roger W. Bowen, general secretary of the Association of American University Professors, to inform him of the decision regarding Mr. Finkelstein. Mr. Bowen is stepping down at the end of this month.

Mr. Finkelstein said he was convinced that in his case “the university succumbed to outside pressure, and the criticism should be directed fundamentally at those who exerted such pressure that the university finally had to cave in.”

“That to me is the essential element,” he continued. “It’s not Norman Finkelstein versus DePaul University. That is not correct, because I have not the slightest doubt whatsoever that had there not been external pressure exerted on this university, I would have gotten tenure. I don’t want to lose sight of that.”

Other members of the DePaul faculty have apparently had their doubts as well. The Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Faculty Governance Council voted unanimously last November 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.”

Mr. Finkelstein’s fate at DePaul appears to be sealed. In a letter sent on Friday in response to a query from the president of the faculty council, José D. Padilla, DePaul’s general counsel, wrote: “It is my understanding that you have asked whether the president’s tenure decisions may be appealed. … Based on my review of the clear language of the relevant sections of the Faculty Handbook, there is no appeal of a tenure decision.”

Mr. Finkelstein, meanwhile, has not yet determined what his next step will be. “It’s been an exceedingly ugly experience,” he said. “There are two options, basically: Try to achieve a settlement and leave, or come back next year for what’s called my terminal year and fight it out.”

He would not rule out the possibility of a lawsuit, although he said he was “not inclined” to take that option, “basically because I think that’s what the university wants. Let’s say I win $10-million. That’s a drop in the bucket to get rid of me.”

He continued, “I’ve consulted lawyers who say that these things drag on for five years. By then I’m 58 and the party is over. It’s not saying that I’m ruling it out.”

Mr. Finkelstein noted that “DePaul is in a growth mode” and that, in his view, the university found itself forced to choose between “a long-term catastrophe and a short-term catastrophe” — the short-term catastrophe being the publicity about his case, the long-term catastrophe “having me on this faculty for another 20 years, and every time I open my mouth or say something about Israeli policy, the hysteria starting up again, and they see their money disappear.”

Such sentiments, he said, may have doomed his future prospects in academe. “No administration would have me on its faculty because of the hysteria that would evoke,” he said. “These people have pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks.”

This article was first published in The Chronicle for Higher Education.

Jennifer Howard writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Read other articles by Jennifer, or visit Jennifer's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Hue Longer said on June 13th, 2007 at 11:37am #

    Great artcicle…
    I get tired of seeing “ad hominem” abused. Were I to say that the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider was a worthless coward and a fucking idiot, therefore he is wrong…well that would be easily decipherable ad hominem. Were I to say the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider bowed down to outside interests and lied about it, therefiore he is a worthless coward and a fucking idiot…it’s a different matter.

  2. Michael Kenny said on June 13th, 2007 at 6:53pm #

    Never lose sight of the fact that De Paul is a Catholic university and its mission is to dispense Catholic education. Judging from his name and the subjects which interest him, I would guess that Mr Finkelstein is Jewish. A Catholic university has no interest in appearing to take sides in a dispute between Jews over their respective visions of Israel. That simply creates a useless diversion from the job of providing a Catholic education for its students.

  3. Canuck Traveler said on June 13th, 2007 at 7:04pm #

    Prof. Finkelstein is in the best of company:

  4. Barbara Deutsch said on June 13th, 2007 at 8:04pm #

    I wonder how Michael Kenny sees as “a dispute between Jews,” the devolution of the UN-mandated partition of Palestine? This victor’s experiment in (among other things; e.g., international disarmament) out-sourcing a guilty conscience,, was justified in an aura of holiness and promise, but wasn’t what it accomplished another grand theft of land, and dispossession of another indigenous people? And wasn’t the stolen property assigned to a Zionist project recently overtaken by Europaean refugees (dominated by Berliners and led by terrorists whom Einstein and other Jews of conscience named fascist and called upon the UN to repudiate)?

    Drawing upon a widely promoted spirit of one “family of man” inhabiting a world overseen by/from the exceptional US, didn’t the “creation” of Israel and its national myth (Einstein: “nationalism is the measles of mankind”) serve a dual use, offering an ingenious solution to the “Jewish problem” in substituting a political identity for what had been a tenaciously stateless religion, one of whose most revered traditions was that of communally examined learning?

