Excerpts: Professor Kirstein Presentation at DePaul University Academic Freedom Conference


It is a privilege to be on this panel at this distinguished gathering of academic freedom experts and to have an opportunity to address the topic: “Academic Freedom and the Way Forward.” The way forward will not be easy because like Banquo’s Ghost, the great Norman G. Finkelstein hovers over this conference, this university and academia. Dr Finkelstein’s inquisition and auto da fé haunts us and speaks to us. Mehrene Larudee, a strong Finkelstein supporter who was denied tenure was collateral damage, if you will, as DePaul attempted to satisfy the thought police that wished to silence any criticism of Israel and any effort to end the war crimes and human rights violations against the Palestinians-the dispossessed, the stateless, the homeless, the abandoned.

Spanish philosopher Miguel Unamuno, as he was being arrested by the fascist General José Millán Astray on his campus while Rector at the University of Salamanca in 1936, declared, “At times, to be Silent is to Lie.” The professorate needs to end the self-censorship, the refusal to engage the forces of oppression that seek ideological conformity in the sole remaining independent entity in the United States-higher education. Academic freedom is threatened in this country for those who dissent from Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and for those who exhibit a patriotic incorrectness in challenging American militarism and preemptive, racist imperialism.

My specific objective today is to advocate that the panel theme “Academic Freedom and the Way Forward” requires a journey towards a new past, a reclaiming by the academy of its right to be immune from censorship and political show trials. Towards a new past requires us to recognise-regardless of ideology or political orientation–that universities have become captive to external constituencies in which promotion and tenure decisions are increasingly subject to plebiscite, online petitions and national campaigns of vilification and character assassination. This cannot and must not stand and we must rise up and defend the rights of our students to have professors who defy the canon, who seek the truth, who engage in constructive revisionism and who oppose the destructive, nationalistic violence that the United States perpetrates against non-white peoples throughout the world.

DePaul University was not able to withstand the pressure of Alan Dershowitz, Frankfurter Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School. In Beyond Chutzpah, Dr Finklestein challenged in a comprehensive, relentless, and frequently dispassionate manner, the Middle Eastern scholarship of Professor Dershowitz’s, The Case for Israel.

Professor Dershowitz attempted to block the University of California Press from publishing Finkelstein’s monograph by appealing to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor’s office, which was more protective of Dr Finkelstein’s academic freedom than DePaul University, responded by informing Mr Dershowitz that, “You have asked for the Governor’s assistance in preventing the publication of this book,” but “he is not inclined to otherwise exert influence in this case because of the clear, academic freedom issue it presents.”

For over two years, Professor Dershowitz tried to derail Dr Finkelstein’s application for tenure and promotion. Mr Dershowitz used the Wall Street Journal, Frontpagemag.com, The Jerusalem Post, InsiderHigherEd.com, The New Republic (T.N.R. online June 1, 2007), his own website and other venues to campaign personally against the DePaul professor’s tenure bid. Dershowitz repeatedly referred to Dr Finkelstein as an “anti-semite,” his publications as “trash” and accused his adversary of being a “neo-Nazi supporter, a Holocaust trivializer, and a liar… and…like a little worm.”

Without prior departmental approval, Professor Patrick Callahan, a member and former chair of the Political Science Department, requested that Mr Dershowitz send him some fifty pages of allegations concerning Dr Finkelstein’s alleged academic misconduct. Professor Callahan opposed granting tenure to Dr Finkelstein and informed the Political Science Department’s Personnel Committee if they did not review the Dershowitz dossier, he would present it to the entire department. The committee reluctantly accepted this “departure from our initial desire to keep unsolicited material from entering our deliberations, trusting instead the processes of external and departmental review that have served us well over the years.”

Mr Dershowitz then began to interject himself more forcefully into DePaul’s internal tenure and promotion process by sending these j’accuse materials to both the DePaul Law School Faculty and Department of Political Science. The twelve-member Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Faculty Governance Council sent a formal letter of complaint to former gender-biased President Lawrence Summers of Harvard University, Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan and DePaul University president the Reverend Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D.

The Department’s Personnel Committee unanimously rejected in a vote of 4-0, charges of academic misconduct and dishonesty that were claimed by Alan Dershowitz, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Peter Novick. The Department of Political Science recommended in a vote of 9-3 the granting of tenure and promotion to associate professor for Professor Finkelstein. The five-person College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Personnel Committee voted unanimously for tenure and promotion. The dean of the college, Chuck Suchar, rejected both departmental and college-level recommendations for promotion and tenure in a memorandum on March 22, 2007 that was first published on my web log on April 5.

Dean Suchar’s justification for recommending against tenure was the alleged lack of civility in both Dr Finkelstein’s writings and behaviour toward colleagues. He stated “the tone and substance…[are] inconsistent with DePaul’s Vincentian values.” He shockingly claimed a lack of collegiality toward certain departmental colleagues was evidenced by a rumour from the “General Consul’s (sic) office,” that Finkelstein “was considering filing a law suit” against those opposing his tenure. I believe the dean was ideologically driven into irrational assessment and was overly influenced by the censorious campaign of Alan Dershowitz. Dean Suchar provides only one example to claim inappropriate scholarly conduct:

My reading of Dr. Finkelstein’s work, especially The Holocaust Industry, where in one chapter alone Goldhagen, Morris, Wiesel, Kosinski and many others are collectively attacked as “hoaxters and huxters“, [misspelled h-u-x-t-e-er] typifies his apparent penchant of reducing an argument and oppositional views to the inevitable personal and reputation damaging attack, demeaning those with whom he disagrees.

