Thursday, June 14, 2007

Of right mind, part deux

I'm indebted to fellow blogger Nunc Scio for bringing the case of Norman Finkelstein to my attention, the latest campus casualty of the pro-Israel thought police. He has been denied tenure at DePaul University, and advised to start looking for work elsewhere. One can only read the sanctimonious phrasing of the University president and weep.

I thought I'd give my old buddy David Horowitz an e-shout. He's the editor of FrontPage Magazine, and very concerned about academic freedom on US campuses. He's not sitting back: he's running a National Campaign for Academic Freedom, and he's always asking for contributions.
Indeed, I ended up somehow on his mailing list, and I get regular bulletins about assaults on the free exchange of ideas, even unpopular ones, taking place today in America. Shocking, I tell you. Watch out, Daniel Pipes!

But David came back pretty abruptly, saying that he didn't see the Finkelstein case as an academic freedom issue at all. Would I explain it to him? I tried:

Finkelstein's colleagues voted overwhelmingly for tenure. The College Personnel Committee voted unanimously for tenure. But a political decision was made to refuse it.

What were the excuses?

“[S]ome might interpret parts of his scholarship as “deliberately hurtful” as well as provocative more for inflammatory effect than to carefully critique or challenge accepted assumptions. Criticism has been expressed for his inflammatory style and personal attacks in his writings and intellectual debates.”

For a moment I thought the Committee was talking about Daniel Pipes. Finkelstein was allegedly rejected for tenure because of his style.

The university president goes on to complain about Finkelstein's "ad hominem attacks" (referring to the minority opinion of his colleagues) and he concludes with the announcement that Finkelstein's employment will shortly be terminated.

So much for academic freedom.

David came right back again: "Read the AAUP [American Association of University Professors] statements on academic freedom and academic tenure, and the deportment that is expected of scholars, and you will understand the DePaul president's statement."

Fair enough, although I was puzzled a bit by the reticence of this staunch defender of academic freedom. I had a look around, and responded:

I've read the AAUP statement on "collegiality" as an excuse for not granting tenure. Have you?
I'll believe in your defence of academic freedom when I see it. So far, not too many signs of it are apparent in this case.

David got a tad irritated with me at this point, and wrote back:

The current AAUP is an extreme leftwing organization which has no interest in academic freedom, unless it is to invoke those principles to defend terrorists, anti-Semites and their fellow travellers. Read the 1940 statement which is part of the academic freedom provision of virtually every university in America, or don't read it, since like most leftists you've given up on thinking (or are incapable of it) in favor of posturing.

Yikes! Here I'd gone to the AAUP as he'd suggested, and found that the cunning fellow had sent me off to some far-Left organization. Why would he do that?

The 1940 statement (two-thirds of a century old!) has undergone a few revisions since, as it turns out. But David had asked me to look at "statements" in the plural. And that was the thanks I got. I'm afraid my usual urbanity deserted me at this point, and I snarled back at him, "Whether I'm posturing or not, at least I'm not a pathetic, wriggling fraud pretending to defend academic freedom-- except for people you dislike." That was no doubt completely uncalled for, but David likes that kind of talk, as a quick perusal of FrontPage Mag indicates. Nevertheless, he has not responded to date.

The fault, as it turns out, was all mine. Had I been a more assiduous reader of the magazine, I would have found this. All became clear in a twinkling: some people just aren't worthy of academic freedom. They misuse it, criticizing Israel and generally misbehaving. Freedom, it seems, is far too precious a gift to be squandered on just anyone.

So Dr. Finkelstein will simply have to do without the support of the National Campaign for Academic Freedom. But, readers, dry your eyes: that struggle continues nonetheless. Sorry you won't be drinking champagne with us, David, but do keep that freedom bell ringing.

UPDATE: (June 14) And this is what happens at DePaul to faculty who dare speak out for Dr. Finkelstein.

(Academic critics of Israel have been finding it tough going for some time in the land of the free. More here on the subject from Horowitz's magazine.)

UPPERDATE: (June 15) It appears that Dr. Finkelstein's Dean, who opposed tenure, was taking instruction from Alan Dershowitz.

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