I would like to respectfully take issue with a specific passage in the DePaul University president’s letter to Dr Norman G. Finkelstein notifying him of his denial of tenure.
Reverend Holtschneider wrote:
“In the opinion of those opposing tenure, your unprofessional personal attacks divert the conversation away from consideration of ideas, and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration. As such, they believe your work not only shifts toward advocacy and away from scholarship, but also fails to meet the most basic standards governing scholarly discourse within the academic community.”
I consider this statement to be mean-spirited, at odds with the notion of collegiality and a gratuitous display of schadenfreude. I think a university president who refers to a member of the professorate as “unprofessional” should contextualise with specific examples. He provided none that I could discern in his statement. I am also struck by the fact that the DePaul president chose to ignore an extensive, brilliantly researched and methodically rendered assessment of Dr Norman G. Finkelstein’s writings by the Political Science Department Personnel Committee. It developed a compendium of charges against and refuted all charges of academic misconduct or dishonesty associated with his research.
President Holtschneider is, however, charging explicitly Professor Norman G. Finkelstein with misconduct. A charge of being “unprofessional” can only be construed in that manner. I think this unsubstantiated and ad hominem use of language belies an animosity that should not influence a grave decision such as the denial of tenure and promotion. Dr Finkelstein’s department recommended tenure; the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recommended tenure through its Personnel Committee. They examined his research and did not come to the same conclusion as either the president or the University Board on Promotion and Tenure. I would have hoped that the DePaul University president would have been more convincing in his letter of termination; had the reverend evidenced greater restraint and provided examples, as Dr Finkelstein has done in his writings when expostulating a point, and a detailed factual exposition to support the charge of “unprofessional,” a more convincing case that DePaul does not have an academic freedom problem would have been rendered.
Also there is nothing wrong with “advocacy” in written scholarship. To deny Professor Finkelstein tenure, in whole or in part, due to a charge of “advocacy” does not comport with a seminal component of what university professors frequently engage in. Advocacy in scholarship is certainly what Professor Alan M. Dershowitz attempted when he wrote, The Case for Israel. Indeed scholarship can be normative, can be provocative and can have moral purpose. Unless a scholar distorts the evidence, advocates a position that is utterly at variance with primary and secondary sources, there is nothing “unprofessional” about “advocacy.” It is to be prized and protected under academic freedom.
I am sure Professor Dershowitz would concur that advocacy is an admirable and essential ingredient in scholarship. Unfortunately, DePaul University believes at least inferentially, the former may do so, but one of their own distinguished professors, Norman Finkelstein, cannot.