Norman Finkelstein will teach canceled classes, vows hunger strike

http://chronicle.com/daily/2007/08/2007082701n.htm
Chronicle of Higher Education
Today’s News

Monday, August 27, 2007
DePaul U. Cancels Courses of Professor Who Lost Tenure Bid, but He Plans To Teach Them Anyway

By JENNIFER HOWARD

DePaul University has canceled all of Norman G. Finkelstein’s courses, taken away his office, and put him on administrative leave for his final year, but the controversial political scientist said that will not stop him from coming back to teach this fall. If necessary, he said, he will go to jail.

In an e-mail message, Mr. Finkelstein told The Chronicle that he intends “to show up on the first day of the academic year to teach my classes (students are currently searching for an alternative venue) and to use my regular office in the political-science department. If the university attempts to impede my movements, I intend to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and go to jail. If incarcerated, I intend to go on a protracted hunger strike until DePaul comes to its senses.”

“It is regrettable,” Mr. Finkelstein continued, “that I have been driven to such drastic actions to defend basic principles of academic freedom and my contractual rights, upon which DePaul has been riding roughshod for so long.”

Mr. Finkelstein lost his bid for tenure at DePaul in June (The
Chronicle, June 11), after a bitter public fight that featured the
involvement of the Harvard University law professor Alan M. Dershowitz (The Chronicle, April 13).

Mehrene E. Larudee, an assistant professor of international studies who supported Mr. Finkelstein, was denied tenure by DePaul at the same time, in another case that attracted widespread attention and criticism (The Chronicle, June 12). A university spokeswoman said Ms. Larudee’s case is not connected with Mr. Finkelstein’s “in any way,” and Ms. Larudee is still scheduled to teach this year.

In a terse statement issued on Sunday, the university confirmed that it had put Mr. Finkelstein on leave “with full pay and benefits for the 2007-8 academic year” and that “administrative leave relieves professors from their teaching responsibilities.”

Mr. Finkelstein had been expected to return to DePaul for a final year of teaching, and was scheduled to teach two political-science courses this fall, “Freedom and Empowerment” and “Equality and Social Justice,” as well as an honors course on states, markets, and society. Students who had signed up to take those courses got a surprise on Friday, when they were informed, via e-mail, that the classes had been canceled.

The DePaul statement said that the university “has been in communication with Professor Finkelstein throughout the summer and informed him of his status well in advance of the fall quarter.” It said, “He was informed of the reasons that precipitated this leave last spring.”

Students, however, were given very little warning, with less than two weeks to go until the first day of classes.

“We’ve known all summer that it was possible that they would try to prevent Professor Finkelstein from returning this coming year, but it was unclear how they were going to do that, or when,” said Kathryn Weber, president of the DePaul Academic Freedom Committee, a students’ group formed in reaction to the tenure decisions on Mr. Finkelstein and Ms. Larudee. “We found out on Friday that his classes have been canceled.”

Ms. Weber’s group denounced the university’s actions in a statement issued on Saturday. The students accused the university of violating Mr. Finkelstein’s contract and “further undermining academic freedom at DePaul by refusing to let the prominent professor teach during his final year.”

The university, in its statement, countered that DePaul was “acting well within its rights as an employer and as a university.” It added that “there is no basis to suggest that DePaul has failed to fulfill any contractual obligations.”

Mr. Finkelstein has a strong reputation as a teacher, and his fall
classes were reportedly at or near full capacity. DePaul’s statement
said that enrolled students “were informed and given detailed
instructions on how to register for alternative courses. Additional
advisers who can override closed or capped courses have been made
available to them for any assistance they may need to update their
schedules.”

Ms. Weber took two classes with Mr. Finkelstein last year, including
“Equality and Social Justice.”

“We all consider it very ironic that that course was canceled,” she told The Chronicle on Sunday. “What I respected most about him as a professor was his ability to present all sides of an issue, whether it was Israel-Palestine or property rights.”

She believes that the DePaul administration expected the tenure
controversy to die down over the summer, and speculated that it wanted Mr. Finkelstein gone because “they would rather not have his presence encouraging people to fight on his behalf.”

The student leader told The Chronicle that the DePaul faculty was
undertaking an investigation of the University Board on Tenure and
Promotion because of perceived procedural problems behind the tenure decisions. A faculty member who did not want to speak on the record confirmed that such an investigation is under way.

Students from the Academic Freedom Committee plan to stage a
demonstration at the university’s convocation this coming Friday. “We all feel very passionately about this, that it’s not something we’re willing to back down on,” Ms. Weber said. “It means something to this school, and it means something to us as individuals. I think it means quite a lot to the faculty, too.”

Mr. Finkelstein, meanwhile, has retained a lawyer. “I will not continue to endure this nightmare through eternity,” he said. “I intend to put an end to it, one way or another, in the coming weeks. The hunger strike will be open-ended.”

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