Insidehighered.com Quotes Professor Kirstein on Norman Finkelstein Case

These are excerpts from an article in today’s Insiderhighered.com.

“Furor Over Norm Finkelstein”

Norman G. Finkelstein has been more controversial off his campus than on it. On his frequent speaking tours to colleges, where he typically discusses Israel in highly critical ways, Finkelstein draws protests and debates. When the University of California Press published Finkelstein’s critique of Alan Dershowitz and other defenders of Israel in 2005, a huge uproar ensued — with charges and countercharges about hypocrisy, tolerance, fairness and censorship. But at DePaul University, Finkelstein has taught political science largely without controversy, gaining a reputation as a popular teacher.

But the debate over Finkelstein is now hitting his home campus — and in a way sure to create more national controversy. Finkelstein is up for tenure. So far, his department has voted, 9-3, in favor of tenure and a collegewide faculty panel voted 5-0 to back the bid. But Finkelstein’s dean has just weighed in against Finkelstein.

Finkelstein has also threatened to sue DePaul if he is denied tenure, Suchar writes, adding that this fits into the pattern. “Disagreements over the value of his work seem to prompt immediate threats and personal attacks. This does not auger well for a college and university that has a long-standing culture where respect for the dignity of all members of the community and where values of collegiality are paramount.”…

Supporters of Finkelstein take issue with the dean’s letter. “This is all because of Dershowitz wanting him to be fired. These people play rough,” said Peter N. Kirstein, a professor of history at Saint Xavier University who has blogged about the case and who is on the board of the Illinois conference of the American Association of University Professors. (Via e-mail, Dershowitz — who has previously battled with Finkelstein — said he had no information about the case.)

Kirstein questioned why the dean would mention Finkelstein’s threat of a lawsuit. “Doesn’t this country allow people to do things like suing?” he asked.

It would be appropriate for a dean to question the accuracy or significance of a professor’s work, but not to focus on its tone, Kirstein said.

On the question of the tone of one’s writing, Kirstein said he had plenty of experience. In 2002 he was suspended from his job after he sent an e-mail to a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, calling the cadet “a disgrace to this country” and criticizing the “aggressive baby-killing tactics” of the military. Kirstein was reviled by many conservative groups and defended by many civil liberties groups.

“Tonality is usually a red herring to destroy controversial speech that elites don’t like,” Kirstein said.


Academic Freedom, the Right to Publish Controversial Research, the Right to Speak must be defended and preserved. Added to text.

Anne Clark Bartlett, a professor of English and president of the Faculty Council at DePaul, said that it is “not common” for deans to write letters disagreeing with the views of a department and collegewide panel reviewing a tenure candidate. But she also said that the faculty handbook did give deans that right.

Bartlett, who said she does not know Finkelstein, said that she has not taken a stand on his case and wants to see how the process plays out. She said that it was important that administrators respect that the university’s regulations “give the faculty primary responsibility over promotion and personnel matters” for professors….

— Scott Jaschik

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