Political Science professor Norm Finkelstein's current struggle for tenure is gaining quite a bit of attention on DePaul's campus these days.
After the Political Science department voted 9 to 3 in favor of tenure for Finkelstein and the College Personnel Committee voted 5 to 0 in favor of his tenure, Dean Suchar of the school of Liberal Arts and Sciences has expressed his opposition to tenure for Professor Finkelstein. No (official) final decision has been made. That will come from the president of DePaul (Father Holtschneider). However, such a bold descent from Dean Suchar raises some flags as to the actual security of Professor Finkelstein's job.
I've been at DePaul almost three years. In that time, I have had my share of excellent professors. However, none of them have inspired me as much as professor Norm Finkelstein. In discussing Professor Finkelstein, I could emphasize the issue of academic freedom, but I think it is more important to talk about the influence Finkelstein has had in my life. I have only taken one class with him (I'm currently in another class of his—ironically titled "Equality and Social Justice"), but it has changed my life in ways I never thought were possible.
On the first day of "Political Ideas and Ideologies," I knew Professor Finkelstein was entertaining and captivating. With each passing class, I found myself regretting the fact that it had to end. The fact that many students go their entire college career without knowing this feeling made me think that this teacher might really be unique.
My biggest lesson came, however, during our discussion of John Stuart Mill. A proponent of free speech and conduct, Mill wrote about the importance of the devil's advocate and about suspending judgment until one hears all sides of an argument. This helped me to discover the importance of listening to differing viewpoints. In fact, I realized that one is less likely to find the truth if counter-arguments are ignored. This made me think, what's the point in ignoring others just because I think I'm right? Why not let people express themselves and decide for themselves? It is only when all views are presented that one can hope to find the truth.
In the span of one quarter, I came to the realization that I will never fully understand an issue, much less find an answer, unless I learn to suspend my judgment until I hear differing views. This doesn't mean others will have an easy time convincing me the war in Iraq is justified, or even that Portillo's doesn't have the best hot dogs around, but it does mean that Professor Finkelstein helped me to mature as a thinker, enough to engage in dialogues with others who have varying ideas.
As the quarter went on, I valued Professor Finkelstein's intelligence and ability to teach so much that I was prepared to do almost anything I could on an assignment to impress him. Rarely has a professor inspired me to think critically, work and analyze more than Professor Finkelstein. What is so impressive about this phenomenon is that I hear the same thing from other students. In other words, I am one of the many Norm Finkelstein fans. What's more, his supporters come from all walks of life and political backgrounds.
How is it that we have been able to put politics aside, and other differences, to come together in support of this man? Simply put, all of us have been moved in similar ways and have identified Dr. Finkelstein as an outstanding teacher.
It has taken nearly three years for a professor to have such a profound impact on me. The chance that he might not be granted tenure is a two-fold blow. For one thing, future DePaul students will not have the privilege to learn from Professor Finkelstein. This thought is devastating.
Additionally, this calls the entire system into question. If you don't give tenure to a professor who inspires his or her students, to whom do you give it—sycophants who tow the Vincentian line?
From what I gather, there is a tremendous amount of student (and professorial) support for Dr. Finkelstein. Does DePaul really want to upset the very people who would essentially pay Professor Finkelstein's salary? Are we not the ones who labor in the classrooms and labs of this institution and pay its fees and tuition, who deserve to have our wishes carried out? Money aside, isn't having a professor as gifted as Dr. Finkelstein in the students' and the institution's best interest? Is denying a professor tenure based upon his or her politics actually productive, or does it serve any useful academic purpose?
Furthermore, what is the point of getting an education, learning to recognize the merit of different points of view and learning the importance of scholarly discourse when DePaul is going to fire a professor based on politics? These are all important questions to consider. In the spirit of John Stuart Mill and Professor Finkelstein, I would encourage everyone reading this to hear what the administration and higher-ups have to say in regard to these questions. Then decide for yourself.
Ultimately, as you might have gathered, I think the world needs more professors like Norm Finkelstein, and I don't think I'm alone in this either. While he may offer up some information that makes everyone a little uncomfortable to think about, perhaps that uncomfortable feeling is a sign that our line of thinking is problematic.
Maybe it isn't a sign of that at all, but at least he makes us think about this, and hopefully we will consider it enough to eventually discover the truth. I'm optimistic enough to believe that in the end, after all is said and done, and the arguments for and against his tenure are stretched end-to-end across this campus, the truth (and Professor Finkelstein) will prevail.