Posted by: L | June 12, 2007

American Index II: Tenure denied to Norman Finkelstein

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)

My Comment:

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.



  1. Norman Finkelstein, what a slob
    Lost his tenure, and then his job
    He will blame it on Zionist Jews
    but his lack of credientails was the exit cue

    Hopefully he will move to Iran or Bahrain’
    Anywhere but here, he is such a pain!
    His two hundred buck speeches were such a bore
    But the schmucks at MSU wanted to hear more

    He can now wash the toilets that he dearly loves
    while wearing blood soaked Palestinian gloves
    He can clean his own crap, like he told me to do
    Cause he cannot intimidate, this Zionist JEW!

  2. What has freedom got to do with tenure? Tenure prevents an employer from firing an employee. Doesn’t sound like much freedom for the employer! In case of state sponsored universities the tax payers are saddled with providing job security to the professors when they themselves have no job security. Often the professors promote subjects that the employer/tax-payer finds morally outrageous. It’s freedom for the tenure holder, but slavery for everyone who pays for his freedom. How just is that?

    One can argue that without tenures people like Noam Chomsky couldn’t write freely on politically sensitive subjects. It’s not an argument for tenure. It’s an argument against state involvement in education.


  3. My understanding is that acdemic freedom is a bit different. I will try to find Coleridge’s writing on it and post. There’s also Kant’s writing on the subject which addresses the issue but I don’t think I can find it on the net.

  4. It is not a market issue any more than the composition of the Supreme Court is a market issue. The feds should not be funding universities, in my libertarian opinion; the states or private institutions should. But in whichever case, the whole point of academic freedom is that professors’ scholarship remain disinterested; not dependent on funders’ or administrators’ approval, but on competence as a scholar. NF’s competence is not in any doubt, from serious quarters. No one has been able to refute his writing, so the issue is why the administration has chosen to succumb to outside pressure. NF, like libertarian writer Hans Hoppe, and many others are being unfairly treated, IMHO.

    But the left does need to enlarge its campaign for academic freedom to include scholars from the right; then it will be taking a principled position.

  5. You erroneously put this as an academic freedom issue. You are sadly mistaken. No one, including in De Paul, has ever challenged Finkelstein’s right to do research and come out with conclusions based on his research. Finkelstein is an advocate for one view, and not a scholar who carefully weighs evidence both supporting and refuting his viewpoints. His problem is that he uses slander of his opponents as a substitute for rational discourse. Just look at his website: who are the ADL? Well, they are Nazis, of course. Who is “Stand with Us”? Hitlerjugend, naturally. And who are the students now sitting in the University president’s office to force him to change his decision? Nothing other than defenders of academic freedom, no doubt.

    Why did Finkelstein characterize Dershowitz as the whore madame Xaviera Hollander and the faculty of Albany Law School as his “colleagues” when they decided to honor him a few weeks ago? Why did he continually say that Dershowitz didn’t author his own books? Why does he deliberately lie about Phyllis Chesler’s book “The New Anti-Semitism,” using those lies as an excuse to call her an “imbecile,” “lunatic,” and to imply that she is mentally ill? Is this the academic freedom you are championing?

    You are certainly aware that slander is not protected under our Constitution and that it is the cause for sanction under the codes of conduct of many of our universities.

    And please publish the protest you undoubtedly sent to De Paul University when they fired Tom Klocek because his remarks angered some Palestinian or Arab students. You are certainly in favor of academic freedom for all, aren’t you? And you would certainly never dream of putting an ideological test on academic freedom (freedom for those whose viewpoints I like, nothing for everyone else), now wouldn’t you?

  6. Two thousand years ago a man died on the cross for speaking truth to authority. Now we have a catholic priest a one Father Holtschneider, a modern day Pontius Pilate, who has academically crucified a Jew called Norman Finkelstein, a son of holocaust survivors, for courageously speaking truth to power. Talk of anti-Semitism, here is a primal example. “Father” Holtschneider, like Pilate of old, lacked the moral courage to resist the modern day “temple priests” and has unfortunately succumbed to the terror unleashed by the “high priest” who chief preoccupation seems to be to promote torture (read his LA Times article about how to inflict maximum pain on a fellow human being) and defend murderers. Like in the olden days when court clowns held power, this immoral man who should be struggling for tenure in a community college is a distinguished professor at Harvard. Either Father Holtschneider is unfamiliar with the bible or willfully disregards the teachings of his lord Jesus Christ. Was Christ a “collegial person” for the establishment, Father Holtschneider?

    There are some similarities between Spinoza (the great 19th century philosopher) and the modern day giant of an intellectual Norman Finkelstein (see testimonies about the power of his intellect from the highly regarded Raul Hilberg for example.) Like Spinoza, Finkelstein is now exiled from the community for his anti-establishment, original and deeply moral views. A fellow professor tells me, Finkelstein indeed is in a much harder position than Spinoza was, perhaps this is true.

    What can we say about a system, an establishment that excommunicates the likes of Spinoza and Finkelstein and glorifies torture propagating Dershowitz?

    Finkelstein’s tenure case is a pivotal moment in American academics, either we surrender our deeply cherished freedoms to a lobby or we uphold it with a passion that can only match Finkelstien’s zeal for truth. This is not a moment to be silent dear friends. This is a war for freedom against slavish subjugation to a lobby. This is a war to preserve the values for which many noble men and women (many of them Jewish) gave up their lives for many centuries. This is a war that should honor men and women who like Finkelstein’s parents survived the holocaust and whose sufferings have been exploited by the third rate minds with nth rate morality.

