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DePaul U. Turns Norman Finkelstein Down for Tenure
06.04.2007 | The Chronicle of Higher Education
By JENNIFER HOWARD
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, JosÈ 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."