Professor Dershowitz’s compilation of alleged Finkelstein transgressions included this charge:                 

5. Daniel Goldhagen: Among the dozen or so Jewish writers whose careers Finkelstein has tried to destroy with the same accusations – “fraud,” “huxter,” “shake-down artist,” “plagiarist.”

It is interesting to reiterate the Suchar Memorandum also misspelled “huckster,” “h-u-x-t-e-r” which suggests significant reliance upon Professor Dershowitz’s ravings as a source for non-recommendation for tenure and promotion.

Dr Finkelstein’s supporters defended academic freedom, condemned American imperialism in the Middle East, denounced the assumption of a correlation of strategic interests between Israel and the United States and supported the right to criticise both Israeli aggression and the Israel lobby in the United States. Supporters of tenure denial were proponents of preemption such as the Iraq War, champions of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights and believed the xenophobic “War on Terrorism” required unstinting support of Israel in its conflicts with Muslim national-liberation movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

On May 11, 2007, DePaul’s pusillanimous University Board on Promotion and Tenure voted 4-3 against the granting of tenure and promotion to Norman Finkelstein. On June 8, 2007, I first reported President Holtschneider denied Professor Finkelstein tenure.

Mehrene E. Larudee, an assistant professor of International Studies and an intrepid supporter of Dr Finkelstein, was the only other probationary faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who was denied tenure. Astonishingly, her appointment as director of the International Studies programme was to begin in nineteen days. She had also been recommended by her department and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Personnel Committee. Yet unlike Dr Finkelstein, she received a positive recommendation from Dean Suchar but was not recommended for tenure by the University Board on Promotion and Tenure. I believe, absent the egregious outside interference in the Finkelstein case, both outstanding professors would have received tenure.

I was suspended, removed from the classroom and reprimanded by my university on Veterans’ Day, November 11, 2002. Like the Finkelstein case, it was primarily external forces and organised pressure groups that demanded sanctions including the revocation of tenure.

I wrote an antiwar e-mail response to Robert Kurpiel, an Air Force Academy cadet, who had sent e-mail to scores of professors promoting an on-campus event.  My e-mail denounced war and United States military tactics employed in war. It was too personal in some areas for which I apologised. My suspension from teaching in the twelfth week of the fall semester was reflective of a highly militaristic, nationalistic culture that suppresses critical inquiry if it becomes too evocative in condemning American imperialism.

My e-mail denounced the “aggressive baby killing tactics of collateral damage.” I described “top guns [who] rain death and destruction upon nonwhite peoples throughout the world.” I excoriated “cowards who bomb countries without A.A.A., without possibility of retaliation.” I assailed “imperialists who are turning the whole damn world against us.” I believe history has vindicated my observation that “September 11 can be blamed in part for what you and your cohorts have done to the Palestinians, the V.C., the Serbs, a retreating army at Basra.”         

External pressure on St Xavier University began as the university was besieged with tens of thousands of e-mails, letters and phone calls demanding retribution. Blogs and websites were created to lobby the university as well. Cadet Kurpiel and the cadet wing initially disseminated my e-mail to family and friends in order to coerce and pressure the administration to discipline me. The cadet and Air Force Captain Jim Borders also apologised for disseminating a private correspondence and tried containing the burgeoning controversy that was sweeping through cyberspace and American military forces stationed throughout the world. The incident would shortly metastasize from an Internet controversy to television, talk radio, magazines and the national press. 

In an article in Bill Kristol’s The Weekly Standard, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defence Jed Babbin described me as “a hate-the-military type,” and as “barely literate” He questioned if I were “fit to teach at any college” and implied that my tenure should be revoked. The military press covered the story extensively, which varied from balanced reportage to advocacy journalism.  Roger Kimball, the editor of the conservative literary magazine, The New Criterion, contributed an article for The American Legion Magazine with a McCarthyism title, “Academia v. America.” He claimed universities are “havens for displaced radicals.” He bemoaned the fact my tenure was not rescinded, and that subsequent to my suspension I would “soon be back molding young minds.” The Wall Street Journal in two editorials denounced my e-mail and praised former university President Richard Yanikoski for suspending me.

Dr Yanikoski, who is now president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, informed me in his office before the affair had become a national controversy, that the incident was over because the cadet and I had exchanged apologies and that the university could withstand any subsequent external pressure for sanctions. I was praised for my career of service to St Xavier and ironically was told to inform the president if anyone wished to threaten my career. However, a week later due to public pressure, I was suspended on Veterans Day. I should mention my denial of academic freedom, due to a wavering and timid administration, was denounced by two conservative organisations: the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (F.I.R.E.) and the National Association of Scholars…

Norman Finkelstein, Ward Churchill, Nadia Abu El-Haj and I were involved in highly charged controversies that were propelled by forces external to our respective institutions. We must resist censorship from those who equate support for the Palestinians or opposition to American imperialism as unworthy of an academician. We must resist the armies of the night who want “to cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom” and turn academia into an extension of interest-group politics. We must defend our students, who ultimately represent the voice of change of a new generation, by preserving their access to critical thinking from dissenting professors from the current order. We must challenge complacent tenured faculty to abandon their diffidence and sense of comfort and rethink their role as defenders of institutional order and culture to join the fight against repression and censorship.

We must confront the new McCarthyism and some of its more prominent partisans: David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, Alan Dershowitz, Lynne Cheney and Laura Ingraham and demand that progressive voices will be heard and progressive calls for international peace and security will not be silenced. We must denounce universities that are complicit in this unseemly, autocratic purge of idealistic professors who defy the canon of Judeo-Christian elitism and American exceptionalism. Professors should profess and not be silent. To be silent, is to lie and accept the destruction of academic freedom and the inevitable closing of the American mind.

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