    To be silent now is asking for death; death of bold thinking, death of academic freedom, and death of truth seeking. If we let up now, the blatant falsehoods and half truths will dominate as can be seen from that Father Holtschneider’s tenure rejecting letter.

    Arise, awake and march forward towards truth! Let us set up a legal defense fund for Finkelstein, mere words are not enough!

  7. I will be happy to write in favor of any faculty fired for their political beliefs – just so long as I have heard of them and know what their scholarship is like. I know Hoppe’s and Finkelstein’s. Unfortunately, it’s hard to actually open the petition on Hoppe’s site. Have tried to several times.

    I will be happy to write in favor of Tom Klocek, once I know his scholarship. I have no axe to grind in the matter.

    And my political position as a right libertarian is diametrically the opposite of Professor Finkelstein’s.

    By the way, I do agree his language is intemperate at times. But I hardly think that was the reason.

    Dershowitz’s is even more so and he is tenured. And from what I have read, Dershowitz used graduate students to do his research and did not verify it. The plagiarism charge against him is well substantiated.


    I left a comment at this site which has an article about Klocek. I state that firing a faculty member for a few remarks outside the classroom (assuming of course that the remarks were not egregious) would not be correct.

    That said, I don’t know how good a scholar Klocek was and what he said exactly – but in principle, it seems wrong too.

  9. Klocek’s scholarship was never the issue. The issue was that he reacted to anti-Israel pamphlets being distributed by some Arab students calling Israel a Nazi state. He found those pamphlets offensive and told them so. When they found out who he is, they protested to the university administration, and they subsequently fired him. Some people brought this issue up with Finkelstein and he was noticeably unsympathetic — calling one of his correspondents an “imbecile.”

    Look at the full text of Dean Suchar’s remarks. It’s much more than intemperate language — it’s simply character assassination of one’s opponents. You may think that this is conduct that can be condoned, but the university administration felt that it had crossed the line into slander.

    You don’t think that calling Alan Dershowitz a whore madame is slander? You don’t think that continuing to assert that he didn’t author his books is slander? And is calling for Chris Hitchens to “do the right thing and commit suicide” something that should leave a university administration unmoved?

    Is this really “speaking truth to authority”?

  10. I have followed and watched Dershowitz conduct himself in public life for a while. Sorry, but dishonest and extremely rude would be a mild way to describe him.

    His book was plagiarized extensively – from what I have researched, and his manner of debating is so vituperative, that if he is served with his own medicine, one can’t feel too sorry about it. Yet, he still occupies his tenured chair at Harvard.

    So, truthfully – the epithet, while harsh, is probably deserved. But since NF made the comment outside the classroom — and to someone who has hounded him — I doubt anyone could fairly call it a good reason for denial of tenure.

    And I doubt if it really was the reason, but rather the pressure put on the De Paul administration by outside groups. If outside pressure was also the case with Klocek (a very minor figure of no importance in the public consciousness and not really comparable to Hoppe or Finkelstein) — I would tend to say he too deserves at least an extended hearing rather than summary dismissal.

    But since Klocek is only a temporary adjunct, the school might be within its rights – or at least more within its rights than in a case involving a senior, full time scholar of some standing. I don’t really know enough about that case.

    In any case, since Finkelstein is also the son of Holocaust victims, I can quite understand why he would be impassioned about the use of the suffering of his parents for political reasons.

    Thanks anyway for your input. I certainly do agree that outside groups should stop putting pressure on university administrations and adminstrators should follow, not coerce tenure committees — across the board, on the right and on the left.

  11. The whole debate between Dershowitz and Finkelstein was horrible. Dershowitz proved to be incredibly disonest.

    But frankly, I don´t think that Finkelstein needs the tenure from DePaul to survive. He is a best-selling author(He was even translated to the portuguese, two times… ).

    The problem is that most universities depends on money from donations to survive. Dershowitz maybe a terrible scholar, but he doesn´t scares donations, unfortunelly.

  12. Finkelstein made around $50,000 from one best seller that he wrote – I think. He might have one or two like that. That is not much money in a lifetime. Your average experienced high school teacher makes that much in a year. So I do think he needs the money.

    Finkelstein’s scholarship is highly regarded by his peers. Many of them feel his tone is too sharp but no one disputes his research findings.

    Yes, of course, it is peer reviewed papers on which tenure depends — not books, but that is a quibble in this case, because the academics approved his tenure – it was the administration which didn’t. Anyway, everyone knows that these days paper publication is highly dependent on how much you are in sync with your peers. A lot of rubbish gets published in the humanities and social sciences. Finkelstein is head and shoulders over the average professor up for tenure – there’s no serious question about that.

    Meanwhile, Dershowitz – who is a proven plagiarist and one of the rudest characters in public life – occupies the Felix Frankfurter chair at Harvard – a very prestigious position, and continues to advocate torture, defend anyone so long as he is a celebrity, and use legal terror tactics against anyone who disagrees with his politics or criticizes his books. Very unfair, I think.

    De Paul is Catholic – it can survive. It could have stood up for what is right. Instead, it just sold out its academic integrity to outside groups – for shame.

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