A long-running battle between DePaul University and the controversial political scientist Norman G. Finkelstein reached an anticlimactic conclusion here on Wednesday as the professor announced his decision to resign from the university.
Mr. Finkelstein has attracted both venom and praise for his writings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what he has termed the "Holocaust industry." Since last spring, he has been at the center of a highly publicized tenure feud that included public sparring with one of his critics, the Harvard University law professor Alan M. Dershowitz.
Mr. Finkelstein learned that he had lost the tenure fight in June, but at the time was still scheduled to teach a final year at the university.
When DePaul officials abruptly canceled his fall classes on August 24, barring him from his office and putting him on administrative leave for his final year, Mr. Finkelstein vowed to teach the classes anyway. Last week he told The Chronicle that he intended to engage in an act of "nonviolent civil disobedience" on Wednesday, DePaul's first day of classes, by attempting to return to his office, even if it meant risking going to jail. If incarcerated, he said, he would begin a hunger strike (The Chronicle, August 27).
More than a hundred of his supporters gathered Wednesday on the campus of the Roman Catholic institution, anticipating a dramatic showdown between the professor and the university.
Instead of handcuffs and hunger strikes, however, the months of conflict ended with Mr. Finkelstein announcing that he and the university had reached a settlement agreement, and that, as a result, he would immediately resign.
Time to Move On
About 11:30 a.m., he read aloud a written statement, agreed upon by his lawyer and the university.
"Over the past several months, there has been considerable outside interest about the tenure decision," the statement said. "This attention was unwelcome and inappropriate. In the end, however, it had absolutely no impact on either the process or the final outcome. Professor Finkelstein is a prolific scholar and an outstanding teacher."
That last sentence appeared to resolve a sticking point for Mr. Finkelstein, who told the crowd that, with DePaul's acknowledgement of his scholarship, "I felt finally I had gotten what was due to me, and that maybe it was time, for everyone's sake, to move on."
Now, he said, he could depart DePaul with his "head up high and reputation intact."
More fireworks had seemed to be in store Wednesday morning.
At 9 a.m. a few dozen students, most of whom had taken classes with Mr. Finkelstein or had enrolled in his canceled classes, had gathered at DePaul's quadrangle, awaiting his arrival on the campus. Many were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "We are all Professor Finkelstein."
As a symbolic gesture, Mr. Finkelstein had planned to teach one of his canceled classes, "Equality and Social Justice," to the students assembled on the lawn. But the meeting quickly devolved into a media frenzy with Mr. Finkelstein, in a white polo shirt with dark stripes and faded black jeans, mobbed by television crews. Mr. Finkelstein dispensed with the lecture, and spoke instead of his six-year career at DePaul and of his bitterness over his recent treatment by the university.
"I do not at all relish the prospect of a confrontation with DePaul University," he told the crowd, but he said that since the tenure-review process began, he had been the object of "scurrilous and filthy attacks on my person, my profession, and my family."
"Frankly, I think it's preposterous to claim that I didn't earn tenure at DePaul," he said. That the university had cast his scholarship into doubt in its tenure decision, canceled his classes, and denied him the use of his office, he said, was "demeaning to the university, demeaning to its very impressive student body, and demeaning to myself." He would not accept that treatment, he said.
While Cameras Roll, Lawyers Talk
Standing amid television cameras, with a hand on his hip, Mr. Finkelstein thanked the students for supporting him and joked with them about his habit of singing 1960s folk songs in class. A female student who had taken one of his classes offered a teary testimonial: "You are a very great professor," she said.
The session was interrupted when a message was passed to Mr. Finkelstein, telling him that his lawyer had reached a settlement with the university.
As the professor left to consult with his lawyer, students picked up placards with slogans like "Norman Finkelstein, Target of Hate Campaign," "Norman Finkelstein, Righteous Jew," and "Fight Academic Terrorism," and marched to the offices of DePaul's political-science department.
There the protest gathered steam, and adherents. Well over 100 students -- most from DePaul but a handful from nearby Columbia College Chicago -- as well as some faculty members and local residents, joined in chanting, "Stop the witch hunt. Tenure now," as city police officers attempted to keep them from disrupting traffic.
The protest, and the suspense over Mr. Finkelstein's future, ended back at the quad, where the professor read aloud his statement. A few in the crowd wept when he announced his resignation; others booed loudly at the statement's description of DePaul's tenure process as "fair and effective."
Although the terms of the agreement with DePaul were bound by confidentiality restrictions, Mr. Finkelstein said he would continue to speak out about the unfairness of the tenure process and in support of a colleague, Mehrene E. Larudee, who was also denied tenure this spring. Ms. Larudee, an assistant professor of international studies, had advocated on his behalf (The Chronicle, June 12).
Ms. Larudee's case was "piece of unfinished business that will haunt DePaul until it is corrected," Mr. Finkelstein said, and he urged his supporters to apply their zeal to appealing her tenure decision.
Mixed Views of the Settlement
Several students in the crowd expressed both support of Mr. Finkelstein and disappointment with the final outcome.
"I think he made the right decision. There's no real way DePaul could back down," said Lizzy Boden, a junior at DePaul, who took an honors seminar with Mr. Finkelstein last spring. "I'm still really disappointed. I wanted them to at least let him teach. He's one of the best professors I've ever had."
Sy Bar-Sheshet, a junior from Columbia College who joined the protests, was less restrained. "This is an issue bigger than Professor Finkelstein; it's about academic freedom," he said. "If he's satisfied, then that's good, but I'm not, and I think the majority of students are not."
Once Mr. Finkelstein's announcement was over, his student supporters began regrouping to plot their next move.
"I think this has shown that student demonstrations can make a difference," said Kathryn Weber, a political-science major and president of a student group, the DePaul Academic Freedom Committee, formed in reaction to the tenure decisions on Mr. Finkelstein and Ms. Larudee.
"In some ways, we're glad that it's been resolved, but in other ways kind of disappointed they couldn't push it more in our direction," she said of the day's events. Her group, she said, would continue to protest the university's tenure decision on Ms. Larudee. But more immediately, she said, they planned to take Professor Finkelstein out to dinner.