Support Professor Norman Finkelstein

 

SCHOLARS FOR INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM IN SUPPORT OF DR. NORMAN FINKELSTEIN

April 9, 2007

The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D.
President
DePaul University
55 East Jackson Boulevard, 22nd Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60604 U.S.
Phone: +1.312.362.8000
Fax: +1.312.362.6822
president@depaul.edu

Dr. Helmut Epp, Ph.D.
Provost
DePaul University
55 East Jackson Boulevard, 22nd Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60604 U.S.
Phone: +1.312.362.8760
Fax: +1.312.362.6822
hepp@depaul.edu

Dear Rev./Dr. Holtschneider and Dr. Epp:

As scholars and teachers in various institutions throughout the U.S. and abroad, we are writing to inquire about Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s tenure case. We have seen a memo, dated March 22, 2007, from Chuck Suchar, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to the University Board on Tenure and promotion, recommending against tenure for Dr. Finkelstein, despite favorable votes at two levels of faculty review. Dean Suchar justifies his recommendation on the ground that Dr. Finkelstein’s scholarly work, though sound in its content, is often uncivil, disrespectful, mean-spirited, inflammatory, and so on, in its tone. We object to this weighting of criteria, especially when a scholar’s polemical style is cited as evidence that he lacks “values of collegiality.” The American Association of University Professors has explicitly challenged the use of criteria such as “collegiality” in tenure and promotion evaluations, precisely because these terms are subject to a wide range of interpretations. The AAUP rightly notes that criteria of this sort are often used to mask retribution as well as disciplinary or other biases. We note that they often stand in for political disagreement. The likelihood increases, in our view, when the criteria are couched as vague institutional principles, such as “personalism” and “Vincentian values.”

As scholars in various disciplines, ranging from political science, history, literature, women’s studies, ethnic studies, we know that any teaching and writing about culture, and politics can seem controversial. This is especially so in fields such as Latin American studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies, and Middle Eastern studies. In such areas of intense debate, a polemical tone is not unusual, and does not discredit the underlying scholarship. Tenure exists precisely to allow scholars the pursuit of candid intellectual inquiry, even the most controversial fields, without fear of retribution. To challenge the status quo of Zionist historiography in the U.S., as Finkelstein has done in his scholarship, most certainly ignites controversy; but his ability to address the subject with thorough documented evidence that encourages readers to see the subject of Palestine and Israel anew is precisely why scholars around the world value his work. While researchers—like diplomats and heads of state—cannot avoid appearing polemical given the highly charged nature of fields such as Dr. Finkelstein’s—it is imperative that we, as scholars and administrators, protect the right of research scholars and teachers to work in this field unhindered by fears of retribution.

Faculty specialists are the most reliable judges of a peer’s teaching, research and service contributions. Dean Suchar’s overriding of faculty assessments, using malleable and subjective criteria, is a clear violation of the principle of intellectual freedom that is a hallmark of higher education. Without the protection of this valued principle the integrity of higher education is irreparably harmed. The professional reputation of DePaul University also stands to suffer, if an internationally recognized and reputable faculty member’s tenure is denied on such reasoning.

We respectfully request that you investigate the matter at hand. Dean Suchar’s letter sets a dangerous precedent, and also sends the signal that arts and sciences are now endangered at DePaul University and in the American academy in general. In this tenure case, there appear to be gross violations of professional protocol (e.g., the Dean’s decision to reference to a possible lawsuit as further evidence of Dr. Finkelstein’s lack of “personableness”). Many academics are following this case and are legitimately interested in the outcome as our own careers, and the very mission of the academy, also rest in the balance.

Respectfully,

Academics, Filmmakers, Artists, Intellectuals, and Doctors for Intellectual Freedom In Support of Dr. Norman Finkelstein

http://normanfinkelstein.wordpress.com/

see also http://www.socialistworker.org/2007-1/627/627_12_Finkelstein.shtml

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