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 14th, 2007 at 4:29am #

    A similar situation exists in Australia, Rightwing Jews dominate the mass media and the ABC, the national broadcaster. Opinions concerning Israel’s many crimes, of the type freely articulated by decent Israelis and some brave, anti-racist, Jews elsewhere, are anathema. They do not appear in the mass media. Neither do the voices of any but the most acquiescent Arab or Moslem. When a rare, very polite criticism of Israel is voiced, always by a commentator with an explicitly Arabic name, it is inevitably answered immediately by a vitriolic outburst of, increasingly manic, pro-Israeli agit-prop. The vastly greater number of articles articulating the world-view of the Israeli Right, are never followed by a contradicting article. Voices of so-called ‘Jewish moderates’, a mythical species alleged to exist somewhere here, are entirely absent, or appear as one-offs, never to be repeated. The voices of the Jewish Rightists are always arrogantly belligerent, with falsifications of history evident to all but the most ignorant. And always the racist demonisation of Moslems, Arabs and Palestinians in particular. The situation has long ceased to be merely unpleasant. It has now become dangerously provocative. Something appears to have snapped in the Ziocon brain after the failures in Iraq and Lebanon. Not content with destroying Iraq and poisoning Lebanon with nuclear waste and cluster bombs, these Judeofascists are hell-bent on attacking Iran and Syria. They have even, in another sinister and dangerous development, become the flag-bearers of the anti-China crusade, using their wholly fraudulent alleged concern for the Darfurians to attack China, even accusing her of complicity in genocide. In my opinion these people are mad, bad and dangerous to know. Not just dangerous to their many intended victims, but to Israel and Jewry itself. If the Jews are irrevocably tarred with the US’s fascist, racist brush, their security is placed at risk. All they need do is recognise the humanity of their victims and cease brutalising them, but they steadfastly refuse to do so. An unspeakable tragedy looms.

  6. Hue Longer said on June 14th, 2007 at 6:16am #

    Love the name, Mulga!
    Remember when Arafat died? Remember the bizarre front page rhetorical’s in Australia such as, “ARAFAT DEAD…is peace now possible”? Have you too seen the NINEMSN.COM stories about Muslim girls being killed by angry fathers, brothers? Australia is a strange study…..better educated than the US, but suffering from corporate America media lackey propaganda which plays on their Catholic collective selective morality.

  7. Boycott DePaul said on June 14th, 2007 at 8:53am #

    […] tenure denial rankles badly those of us determined to keep our visions of activist-scholarship intact in our […]

  8. Max Shields said on June 15th, 2007 at 7:07am #

    I have never read a book by Finkelstein, but have heard him in various venues and debates discuss the birth and subsequent history of Israel. He presents an extremely important view point to the whole issue of Israel and the role of the Holocaust ( I believe he is the son of a surviver of the Holocaust).

    His voice, quite apart from De Paul, is that of a Jew. And in that sense he represents an “inside” argument that is both accessible to non-Jews and one that needs to be continued. But the larger question of Israel and the still larger question of US imperialism is the text. Zionism is a subtext requiring a full understanding in order to decispher what sustains the fire in the Middle East, a fire that bleeds outside the region into Africa and else where. But it is a bit player.

    I keep coming back to something Chomsky recently concluded, in an analogy (metaphor) he made. He likened the US power brokers with the mob. Power creates creatures which are not “every day” types. There is a “nod”, a “wink” or some other innocuous gesture that starts a massacre, that pays and arms militias to undermine governments, movements or anything that does not meet with the power brokers of Washington’s approval.

  9. Lawrence Swaim said on June 15th, 2007 at 5:46pm #

    We will be very lucky if rightwing Christians and rightwing Jews do not start a world war in the Middle East, or perhaps conduct a genocide with WMDs. When the Prime Minister of Israel off-handedly mentioned his country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons last summer, I’m afraid it was probably intentional rather than a mistake as he said later. And perhaps a bit of a threat.
    There are a fair number of Muslims and Arab-Americans at DePaul University–is Michael Kenny to have us believe that they don’t deserve an education? I also believe that DePaul’s interest in the Finkelstein matter is–or should be–the same interest of every institution of higher learning, which is academic freedom. Finally, Israel/Palestine is important to all of us, not just as a matter of debate among Jews, although obviously it is an exceedingly painful issue for them.
    Some readers may wish to read my column on Philo-Semitism among Christians in the upcoming July issue of Southern California InFocus, the largest Muslim newspaper in California.

  10. Hue Longer said on June 16th, 2007 at 8:17am #

    submit it here, Lawrence