The worst day in the life of Norman Finkelstein was the day Alan Dershowitz decided to trivalize the ethical, political and culture clashes that have resulted from the creation of the Israeli state in his book The Case For Israel. Dershowitz is one of the most infamous litigators in modern American history, having served on O.J. Simpson's defense team and subsequently becoming Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University. Unfortunately for Professor Finkelstein, Dershowitz thought it would be a good idea to pretend that he was also a Jewish historian.
Yesterday, Professor Finkelstein was denied tenure by the DePaul University Liberal Arts and Sciences Department for reasons that are absolutely indefensible. Under pressure from Dershowitz, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Charles Suchar decided to disregard the regular tenure process and recommended that he be denied tenure. In doing so he has failed to respect academic freedom and has betrayed one of DePaul's most beloved teachers by the students whom he has taught.
An internal memo written by Suchar charged that the "personal attacks" in many of Finkelstein's books "border on character assassination, and in my opinion ... embody a strategy clearly aimed at destroying the reputation of many who oppose his views." The memo went on to state that Finkelstein’s record is “inconsistent with DePaul Vincentian values, most particularly our institutional commitment to respect the dignity of the individual and to respect the rights of others to hold and express different intellectual positions.”
Is he kidding? First of all, I am not familiar with anyone who has a problem with Professor Finkelstein's characterization of his/her position which is different from his own, except Alan Dershowitz. Secondly, how is it at all consistent with Vincentian values to respecting divergent opinions to silence one of the great "devil's advocates" in modern intellectual society.
DePaul University President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider commented to Jennifer Howard of The Chronicle on Higher Education that the outside attention Professor Finkelstein's situation has inspired was apparently disrespectful or inappropriate in some way, as if it was wrong for those of us who care about Finkelstein to voice our opinions. He stated, "This attention was unwelcome and inappropriate and had no impact on either the process of the outcome of this case."
I am sorry Father Holtschneider, but you were wrong not to listen to the overwhelming support showed by the DePaul community for one of its finest professors, and if you do not care about what we had to say then you should not be our president and I think you should resign. A true man of the Lord would care more about those who are members of his community than to just dismiss them as "unwelcome and inappropriate".
When Dershowitz was informed of Finkelstein's fate he stated that, "It was the right decision, proving that DePaul University is 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." His last statement is particularly interesting, considering it was his own disregard for the "objective standards of scholarship" that started all of the controversy in the first place.
I had three classes with Professor Finkelstein as a student in the DePaul political science department and I can say confidently that no other professor I have ever had has influenced my perception of the world and the great debates of our time than he, and for that I will be forever grateful. I may disagree with some of his opinions and those of others, but I will forever respect them because of what I learned from Norman Finkelstein.
To deny him tenure because of his supposed rejection of opinions divergent from his own is proof that the DePaul administration was clearly intimidated into its unfortunate decision and failed to consider Finkelstein strictly on the merits of his resume. I can only hope that he will find justice in the end, and I wish him the best of luck as he tries to find his next soapbox. Below I have included videos of the first encounter between Dershowitz and Finkelstein on Democracy Now, during which Finkelstein successfully makes Dershowitz look like both the chump and fraud for which he will be remembered.
Tags: Norman Finkelstein, Alan Dershowitz, DePaul University, Dershowitz-Finkelstein Affair, Israel, Harvard, Israel, Chicago, Democracy Now, Debate, Amy Goodman