In his first interview since controversial Professor Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure in June, DePaul University President Dennis Holtschneider said Friday he was compelled to uphold the decision of a faculty committee that reviewed the case.
The seven members of the University Board on Promotion and Tenure -- which voted 4-3 against granting Finkelstein tenure in the political science department -- "were accused of being diverted or pressured by outside groups," Holtschneider said. "But as I read through everything they had done, it just wasn't the case. Faculty here come at it very independently. So I just thought, I have to support these folks. They made a very hard decision, and they've done it with great integrity, and it deserves to be approved."
Holtschneider said he wasn't surprised that students continue to protest the decision after summer break.
"You never really know, and the students were certainly saying they were still concerned," he said. "The students told us they were going to be here today, and that's their right."
Holtschneider made his brief remarks to a reporter after DePaul's convocation Friday kicking off the upcoming school year. DePaul Provost Helmut Epp also spoke of the "conspiracy theories" about Finkelstein's denial but emphasized that the faculty ultimately made the decision.
Earlier, as violin music played and a choir sang, nearly 300 faculty dressed in black robes and colorful regalia marched down tree-lined streets on DePaul's Lincoln Park campus. But marching alongside them were 30 protesters, wearing T-shirts saying, "We are all Professor Finkelstein." They later set up inside the convocation at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church and held protest signs near university banners. More than a dozen faculty also donned the pro-Finkelstein T-shirts under their robes.
Philosophy Professor Tina Chanter said she thinks Finkelstein's tenure was denied because of his pro-Palestinian writings and his views that some Holocaust survivors had exploited their suffering.
She said it was "absolutely outrageous" that Finkelstein was put on paid administrative leave and would not be allowed to teach a final year, as is standard when a professor is denied tenure. She said procedural violations took place in denying Finkelstein tenure.
Holtschneider said proper procedures were followed.
"This process was clean," he said. "The faculty took this very, very seriously."
Sources familiar with the situation said Finkelstein's supporters first sought the paid leave when he indicated earlier in the summer that he didn't want to return. But when he decided he wanted to come back, the university cited alleged confrontations between Finkelstein and an administrator and some faculty members who opposed his tenure bid as reasons not to allow him back.
Spokeswoman Denise Mattson would not say why Finkelstein was not allowed back. Finkelstein, who was not at the convocation, could not be reached for comment. His supporters say he plans to teach his canceled class in the public library near campus next Wednesday and then plans to try to enter his old office.