De Paul University’s administration has just disgraced the notion of academic freedom by denying tenure to world-renowned Holocaust historian, Norman Finkelstein, himself a son of Holocaust victims. His research was up to snuff, but, Norm…Norm…so much passion simply won’t do in a scholar, they said. Then final decision was made by De Paul’s President, the Reverend Dennis Holtschneider.
And this, despite the fact that Finkelstein wielded a dazzling arsenal of books and articles, major standing as a public intellectual, the admiration of the foremost researchers in the field – even in Israel, whose policies are often a target of his criticism – and approval from his department and college.
Here’s the story of the tenure battle at the Roman Catholic University, as it came down to the wire. And here is another idol of the left, Noam Chomsky, sounding off on the story behind the story. For good measure, I’m also tossing in the ranting of Finkelstein’s chief nemesis, Alan Dershowitz, who conducted a letter writing campaign directed at De Paul’s faculty and administrations. Outside groups that vocally opposed the tenure board were the Jewish United Fund, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and the pro-Israel group, StandWithUs. Finkelstein has argued that Jewish groups use the tragedy of the Holocaust for their own ends and to further Israel’s political goals. Here’s a piece in Salon about the feud with Dersh over NGF’s accusation of plagiarism by the Harvard law professor.
That made the old ladies of the De Paul administration take to their smelling salts, despite applause for their pugnacious professor from such leading lights as Israeli scholar, Raul Hilberg, the founder of Holocaust studies, and Oxford professor, Avi Shlaim, a leading expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The university also denied tenure to Mehrene E. Larudee, another highly regarded faculty member, who had campaigned for Finkelstein and was days away from heading up the international relations program.
Let freedom ring…..
Update: A wideranging interview with Raul Hilberg, dean of Holocaust historians, on Finkelstein, antisemitism then and now, the use of language like genocide. And a piece by Finkelstein on compensation over the years from Europe.
Some background on academic freedom in the US in this excerpt from Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s Cardozo lecture:
“In the late 19th century, American universities overwhelmingly adopted the German model. They established individual graduate schools, each dedicated to a specific field of knowledge. They also adopted the general principles of the “freedom to teach” and the “freedom to learn” — since, it was believed, in order for graduate students and faculty to break new intellectual ground, they had to possess the freedom of inquiry. Historians trace the codification of academic freedom, meanwhile, to a series of conflicts in the late 1800s that pitted individual faculty members against university trustees and administrators.
The most famous was a case involving Edward A. Ross, a Stanford economist who made a series of speeches in support of the Democrat William Jennings Bryan in 1896. Jane Lathrop Stanford — widow of Leland Stanford, ardent Republican, and sole trustee of the university — was so outraged by Ross’ activism that she demanded his dismissal. The president of the university eventually acceded to her demands; Ross was forced to resign in 1900.
Ross’ mistreatment at the hands of Stanford administrators became the basis for the charter document of the American Association of University Presidents, entitled the ” Report on Academic Freedom and Tenure.” Co-written in 1915 by Arthur Lovejoy, a Stanford philosopher who resigned over Ross’ firing, and Edwin R.A. Seligman, a Columbia economist, the report sought to remove university trustees as arbiters of research and teaching, and to assert instead the authority of self-governing faculty members. The report stated:
“….. The proper fulfillment of the work of the professoriate requires that our universities shall be so free that no fair-minded person shall find any excuse for even a suspicion that the utterances of university teachers are shaped or restricted by the judgment, not of professional scholars, but of inexpert and possibly not wholly disinterested persons outside their ranks.” (my emphasis)
I should point out that for most of his academic life before De Paul, Finkelstein – who holds a PhD in his field and has a lengthy publication record — taught a full course load as an adjunct for around $15,000 a year (approximately…I’ll check).
Granting him tenure at the end of his career hardly sounds like a tax-burden on citizens, even if one wanted to think of it in that way. Especially as it is faculty (not well-paid administrators making ten times as much or more) who draw students to the universities anyway. Quite frankly, in a free market system he would be owed back-wages. I can think of many private foundations which would have done better by him.
From a libertarian standpoint, I think you have to decentralize methodically. Since, we do already have federally- funded universities, the first step would be to see that they are, in fact, fair and provide academic freedom.
The second step would be to systematically reduce funding at the federal level and move colleges toward private and state funding.
As to leaving the whole business of higher education to private funding, that could be a final step, although it would need to be carefully worked out, expecially in the sciences. I am not sure how it would be done and what difficulties would arise.
Whichever way you see it, though, one thing is essential. Principles have to be applied step-by-step and systematically to everyone, or you’re left with arbitrary and cavalier policies. The university should have a place for a brilliant scholar of the left, like Finkelstein – however controversial his scholarship. But it should also have a place for an equally brilliant and almost as controversial scholar on the right, like Hans Hoppe. Chomsky, to his credit, has supported both.