To the Editor:
I am a member of the Political Science faculty. I have also been a tenured member of the Penn faculty for something like thirty years. In all the time that I have been at Penn, this is, in fact, the first time that I have ever found that academic standards and values have been so seriously violated in connection with a singularly academic matter.
For the past several days, students have been asking me how I "voted" with respect to the Political Science department's decision to invite Norman Finkelstein to speak. And, as I have said to the students:
"Quite frankly, I wasn't asked to 'vote' - nor was I even informed about the department's interest in inviting him to speak."
In effect, although I am a tenured member of the department's faculty, the department apparently felt that it was simply unnecessary to contact all of the members of the faculty before advertising the department's association with the Finkelstein invitation.
While this may seem to be an "academic nicety," it must be understood that one of the core academic values is the respect that we owe our colleagues in the use - or misuse - of names and reputations. By failing to include me in the discussion of the invitation and, subsequently, announcing that the invitation was made with the support of the "Political Science department," there has been both a serious misrepresentation of departmental academic procedures and my participation in those procedures.
Whether or not I would have elected to join the department in its support of the Finkelstein invitation is, in fact, beside the point. The fact is that the invitation was made and advertised as if it was "supported by the department" - and I can say that I, for one, was neither consulted nor informed of the department's decision.
The author is a professor in the Political Science department
To the Editor:
The invitation to Norman Finkelstein to speak at the University of Pennsylvania this week does not represent one of Penn's finer moments.
Finkelstein is an outspoken foe of Zionism and the state of Israel whose rhetoric has distorted the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. His absurd allegations about Israel and Jews fuel disdain for Israel and undermine efforts to reduce anti-Semitism. Finkelstein does not encourage constructive and amicable discussion regarding the Middle East; instead, he serves as a tool for foes of Jews and Israel.
Finkelstein's rhetoric portrays Holocaust education and survivor compensation as representing a calculated attempt to conceal Israel's depravity and "immunize Israel from criticism" for alleged human rights abuses. He cynically and inaccurately claims that attempts to combat anti-Semitism are nothing more than efforts to "exploit" or "manufacture" claims of Jewish suffering in order to ward off criticism of Israel for its "racist" and "Nazi-like" treatment of Palestinians and its "unprecedented assault on international law." Finkelstein disregards Israel's legitimate security concerns, and is blind to the varied and potent forces that make anti-Semitism a continuing threat to Jews around the world.
Finkelstein's extreme and wild assertions are consistent with those made by anti-Semites who promote similar conspiracy theories that blame Jews for a variety of ills. They are antithetical to productive Arab-Israeli dialogue. Certainly, they offer little - insight, wisdom or truth - to educate college audiences.
The author is Regional Director of the Eastern Pennsylvania-Delaware Region Anti-Defamation League
To the Editor:
Mr. Finkelstein's lecture, as predicted, attracted a large number of students strongly opposed to his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to his work in general.
Sadly, a small minority of students engaged in childish and disruptive behavior, such as turning off the lights to the lecture hall mid-speech, or making plainly offensive remarks to Mr. Finkelstein during question time.
Frankly, such behavior reflects badly on them and on the University. Much was made of how inviting Mr. Finkelstein would reflect poorly on the University. The grade-school quality of behavior displayed by some students arguably reflects even worse.
Mr. Finkelstein's position warrants serious, critical inquiry - particularly if you don't agree with him. Many students evidently put significant time and energy into understanding the issues so that they could support or criticize his views intelligently. They raised questions that were insightful, critical, and certainly more convincing than any number of infantile protests.
It would have been appreciated if those unwilling or unable to discourse in a civilized manner had been considerate enough to not waste the time of those willing to do so.
Wharton Ph.D. student
To the Editor:
I fail to understand why the Penn student body is afraid of so-called "controversial speakers?" If it isn't in a university setting that free speech, respectful debates and intellectual exercises of the mind can take place, where else can they happen?
There are many organizations on campus that are pro-Israel or pro-another issue that invite controversial speakers. Perhaps they have the appropriate funds to sponsor the events solely, but does that mean that other minority groups, such as SJP, that would probably not be able to fund the event entirely on their own, should not be able to invite speakers just because those speakers don't necessarily share the views of a large proportion of the student body?
Why are Penn students so scared to hear something that may be different than what they themselves believe?
The event is open to all to share their views and raise their questions and have their voices heard. Since when is a department's financial endorsement of an event a statement that they endorse the views of the speaker? Should those student groups be so handicapped because they're a minority?
And let me state the obvious, at a place like Penn, they're definitely a minority!