The Deepening Bathos at DePaul University

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Resisting Tyranny in Academia
by Kim Petersen
DePaul University has moved to prevent political science professor Norman Finkelstein from teaching this 2007-2008 academic year. The main question is whether Finkelstein will stand alone against the university’s administration.
 
The answer is already known: No.
 
Every step of the bathos surrounding DePaul University’s tenure process has seen Finkelstein backed by colleagues, students, and progressives. But will it be enough?


 
It is regrettable that I have been driven to such drastic actions to defend basic principles of academic freedom and my contractual rights, upon which DePaul has been riding roughshod for so long.
                                        – Norman Finkelstein 
 
 
The bathetic and corrupted process at DePaul has seen a minority impose their will over that expressed by the majority.1 The DePaul president, Dennis Holtschneider, and one dean, Chuck Suchar, rejected the departmental and College Personnel Committee’s recommendation for granting Finkelstein tenure (and his supportive colleague Mehrene Larudee). This, by definition, indicates a tyranny at DePaul.

The Vincentians at DePaul, backed by AIPAC and the spin doctors at Howard Rubenstein,2 are hanging in against a growing tide opposed to the unjust tenure denials. The recent cancellation of Finkelstein’s classes, for reasons not made public, and the denial of access to an office have raised the ire of supporters of academic freedom. DePaul stated that it had put Mr. Finkelstein on leave “with full pay and benefits for the 2007-8 academic year.”3 If so, isn’t the use of an office one of the benefits of being a professor?

Kicking in with disapproval of the latest DePaul administration denial of due process to Finkelstein is the American Association of University Professors: “We have taken strong issue with the argument, which we encounter from time to time, that an administration discharges its obligation to a faculty member on term appointment by relieving the individual of his or her teaching duties while continuing payment of salary for the duration of the term.”4

The DePaul administration is entrenched in its faulty tenure decision. To abet this tenure rejection, the administration has engaged in a demonization of Finkelstein. One reporter at the Chicago Tribune presents a tendentious depiction of events pointing to Finkelstein as a danger. The Tribune cites allegations by DePaul provost Helmut Epp such as: “Oral and physical confrontations between Finkelstein and university officials began shortly after his tenure denial, according to a memo written by university Provost Helmut Epp” and … “Finkelstein physically tried to keep the door from closing, according to the provost’s account.”5 Physically? Hmmm. Is there another way to keep an elevator door open?

It is like a bad script from another Hollywood drama where an innocent protagonist has a heinous deed wrongfully pinned on him. Instead of calmly and rationally rejecting such allegations, the protagonist becomes, understandably, upset and vehemently responds to the allegations revealing a surly persona, hence creating an impression of an unsympathetic person who, by implication, appears guilty. One wonders about any involvement from DePaul’s hired spin doctors who boast of their media connections.

No denials or counters from Finkelstein were mentioned in the article.

Professors realizing that, ultimately, the machinations against Finkelstein affect all of them are beginning to speak out.

Ellen Schrecker, professor of history at Yeshiva University, a private Jewish university in New York, wrote DePaul provost Helmut Epp out of concern about the DePaul administration “overriding the faculty recommendation for tenure for Professor Norman Finkelstein and […] summarily depriving Dr. Finkelstein of his final year of teaching.” Schrecker lamented the “serious damage [to] intellectual freedom so necessary for responsible scholarship and a democratic polity.”

Epp acknowledged the email impatiently, criticizing Schrecker’s “utter misapprehension of facts.”

The facts, according to Epp’s email, are: “the university board consisting of 7 full professors from 5 different colleges and selected by an elected faculty council without any administrative input made a decision using secret ballots not to award tenure. Our rules are that these faculty decisions are to be overruled by the president only under the most compelling circumstances.”

The fact is that Epp never cited one instance of Schrecker being unfactual. Instead he merely trotted off on another tangent and talked about a somewhat related matter.

As is obvious from Epp’s email, DePaul continues to attempt to block calls for disclosure and appeals for due process.

At the forefront of the battle for academic freedom have been a devoted group of students. The DePaul Academic Freedom Committee — a student organization at DePaul University — has organized a mass public symposium for October 12, at the University of Chicago campus, in defense of academic freedom. The students have lined up such prominent speakers as Dr. Akeel Bilgrami, Noam Chomsky, Dr. Tony Judt, Dr. John Mearsheimer, Dr. Neve Gordon (Ben-Gurion University, Israel). The event is to be hosted by Tariq Ali from the New Left Review .

Joining the activist students is a core group of professors at DePaul, including English professor Matthew Abraham (courageously, in that he is also without tenure), Peg Birmingham, Bill Martin, Azza Layton, Gil Gott, and Sumi Cho. The articles appearing in the progressive media also help to counter corporate media disinformation or omission.

What the actions by the students and DePaul, and other university, professors demonstrate is a stark and utter refutation of the DePaul administration’s main reason for denying tenure to Finkelstein: namely, that he is, allegedly, not a nice guy. Such an outpouring of support for academic freedom and Finkelstein thoroughly disgraces DePaul administration heads.

Professor Abraham tells me: “Students will take Norman into the building where NGF’s office is housed, at which point, Norman will probably be arrested. He intends to engage, along with the students, in civil disobedience.”

The people are important. Finkelstein has said that he will appeal to the court of public opinion. This issue is about academic freedom, and Finkelstein symbolizes fidelity to the cause of academic freedom. The issue affects all of us, and it affects the coming generations. What is to be taught must not be determined solely by a tyranny. Therefore, the more people who are marshaled to Finkelstein’s dissent, the better for the cause of academic freedom.

And, it is not just academic freedom because academic freedom touches on all information. In the case of Finkelstein, academic freedom touches on the unrelenting oppression and dispossession imposed on the Palestinian people. The denial of academic freedom must be considered in its wider context. DePaul is not just attempting to shut up Finkelstein; they are burying the iniquities and humiliation suffered by the Palestinian people.

How is that for Vincentian values?

DePaul has foolishly put itself in a corner now. There is a big chance for all to this backfire with the latest action of canceling classes. Imagine if enough faculty and students get over any apathy or fear to rally to Finkelstein when he tries to go to his office or to teach a class. Imagine if they all stood in solidarity when/if Finkelstein is arrested?

What kind of egg would that be on the faces of DePaul’s administrators, alleged plagiarist and Finkelstein nemesis Alan Derschowitz, as well as another blot on AIPAC.

Of utmost importance, though, is the crucial triumph of Finkelstein and academic freedom.

 
 
 

Bill Williams, “Does Norman Finkelstein Constitute a Security Threat to DePaul University?: You Bet He Does!” Dissident Voice, 27 August 2007. ↑

Jennifer Howard, “DePaul U. Cancels Courses of Professor Who Lost Tenure Bid, but He Plans to Teach Them Anyway” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 August 2007. ↑

B. Robert Kreiser, “AAUP writes DePaul yet again,” Norman G. Finkelstein, 27 August 2007. ↑

Ron Grossman, “DePaul memos tell of run-ins with professor,” Chicago Tribune, 3 September 2007. ↑
 
 
 
Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Read other articles by Kim.

 
 

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