How DePaul Is Terrified Of Anything Finkelstein

The "F-word"

We came to DePaul’s graduation to hold banners saying, “Tenure for Finkelstein and Larudee” and we came to support the twenty five or so graduating seniors that were to hand the president, Fr. Denis Holtschneider, a letter of disapproval instead of shaking his hand. Our plan was to hold the signs up for as long as we could, but to do it silently so we would not be disruptive; and this was actually my biggest fear-not getting the message across with tact. My fears quickly went away as I noticed that the graduation was only fractionally as formal as I expected. There were signs, banners, and airhorns- it seemed more like a party than a graduation and the administration accepted this because the moment was about the students, not DePaul.

We were there as each name was read, A-Z, holding our signs and cheering after each graduate handed the president a letter. The process worked like clockwork- the announcer would read a card, the student would walk across stage, shake the president’s hand/ give him a letter, wave to the camera, and then the next person was up. One by one each graduating senior was allowed to express themselves any way they wanted to, be it having their middle name announced, wearing sunglasses, dancing in front of the camera, hugging the president, or slapping him on the behind. Everything was fair game because this was the student’s graduation. But halfway through the letter ‘S’, there was a long pause. As a bystander, there was an obvious problem and you could see it on the announcer’s face. The student had handed the announcer a card that read ‘Norman Finkelstein’ and she did not know if she should read it or not. Finally you could read her lips on the two jumbotrons- “I can’t read this”. So the student leaned over into the microphone and screamed the words- ‘Norman Finkelstein’. At that moment you could see the demeanor of every administrator on stage change. The student made her point.

But what is so wrong with reading the words ‘Norman Finkelstein’? They are words and they can not hurt. An argument can be made that words do hurt, but neither the words ‘Norman’ nor ‘Finkelstein’ have a negative connotation. In fact, it has been my experience that those words are positive around DePaul, especially in regards to students. So why could they not be read? After all, students were walking across the stage and accosting the president of a university for the sake of a show. They were trying to create a spectacle and did so with no repercussions. And that is the way it is supposed to be, its about the graduates. So why not read the name, the name of someone who was so valueless to the university that they let him go a week before?

It’s because those words inspire. Those words inspire students to learn, they inspire students to understand the world they live in, they inspire students to dissent. And those words inspire fear among the administration.

DePaul’s administration wants this entire situation to go away. Fr. Holtschneider can talk all he wants about civil disobedience, like he did on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but in actuality he just wants to maintain the status quo. He wants an apathetic core of students that buy into the rah-rahness of ‘Vincentian values’ so they donate as an alumni. The idea of ‘Vincentian values’ is so vague and ambiguous that they themselves morph into whatever is most beneficial at that moment. It is a level of control.

Maybe I am being paranoid about DePaul wanting to rid the campus of this F-word. But when I called the school’s bookstore (actually both of them) to see if they had any copies of Professor Finkelstein’s books, the nice older lady from the bookstore downtown said that up until about a week ago they always carried at least one of his books or had them coming in, but that have since removed them from the store. Maybe there is something to it and maybe there isn’t. But at this point of desperation for DePaul, I would not put it past them. What better way to get rid of the thought of a professor than to take away his texts? Without his voice on campus and without his books in the store, the professor disappears and his ideas go away; life at DePaul continues to be comfortable.

But that is not the case of Norman Finkelstein. DePaul can’t kill off his ideas, no matter how hard they try. Maybe its because his classes were transformative experiences-after taking one, you are never the same person. Maybe its because you can see his sacrifice for social justice in his face and hear it in his voice. Or maybe its because his heart has the same ambition and aim that ‘Vincentian Values’ once had, before DePaul got a hold of them and bastardized their worth for the sake of a marketing ploy. Regardless, Professor Finkelstein, unintentionally, is bigger than not just the Political Science department, but DePaul as a whole, and that scares people.

So DePaul not reading the words ‘Norman Finkelstein’ does not surprise me. It shouldn’t. This is a university that puts dollars as its top priority, just ahead of finding professors who follow the norms and don’t ask questions. I guess I should be thankful that there is quality faculty that has tenure. But having to be thankful for professors sliding in under the radar was not what I expected the last time I wrote my tuition check.

Evan Lorendo is a senior at DePaul majoring International Studies and Urban Development. Read other articles by Evan, or visit Evan's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Deborah said on June 29th, 2007 at 8:42am #

    A wonderful article. I am so inspired by the students at De Paul who have taken action on behalf of Norman Finkelstein. They are mentoring faculty all around the country as to why academic freedom is under assault in this case in the boldest, clearest manner that we have seen in a long time.

  2. hp said on June 29th, 2007 at 2:21pm #

    Perhaps the student should have said “Ernst Zundel!”

