While perhaps marginalised in this auto da fe for daring to write controversial and provocative scholarship, Professor Norman Finkelstein excels in the classroom. Even Dean Suchar notes in his March 22, 2007 memorandum recommending AGAINST the granting of tenure that the College Personnel Committee “is particularly impressed with…consistently high teacher evaluations,” and notes “the apparent positive impact he has made on scores of students throughout the years he has been at DePaul–this in a department with very high average scores on student course evaluations and a reputation for excellence in teaching.” The dean also states that “student course evaluations reveal he is a skilled teacher.”
The dean notes that Professor Finkelstein’s teaching creates a “transformative experience in his classes.” He concurs with student views that “he promotes student discussion over very difficult, controversial and complex subjects.” The dean notes “the breadth and depth of his knowledge.” Dean Suchar states: “I am in agreement with the majority view of the value of Dr Finkelstein’s contributions as a classroom instructor.”
Yet Dean Suchar, of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, believes that the tone of his scholarship is such that DePaul’s students should be denied this outstanding professor. Who speaks for the students? Who represents their interests? Who protects them from the persecution of their professors who dare engage in controversial or provocative research? Apparently this dean is more concerned about image and tone than substance. Academic freedom permits scholars to engage in advocacy in research, to buttress fact with emotion, to pronounce opinion and to engage in normative scholarly activity. We are not writing almanacs, or books of facts but are scholars using the freedoms supposedly granted in a democracy to propose, to advocate and to affirm.
Professor Norman Finkelstein, DePaul University
Nowhere in the dean’s three-page letter is there an assessment of Norman Finkelstein’s research that even remotely suggests plagiarism, inappropriate citation, lack of details, unsubstantiated facts or errors in scholarship. His only criticism, that is supported with a single example, is the alleged tone of attack on the author’s critics. It strikes me as patently unfair and frankly risible to emphasise “personalism” and not substance; to emphasise the lack of civility in research and not its accuracy or significant contribution to public knowledge.
I do hope that this dean’s recommendation will be seen for what it is. A rather unremarkable, unsubstantiated and frankly gratuitous assessment of a brilliant teacher and scholar who is a credit to academia and especially to DePaul University.
Editor’s Note: I was interviewed on the telephone and through e-mail by Insidehighered.com this morning and this story will appear tomorrow. I have had no contact directly or indirectly with any of the principals involved concerning this issue. No one at DePaul who has participated in this case has supplied me with any materials or documentation. In addition, no one has denied or refuted the general facts of my reporting in this or the posting below.