A “Censured” DePaul University: Norman Finkelstein-Mehrene Larudee Cases

This commentary is speculative and does not represent any official position taken or contemplated by the American Association of University Professors. If DePaul University were to be censured by the A.A.U.P. for its violation of academic freedom in the denial of tenure, summary dismissal of Doctor Norman G. Finkelstein and the denial of tenure for Mehrene Larudee, this would be a grave development for the university.

There are published procedures on how the A.A.U.P. investigates a university that is charged with violations of tenure, academic freedom and government. The first two appear in Appendix II, “Association Procedures in Academic Freedom and Tenure Cases.” I could not find an online link but they appear on pp. 302-04 of the A.A.U.P. Policy Documents and Reports, 10th ed., Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. I believe DePaul’s administration would do well to consult these because I believe it is quite likely that they will be scrutinised by Committee A which is charged with such an investigatory role.

It is important that precision and accuracy be rendered here due to the seriousness of such an action with profound repercussions for the integrity and reputation of a university.

A censure is directed at an administration and its governing board. The faculty, staff and students are not included in such a punitive action. A.A.U.P. is not an accrediting agency such as the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement and, therefore, a university does not lose its accreditation. However, it is known that accrediting agencies are aware of such an eventuality and would be inclined to observe the institution with great care and precision. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (N.C.A.T.E.), for example, endorsed the epochal “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” in 2005 and is a major accrediting agency in teacher education.

While not obligatory, it is clearly suggested that a professor might choose not to accept an appointment at a university whose administration is under censorship. A.A.U.P. does not take a position on whether academicians should avoid employment at a university under censure but does recommend, “they seek information on present conditions of academic freedom and tenure from the Association’s Washington office and prospective departmental colleagues.” Academe, May-June 2007, 136.

A.A.U.P. does not endorse boycotts. Professors are not encouraged to avoid attending conferences at a censured university, to prevent DePaul faculty from presenting their research in panel or written form or to demonstrate any discrimination against a censured administration’s university professorate. Again the censure is against the administration and governing board. However, it is a stigma and an embarrassment for an entire university community. DePaul University, if it were censured, would be the only institution of higher learning in Chicago to suffer such a disgraceful outcome. Two other well-known Roman Catholic Universities are under censorship. These are The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and St Bonaventure in New York State. No elite Roman Catholic university such as Georgetown, Boston College, Saint Louis University, Notre Dame or Fordham is under the cloud of an A.A.U.P. censure.

The waters are rising at DePaul and the administration is certainly aware that their actions have consequences. I was the first to report that on the same day that Norman G. Finkelstein was suspended, DePaul University President Fr. Dennis Holtschneider took the unusual step to contact by phone the A.A.U.P. in order to spin this situation in a favourable light. The president wanted Roger Bowen, then General Secretary, to accept his decision as merely “following orders” of a 4-3 tenure-denial majority of the University Board on Promotion and Tenure. A.A.U.P. has already been in frequent contact with DePaul with regard to the administration’s egregious assertion that adverse tenure decisions cannot be appealed and that it can suspend a professor during his or her final year of a probationary period.

An act of courage and frankly prudence would be for the DePaul University president to grant tenure to Drs. Finkelstein and Larudee and permit the former to resume his entitlements as teacher, holder of an office (literally!) and valued member of the DePaul community. If it does not, and this administration seems to be in hunkering down mode, the consequences for their university could be devastating.

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