FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Poisoning of Academic Freedom

by BILL WILLIAMS

So, what exactly went through Rev. Dennis Holtschneider’s mind on as he signed Norman G. Finkelstein’s and Mehrene Larudee’s tenure denial letters, which were dated June 8th, 2007? Perhaps Father Holtscheider thought he was, in some sense, picking the lesser of two poisons. By upholding the University Board’s decision to deny tenure to Finkelstein, he could successfully remove one of the most effective and outspoken critics of Israel from DePaul’s precincts, and in turn, curry favor with those who could put DePaul’s endowment in an enviable place. After all, what-beyond financial gain and other forms of political capital-could accrue from ejecting Finkelstein, one of DePaul’s most popular and accomplished teachers, scholars, and public intellectuals from campus under the specter of a witch-hunt? In brief, Holtscheider, assuming the decision to uphold the UBTP’s votes on the Larudee and Finkelstein cases was really his and not that of someone above and beyond him, chose to make a politically expedient decision instead of an academically sound one.

Most likely, what went through Holtschneider’s head was that, at least in Finkelstein’s case, DePaul University could avoid twenty years of continual controversy if it denied this world renowned public intellectual lifetime employment. After all, who wants to receive weekly or even daily missives from the Anti-Defamation League or Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, who led the year-long campaign against Finkelstein’s tenure, intervening through the former head of DePaul’s political science department, and just a year before attempting to intimidate the University of California Press into dropping the publication of Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History? Where the U. California Press stood firm, DePaul faltered.

Of course, DePaul maintains that Dershowitz’s “interference” had absolutely no effect on its tenure and promotion processes. Along similar lines, DePaul probably wagered that it could deal with the outrage of angry students and faculty and progressive fellow travelers, but could not withstand the financial and political backlash of the pro-Israel right and the Israel Lobby if it tenured Finkelstein. But DePaul University is dependent upon student tuition dollars, not the growth of a large endowment, right? Will DePaul’s administration make available for public scrutiny the university’s endowment figures for the next five years, even though it is a private university? Probably not, but these figures are worth asking for.

Surely, neither the UBPT or Holtschneider actually believed Alan Dershowitz’s argument that Finkelstein has no scholarship and only churns out one-sided agit prop. There are clearly no sound academic arguments that were offered either by Holtscheider or the UBPT that help any of us, make sense of the “decision.” This was one of my favorite sentences in Finkelstein’s denial letter: “In [being mindful of how important it is to follow the policies in the faculty handbook] the [UPBT] was reminded of broader expectations and professional standards by which faculty are DePaul are obliged to comport themselves as members of the academic profession and as members of the DePaul intellectual community.” Who reminded the UBTP of these broader expectations?

Alan Dershowitz? Although the external reviews written by two distinguished political scientists were solidly behind Finkelstein’s tenure and promotion, the Dean of Arts and Sciences framed his rationale for withholding Finkelstein’s tenure application around the political science department’s <http://english.sxu.edu/sites/kirstein/?p=754>minority report, which was authored by three individuals who are not experts on the Middle East or the Holocaust.

Holtschneider also mentions in his letter that he could not in good conscience view Finkelstein as actually promoting a scholarly debate, but instead simplifying and polarizing discussions that require layered and subtle consideration [“In the opinion of those opposing tenure, your unprofessional personal attacks divert the conversation away from the consideration of ideas, and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration.”] [“I cannot in good faith conclude that you honor the obligations to ‘respect and defend the free inquiry of associates,’ ‘show due respect for the opinion of others,’ and ‘strive to be objective in their professional judgment of colleagues’.”]

Well, all of this is very funny since DePaul hired Finkelstein into a tenure-track position with four of the five books, which he put up with his tenure dossier, already out in the public sphere. The one book that Finkelstein published since he started at DePaul is Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (Univ. of California), which of course, is critical of Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel and its various misrepresentations of diplomatic, legal, and historical aspects of the conflict. So, if one wades through the various ins and outs of Holtschneider’s prose, one can conclude that Finkelstein’s real “mistake” was to have gone after a big-shot like Alan Dershowitz. Finkelstein’s four other books, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years (Minnesota), Image and Reality in the Israel-Palestine Conflict (Verso), A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth (Holt Books), and The Holocaust Industry: The Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (Verso), were all published before Finkelstein started his tenure-track odyssey at DePaul.

Is one to understand that before he was hired, neither his colleagues in the political science department nor DePaul’s administration knew about the contents of these books or that Finkelstein wrote about highly charged topics with clarity and conviction? And that it was only through the publication of Beyond Chutzpah, the exigency of Finkelstein’s tenure proceedings, and Dershowitz’s outside interference, that his critical and polemical edge came to light? Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History could hardly have been a surprise as the latest addition in the Finkelstein corpus, since it’s a natural extension of Finkelstein’s other work-exposing spurious scholarship on the U.S.-Israel-Palestine conflict, which receives widespread praise within an intellectual culture that is eager to lend itself to upholding central tenets of the propaganda system, while denouncing those who pose a threat to it.

In his three-part essay, Bathos at DePaul, Kim Petersen effectively and completely deconstructs Holtschneiders, the UBPT’s, and by implication, DePaul University’s General Counsel’s logic, demonstrating that beyond obfuscation there’s simply no substance behind the reasons offered for the denial. It’s not even clear that Holtscheider understands the portions of the AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics that he cites. This statement, as AAUP-Illinois Council President Leo Welch recently made clear in his letter to Holtscheider, is not to be used for tenure evaluations. Beyond this, the AAUP’s statement on collegiality makes clear that:

The current tendency to isolate collegiality as a distinct dimension of evaluation, [however], poses several dangers. Historically, “collegiality” has not infrequently been associated with ensuring homogeneity, and hence with practices that exclude persons on the bases of their difference from a perceived norm. The invocation of “collegiality” may also threaten academic freedom. In the heat of important decisions regarding promotion or tenure, as well as other matters involving such traditional areas of faculty responsibility as curriculum or academic hiring, collegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display “enthusiasm” or “dedication,” evince “a constructive attitude” that will “foster harmony” or display excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty member’s right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrators.

The administration needed another denial out of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to make the Finkelstein denial appear legitimate-Larudee provided the perfect target. Although she had received unanimous support from her department, the College Personnel Committee, and the support of Dean Charles Suchar, she could also be made an example of for resisting the administrative line on Finkelstein. After Suchar’s March 22 memorandum became public, Larudee joined a small faculty committee that met regularly to strategize about how the administration might try to undermine Finkelstein’s candidacy. Beyond this, her brother is one of the most active members of the International Solidarity Movement, which defends Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza from demolition. Rachel Corrie was a member of the organization when she died in Rafah, Gaza on March 16th, 2003. Was Larudee simply a convenient political target? There were only two denials out of the College of Arts and Sciences-Finkelstein and Larudee.

Academic freedom and tenure, if they are to have any meaning, must protect dissenting intellectuals like Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee from the political forces that have conspired within and without DePaul University. If nothing else, the Finkelstein and Larudee tenure denials have proven that academic freedom apparently was never meant to be extended to critics of U.S. and Israeli policy in the Middle East. Isn’t that the real message of the last few months at DePaul University, the largest Catholic University in the United States? Dershowitz and a number of other U.S. supporters of Israel have made the answer crystal clear.

BILL WILLIAMS is an independent writer who lives in Toledo, Ohio. He can be reached at wassup7525@aol.com

 

 

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail