Norman Finkelstein Returns to the Scene of the Crime: Academic Freedom Denial at DePaul University

Norman G. Finkelstein returned to DePaul on January 16. It is a university with one of the worst academic freedom reputations in the US. Matt Muchowski in In These Times, a progressive and nationally known Chicago newspaper, has covered the story and linked my blog in his article to the DePaul Three: women who were denied tenure that is being contested in the court of law.

In November, I gave a paper at the American Association of University Professors “Shared Governance” conference in Washington, D.C. In the paper I addressed many instances of academic freedom violations in Illinois including those at DePaul. This was the reference I made to Dr Finkelstein:

“Illinois Conference Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure has encountered egregious violations of shared governance as it struggles to defend academic freedom and tenure. Illinois in some ways is ground zero in the academic freedom wars as one person’s name confirms: Norman Finkelstein who was denied tenure because of his criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. He was fired and persecuted in a hate-filled campaign driven by the powerful, well-connected Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz.”

I also spontaneously declared with a very senior, staff person there from the academic freedom office, that AAUPs lack of intervention in this case was shameful and that DePaul should have been censured by AAUPs Committee A on Academic Freedom. I am chair of the Illinois Committee A and I will be forever ashamed and embarrassed that AAUP refused to engage and defend a victim in the single most important academic freedom case since the McCarthy Era. A settlement means nothing because one cannot settle injustice. One cannot settle the loss of tenure and an academic career. AAUP has consistently accepted settlements as the final act. They are the final act alright: one of injustice, persecution and the destruction of academic freedom.

In Muchowski’s article Doctor Finkelstein is quoted as saying why the  2007 settlement does not allow him to move on:

Asked why he was “reopening the wound,” Finkelstein replied, “I did not reopen the wound. The wound never healed, and it can not heal. I can not move on. DePaul destroyed my professional calling. There’s no where else to move.”

I have told many in writing and in lectures that I have not gotten over this case and that it continues to haunt and upset me that DePaul would allow such an egregious persecution and destruction of one of their professors who dared defend Palestinian rights and oppose their suffering at the hands of the State of Israel. Having myself been through a similar travail but without loss of position, I can attest that universities forget their mission. I know how feckless universities are when they allow external forces to silence, intimidate and marginalise professors of conscience who become academic prisoners of conscience.

I will continue to remind those within the sphere of my remarks and work, that the Finkelstein case is symptomatic of the lack of academic freedom and the faux toleration of dissent and progressive values in this country. This case must never die and DePaul should as Dr Finkelstein suggested offer an apology and return him to campus as a tenured faculty member and end the shame that future generations will continue to perpetuate in memory:

“DePaul’s plot to deny me tenure had nothing to do with my faults,” Finkelstein said. “In fact, and ironically, it viciously attacked me and destroyed my career because of my virtues. Which, although few in number, they still found threatening…Citing the precedent that had been recently set where DePaul president Fr. Holtschneider reversed a denial of tenure for chemistry professor, Quinetta Shelby, Finkelstein made a proposal to DePaul’s administration and board of directors: “if you acknowledge your wrongdoing in my case, if you apologize for the wrongdoing, and grant me the tenure that I earned, and that I deserve, then I would consider the matter closed.” So far, the administration has not taken Finkelstein up on this offer.”

Recently in the Namita Goswami case, it was apparent the cancer of oppression, McCarthyism and in this case racialism had spread to the Department of Philosophy who expelled one of their greatest stars for daring to stretch the ethnocentric white parameters of “continental” philosophy to the developing world. The saga of oppression on the Vincentian Chicago campus raises questions to what extent does the university honour and adhere to its own charism? It cynically and appallingly through the arrogance of Dean Chuck Suchar, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, claimed Dr Finkelstein had violated Vincentian values in a new version of religious McCarthyism.

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