The intent of the statement is not to discourage what is "controversial." Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire statement is designed to foster.
1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure
On March 22, 2007, Charles Suchar, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at DePaul University, sent a three-page memorandum, to the University Board on Tenure and Promotion recommending against tenure for Dr. Norman Finkelstein, despite favorable votes at two faculty levels of review. The Political Science department voted nine to three in favor of granting tenure, and the five-member College Personnel Committee (CPC) was unanimous in granting tenure. The three members of the Political Science department who voted against tenure filed a minority report and Suchar sided with them.
The dean's memo essentially attacks the tone of Finkelstein's scholarship for not being kind to his critics; it is cited as too personal and not in the tradition of DePaul "collegiality". At one point Suchar writes:
I find it difficult to share their [(CPC)] net assessment of Professor Finkelstein's scholarly contributions. My own estimation of the tone and substance of his scholarship is that a considerable amount of it is inconsistent with DePaul's Vincentian values, most particularly our institutional commitment to respect the dignity of the individual and to respect the rights of others to hold and express different intellectual positions -- what I take to be one significant meaning of what we term Vincentian "personalism" as well as our commitment to diversity.
In fairness to Dean Suchar, although the CPC said that Dr. Finkelstein's work was, "...consistent with the academy and [gave] evidence of a passionate scholarship of high standard," they also had some reservations. The CPC did stress that Prof. Finkelstein's scholarship troubled them by its tone and by its frequent "personal attacks."
Although it was not cited in the memorandum, one might conclude that the supposed lack of collegiality that Dean Suchar speaks of could be the ongoing and highly public feud between Prof. Finkelstein and Harvard law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz.
There is no love lost between Prof. Finkelstein and Prof. Dershowitz. The two noted scholars have repeatedly attacked each other in the past few years, hurling accusations at one another of plagiarism and polemicism. They have taken adversarial stances on such issues as the Israeli lobby, anti-Semitism, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
According to Inside Higher Ed as well as a widely disseminated report by Prof. Jon Wiener in The Nation, Prof. Dershowitz went to great lengths to prevent the publication of Prof. Finkelstein's book Beyond Chutzpah: On The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (University of California Press, 2004). In those reports it indicates that Prof. Dershowitz authorized what Prof. Wiener described as "threatening letters" to the University of California regents, the University of California provost, 17 directors of the University of California Press, and 19 members of the Press's faculty editorial committee. Even more, Prof. Dershowitz also appealed to the governor of California to stop the publication of the book. But all attempts by Prof. Dershowitz failed. Neither the governor nor the University of California Press tried to stop the publication of the book.
But why would Prof. Dershowitz go to such great lengths to stop the publication of this book?
In Beyond Chutzpah, Prof. Finkelstein takes Prof. Dershowitz to task over his own book, The Case for Israel (John Wiley and Sons, 2003). Prof. Finkelstein shows, with meticulous detail, irrefutably, that Prof. Dershowitz, in his book, plagiarized substantial material from Joan Peters' book, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine.
All of this would be enough drama to sustain discussion, but now a new twist in this rivalry has emerged. Prof. Dershowitz has been active in preventing DePaul University from granting tenure to Prof. Finkelstein. Last fall, with Prof. Finkelstein up for tenure, Prof. Dershowitz sent DePaul Law School faculty and members of the Political Science department a letter dated October 3 2006 as a "dossier of Norman Finkelstein's more egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions."
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, which conducted a telephone interview with Prof. Dershowitz on Wednesday, April 4, 2007, Prof. Dershowitz confirmed that he had sent the information to "everybody who would read it." He said he had compiled the material at the request of some two-dozen DePaul students, alumni, and faculty members who were concerned with the prospect of Prof. Finkelstein receiving tenure.
When asked by The Chronicle what he hoped to achieve by sending out the letter, he replied, "Revealing the truth -- all I'm doing is disclosing the truth...It would be a disgrace to DePaul University if they were to grant tenure. It would make them the laughing stock of American universities...His scholarship is no more than ad hominem attacks on his ideological enemies."
Prof. Dershowitz further added in the Chronicle interview, "I think, by every standard, he's worse than Ward Churchill...He's a propagandist, not a scholar."
Prof. Dershowitz's meddling in the assessment of tenure for Prof. Finkelstein has caused grave concerns among the faculty of DePaul University.
In an email message sent to The Chronicle of Higher Ed, dated April 4, Gil Gott, a professor of International Studies at DePaul who is chairman of its Liberal Arts and Sciences' Faculty Governance council stated that the matter had been taken up in a meeting on November 17, 2006. At the time Mr. Gott was not then chair of the council.
According to the minutes of the session, the council voted unanimously to authorize a letter to DePaul's president, Dennis H. Holtschneider, and the university provost, Helmut P. Epp, along with the president of Harvard University and the dean of Harvard Law School. In the letter the council expressed its "dismay at Professor Dershowitz's interference in Finkelstein's tenure and promotion case" and further stated "the sanctity of the tenure and promotion process is violated by Professor Dershowitz's emails."
The disturbing point of this tenure issue could very well be the lack of regard that both Dean Suchar, Prof. Dershowitz and the dozen or so faculty, and students that Prof. Dershowitz sent his "dossier" have for true diversity in a university setting.
Academics who teach and write on the areas of culture and politics can seem quite controversial. This is doubly applied when one is referring to such fields as Latin America, women's studies, ethnic studies, and Middle Eastern studies. In these areas a polemical tone is not unusual, nor would it discredit the underlying scholarship of a lecturer.
Tenure does and should exist to allow scholars the opportunity for candid intellectual pursuits without a fear of attack on their scholarship. It is heartening to note that in its unanimous decision to grant Prof. Finkelstein tenure, the CPC, although concerned with his tone and personal attacks (i.e. the Dershowitz feud), realized that the most important aspect in granting tenure was what even Dean Suchar stated in his memorandum that Prof. Finkelstein's work was "...consistent with the academy and [gave] evidence of a passionate scholarship of high standard."
Many academics, to be sure, from other universities are watching this tenure drama play out and are looking on with great concern with regards to academic freedom for the future. Letters of support for Prof. Finkelstein from both inside the DePaul faculty and other institutions, as well as current and former students, have been pouring in.
The American Association of University Professors has objected and explicitly challenged the use of such criteria as "collegiality" in tenure and promotion evaluations, precisely because these terms are subject to a wide variety of interpretations. "We would like to remind you," writes Zachary Lockman, President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), in a letter to Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, president of DePaul University, "the American Association of University Professors clearly stipulates that scholars are to be evaluated strictly on the basis of their scholarship's academic merit and their teaching--not on their collegiality, nor on whether some may deem their scholarly work too controversial."
As of this writing, no conclusion has been reached with regard to Prof. Finkelstein's tenure. However, one is expected by the end of May 2007.
When The Chronicle of Higher Education contacted Prof. Finkelstein with regards to the status of his case. He responded that his department had investigated the claims of Prof. Dershowitz and "concluded that none of the scholarly allegations that Dershowitz leveled against me had any merit." Further Prof. Finkelstein said, "DePaul is in a growth mode, and they see me as an albatross because they're getting all this negative publicity because of me. And they want to get rid of me. And now the question is, what's going to prevail? The principles of fairness, the principles of academic freedom, or power and money in the form of a mailed fist."
As other academics look on in worried fascination with regards to this controversy one can't help but be a bit disappointed with the crusade of Prof. Dershowitz and the enabling of Dean Suchar to stifle academic freedom and the desire to raise the level of debate on our nation's campus' and in the country as a whole.