Posts

Norman Finkelstein Denied Tenure

Hardly a surprise, though this extract from the letter DePaul's president wrote to Finkelstein is lame: Father Holtschneider wrote that Mr. Finkelstein is an excellent teacher and a nationally recognized public intellectual but does not “honor the obligation” to “respect … Read More

By / June 14, 2007

Hardly a surprise, though this extract from the letter DePaul's president wrote to Finkelstein is lame:

Father Holtschneider wrote that Mr. Finkelstein is an excellent teacher and a nationally recognized public intellectual but does not “honor the obligation” to “respect and defend the free inquiry of associates.”

To my knowledge, Finkelstein's odiousness does not extend to advocating censorship or the denial of anyone's right to say or think whatever he likes. Indeed, his whole career has been based on attacking what others say and think, so it's silly to accuse him of failing to "respect and defend the free inquiry of associates." He'd be nowhere without Joan Peters, Daniel Goldhagen or Alan Dershowitz, however loosely they may be defined as Finkelstein's "associates."

The Washington Post's citation of the letter (the above came from the New York Times) delves deeper into the root of the no-tenure crowd's complaint:

"In the opinion of those opposing tenure, your unprofessional personal attacks divert the conversation away from consideration of ideas, and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration…"

It could also be argued that his personal attacks perforce drive his opponents into ever more layered and subtle consideration of ideas. That they all seem driven to respond to him at all seems to me a fairly good sign that the principle of free inquiry is being upheld. My comrade Norm Geras, who has little regard for Finkelstein, adds:

These complaints – 'hurtful' scholarship, 'public clashes with other scholars', and 'polarizing' or 'simplifying' conversations – may say something about how Finkelstein is perceived by many and, indeed, about the sort of person he is, but from the point of view of upholding academic freedom, they are not reassuring ones. The president of DePaul may be satisfied that 'academic freedom is alive and well' at his university, but it needs to demonstrate that its decision in this case hasn't betrayed that principle. You don't have either to agree with or to warm to Norman Finkelstein to find the decision suspect, at best.

Tagged with: