Exclusive: Norman Finkelstein, DePaul Scholar and Son of Holocaust Survivors, Struggles for Tenure

Chuck Suchar, DePaul University’s Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, opposes tenure for Norman Finkelstein in a three-page memorandum dated March 22, 2007. Dr Finkelstein received his Ph.D. from Princeton University. The Political Science department voted 9 to 3 in favour of granting tenure. Three filed a minority report and the dean sided with that. The five-member College Personnel Committee was unanimous in favour of granting tenure. The dean’s letter basically attacks the tone of Finkelstein’s scholarship for not being kind to his critics; it is cited as too personal and not in the tradition of DePaul collegiality. It sounds to me like persecution of a man who dares oppose supporters of Israel and dares to question aspects and motives of those who blindly accept every traditional interpretation of the holocaust.

The dean in recommeding against granting tenure to this great scholar and courageous defender of free inquiry in areas concerning Jewish history and politics, describes his research as “character assassination,” containing “personal injury and attack,” as “demeaning those with whom he disagrees.”

Dean Suchar is also furious that he heard from the “General Consul’s (sic) office” at DePaul that Professor Finkelstein “was considering filing a law suit” against DePaul and those who authored the minority report recommendation of his department that he not be granted tenure. Does one really believe a competent and impartial administrator would attempt to deprive a national scholar of his livelihood, in whole or in part, because he may use the legal and juridical channels afforded American citizens in a democracy? Does the dean expect Dr Finkelstein not to seek academic freedom and justice against arbitrary and ideologically motivated judgments on the “tonality” of his scholarship?

It is cited that Professor Finkelstein, whose parents survived German concentration camps during World War II, is violating the spirit of the Vincentians: the founding order and charism of DePaul. There is repeated citation that he violates “personalism,” a tenet of the Vincentians that emphasises the value of individual dignity. I believe a scholar who defends the right of the Palestinians to live in an environment other than apartheid, who breaks through the taboo thinking of the holocaust, who courageously attacks elite scholars and groups who attempt to suppress dissent on Israeli issues or history, personifies “personalism”: the notion of human dignity and worth.

I also wonder if that religious order and Vincentian spirit would exclude the right of a professor to seek legal remedies for an ideological witch-hunt or protect a leading scholar from such an egregious and palpable denial of academic freedom.

What next? I am not privy to the internal dyamics at DePaul but I think I am correct. The dean’s memorandum and the other documents will be sent to the “University Board on Tenure and Promotion.” They can choose not to adhere to the dean’s denial of tenure recommendation and accept the recommendations of various faculty units cited above. The final decision, of course, rests with the president and governing board.

File: Students Rally at University Board on Tenure and Promotion Hearing
File: Photos of Student Activists for Academic Freedom and Due Process

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