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Academic Injustices

Fasting for Justice at DePaul

by DANIEL KLIMEK

Is this not the fast that I choose:to lose the bonds of injustice

– Isaiah 58:6

Each day of this week, while walking through the campus of DePaul University, I passed a statue in front of the university’s Student Center of Monsignor John Egan, the late Catholic priest and human rights activist. Below his massive image, the inscription reads: "What are you doing for justice?"

"Fasting," I tell myself. As of Friday I, and several other dedicated students, will officially go without eating anything for over 100 hours, five days of fasting and going strong in protest of the university’s blatant attack on academic freedom and disregard for our education. That education, which costs over $20,000 a year, has been undermined and put to shame by President Dennis Holtschneider’s decision to deny tenure to Professors Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee, two of the most respected and inspirational professors on campus.

Each day, while conducting our fast in the Student Center, we have received support from the surrounding community, both close and distant. Individuals passing by, from strangers to more students, to DePaul faculty, to faculty from other Chicago universities, have all voluntarily acknowledged the injustice that has taken place at our school, deciding therefore to sit with us and to encourage our efforts of activism. The reason that this injustice has attracted so much attention and support is clear: the implications do not just touch DePaul but the entire academic community, for they display what a sad state of affairs can exist within the American university, that so-called bastion of open thought and ideas.

It is absolutely astonishing to have to acknowledge the troubling truth underneath the reality that such an eminent and courageous scholar like Norman Finkelstein can be refused tenure. Dr. Finkelstein’s books are international bestsellers that have been translated into 46 foreign editions, more than the work of the entire faculty of DePaul’s School of Liberal Arts and Sciences combined. His contributions to Middle Eastern studies are monumental both to our country and to our culture. However, it is no secret that the ideological, pro-Israeli bias of our government has historically penetrated other societal venues as well, such as academia, therefore influencing "scholarship."

When Joan Peters explained to millions of Americans that there, in actuality, is no such thing as a Palestinian, writing the highly successful book From Time Immemorial and, in the process, distorting Middle Eastern history for our manipulated masses, a graduate student at Princeton exposed her work as a colossal hoax. Documenting the hoax, he reestablished an honest debate on Zionism and awakened the conscience of deceived audiences.

That student was Norman Finkelstein.

When Daniel Jonah Goldhagen purported that the secret of the Nazi Holocaust resided in the theory that ordinary Germans were driven to murder by fanatical anti-Semitism, writing the greatly successful book Hitler’s Willing Executioners, a scholar exposed the misrepresentations of sources and contradictions within Goldhagen’s argument. That same scholar authored The Holocaust Industry, the international bestseller that Raul Hilberg, the most distinguished historian on the Nazi Holocaust, has hailed as "a breakthrough" in the field.

That breakthrough came from Norman Finkelstein.

When Alan Dershowitz argued to millions that Israel is a beacon of democracy and an almost ideal abider of human rights, in the vastly successful book The Case for Israel, a professor at DePaul exposed the book as a monumental fraud, plagiarized excessively from the Joan Peters tract and falsifying the human rights record in the Occupied Territories. Documenting the fraud through excessive detail and observance from the world’s mainstream human rights organizations-Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem-the DePaul professor again, through muckraking scholarship deserving of a Pulitzer, reestablished an honest debate on the Middle East by exposing another distorter of history and rebuffing all of his falsifications.

That DePaul professor was Norman Finkelstein, whose contributions to the scholarship of our time is irreplaceable and whose perpetual battle for social justice is a commendable example for all scholars and students to follow.

Dr. Finkelstein was a professor of mine in the winter quarter of 2007 at DePaul. I soon found out that he is as exceptional of a professor as he is a scholar, thought-provoking, challenging, and inspirational. His extraordinary student evaluations speak for themselves. After only taking one class, I decided to write a letter nominating Dr. Finkelstein for the 2007 LA&S Excellence in Teaching Award, DePaul’s most prestigious teaching award. I heard it was not the first time he was nominated.

Yet, this professor, who has impacted history so greatly as a scholar and who has influenced students’ minds so abundantly as a teacher, has trouble receiving tenure at DePaul University. Somewhere on the East Coast, however, an exposed plagiarist sits securely in his position as Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Talk about social justice in American academia. At the same time, after denying tenure, President Holtschneider shamelessly proclaimed, "Academic freedom is alive and well at DePaul."

George Orwell must’ve rolled in his grave.

DANIEL KLIMEK is a student of political science at DePaul, and former student of Prof. Finkelstein. He can be reached at: dpk24g@gmail.com