  3. Michael Kenny said on June 29th, 2007 at 3:48pm #

    The most interesting thing about all this graduation hi-jinks is that nobody got annoyed at any of it. And wasn’t the reason why the speaker hesitated because she knew NF wasn’t the next graduate’s name? That would be the common sense option. All this dark innuendo is a bit too, well, … studenty!

    Finkelstein’s problem is not his ideas, but the fact that he has sought to drag a Catholic university into a dispute between Jews over their respective visions of Israel. That’s not a Catholic problem and it would be wrong for DePaul to take sides in it. The mission of a Catholic university is to provide a Catholic education. Getting into other people’s fights impedes that mission.

    By the way, you can imagine the almighty uproar there was in my Catholic high scool 40 years ago when someone added “Buster Cherry” to a list of names to be read out by the dean of discipline (a rather short-tempered Christian Brother) and he read it out before he noticed it!

    And, oh yes. Question for “hp”. Who the blazes is Ernst Zundel?

  4. Kim Petersen said on June 29th, 2007 at 6:06pm #

    Dear Michael Kenny,

    Might it not be “that nobody got annoyed at any of” the “graduation hi-jinks” because they support Norman Finkelstein and his right to academic freedom? A good Catholic high school might have taught about Occam’s razor.

    You are wrong; Finkelstein did not seek “to drag a Catholic university into a dispute between Jews over their respective visions of Israel.” 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 bend before titled individuals is old hat. That DePaul brings up old canards long down the road is disingenuous at best.

    Also, to claim that an assault on morality where millions of lives are imperiled is not a “Catholic problem and it would be wrong for DePaul to take sides in it” should astound any Catholic or thinking person. Did you not learn the story of the Good Samaritan in your Catholic high school?

    Please do not get high schools and universities mixed up. DePaul U’s mission is not “to provide a Catholic education.” One can read DP’s mission statement in which the central purpose is made clear:

    “DePaul, in common with all universities, is dedicated to teaching, research, and public service. However, in pursuing its own distinctive purposes, among these three fundamental responsibilities this university places highest priority on programs of instruction and learning. All curricula emphasize skills and attitudes that educate students to be lifelong, independent learners.”

    With all due respect, your comments are factually inaccurate and empty rhetoric.

  5. Heike said on June 29th, 2007 at 6:21pm #

    Funny that no one shouted the name “Tom Klocek” at the graduation. Is freedom of speech only to be granted to those whose views we like? Is there no one at De Paul who thinks the firing of Mr. Klocek brings up genuine issues of freedom of speech?

  6. Kim Petersen said on June 29th, 2007 at 6:39pm #

    Not familiar with Klozek, but it seems that Tom Klocek was not dismissed for his speech but rather his behavior. From Zionist friendly Wikipedia: “Dean Susanne Dumbleton talked with Klocek in private, explaining that the behavior reported during the incident violated the university’s Faculty Code of Conduct. Klocek was given the opportunity to apologize to the students for his behavior and continue in his position. He declined.”

    Yes, speech is a behavior, but the Wiki piece makes clear it was not about speech.

    Also he wasn’t fired; his contract was not renewed.

  7. Kim Petersen said on June 29th, 2007 at 6:47pm #

    But freedom of speech should belong to all Heike, even those who we are not fond of.

  8. Heike said on June 30th, 2007 at 5:35pm #

    His behavior was that he dared to criticize Arab students who had distributed flyers equating Israel with Naziism. Non renewal of a contract, in this case, is the equivalent of firing. He was fired after strong pressure was exerted on the university by CAIR. You don’t think that Finkelstein’s demonization of people he doesn’t like, including calling Dershowitz a whore madame (or saying that he had no right to protest the Latuff cartoon since he has been known to sunbathe in the nude on Martha’s Vineyard!) or calling on Chris Hitchens to commit suicide, or calling Phyllis Chesler an “idiot, imbecile, and lunatic,” and suggesting that she was mentally ill might be the subject of the Faculty Code of Conduct (slander is prohibited in many universities)?

    Don’t rely on “Zionist-friendly Wikipedia,” and do some of your own research on the Klocek case.

  9. Binh said on July 3rd, 2007 at 7:37am #

    Dershowitz and Hitchens got off easy from Finkelstein.

    And if anyone wants to whine about why people compare the Zionists with the Nazis, tell Israel to stop acting like the Nazi Germany (one IDF officer even said the IDF should learn from “how the German Army operated in the Warsaw Ghetto”).

  10. Carlson said on May 23rd, 2008 at 7:57am #

    How remarkable that at your young age you would have the courage of your convictions. While most the other students were giving high fives and doing whatever self-absorbed things young people usually do, you and a few others showed wisdom and insight beyond your years. That maturity is how I would define a successful college career, whether accomplished despite, as much as because, of De Paul. Well done.