A Critique of Ron Grossman’s Chicago Tribune Article on DePaul University’s Dismissal of Dr Norman Finkelstein

Ron Grossman a Chicago Tribune reporter based upon leaked information I presume from an administrator and/or a person who opposed the granting of tenure to Dr Norman G. Finkelstein, published a very critical article in the Chicago Tribune on the virtual eve of the professor’s return to DePaul. The article claims there was inappropriate behaviour on the part of Dr Finkelstein that included harassment and intimidation of university personnel.

This is my understanding of the principal events:

1) On the evening of June 14, 2007 Dr Finkelstein encountered Dean Chuck Suchar, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, outside at 990 W Fullerton Avenue, where the Political Science Department and dean’s office are housed. There was an effort on the part of Dr Finkelstein to demand an answer to the dean’s alleged assertion in a just concluded meeting, that there was secret information that justified the rejection of Dr Finkelstein’s application for promotion and tenure. Apparently the response to that assertion on the part of the faculty was quite skeptical and critical. Dean Suchar stated these reasons for denial of tenure had to remain “confidential” and could not be enumerated. The president of DePaul, Fr Dennis Holtschneider in his June letter of tenure denial, was explicit in emphasising the tone and alleged lack of civility in the research of Dr Finkelstein, NOT the conclusions of Dr Finkelstein’s research on the Israel-Palestine conflict, were the primary reasons for the denial of tenure. There were no suggestions of “off the record” reasons for the decision.

2) Apparently someone had informed Dr Finkelstein of this allegation at the meeting and he confronted very directly and robustly the dean in order to ascertain the specifics of these spurious charges. “What secret information do you have?” was repeatedly asked of the dean. I am told the professor was told such information did not exist and had not been previously stated at the aforementioned meeting. Of course I was not at the Suchar briefing and do not know what was said. Obviously Professor Finkelstein was led to believe that unpublished and never revealed damaging information was obtained by the administration that was used to deny him tenure and promotion to associate professor. Such an allegation on the part of Dean Suchar, if it occurred, strikes me as attempting to defend an indefensible action of tenure denial by dissimulation.

3) The incident between Dean Suchar and Professor Norman Finkelstein on a Chicago street in Lincoln Park was apparently characterised by the latter’s demand for information and the former’s effort to proceed to his destination. The dean, who claims to have been obstructed by an upset and angry Dr Finkelstein, retreated to his office and wrote a memorandum claiming harassment, repeated invitations to “touch” the professor and intimidation. There were no claims by the dean, other than verbal anger and possible taunting, that he was physically accosted in any manner.

4) Professor Michael Budde, the chair of the Department of Political Science, was tasked by Provost Helumut Epp to present its recommendation on the conditions, if any, of Dr Finkelstein’s return in the fall term of 2007. The department, based upon this and perhaps other purported incidents, recommended that Dr Finkelstein be compensated for the 2007-2008 year but that his teaching assignments be revoked. I have no evidence that it recommended that his office be vacated however. One member of the Political Science Department ad hoc committtee dissented from this recommendation.

I am an avowed pacifist and oppose any act of intimidation or interference with one’s egress or personal space. I am a third generation pacifist and have frequently been tested to abandon this lineage of non-coercive resistance and non-violence. I would be concerned if Dr Finkelstein, a persecuted and abused professor, attempted to intimidate or interfere with the ambulatory activities of Dean Suchar. Yet the issue of denial of tenure remains a catastrophic assault on decency, honour, academic freedom and an elementary notion of justice. The egregious abuse of administrative power has to be investigated and I hope reversed upon a Committee A (A.A.U.P.) investigation. The issue of DePaul’s suspension and summary dismissal as a result of alleged incidents of intimidation are important and disturbing but does not obviate a full scale investigation of the procedures and ultimate decision to deny Professor Finkelstein tenure and promotion at DePaul.

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