Clark University canceled a campus talk scheduled for later this month by controversial Holocaust scholar Norman Finkelstein, saying his presence "would invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding," and would conflict with a similar event scheduled around the same time.
The Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights, a student-run group on the Worcester campus, had arranged for Finkelstein to speak on April 21, said Tom MacMillan, the group's president. School administrators, however, contend the topic and the timing conflict with a similar university-sponsored event.
In a letter to the university's campus newspaper, Clark's president, John Bassett, wrote: "The university remains committed to inviting a wide range of speakers to encourage diversity of opinions on controversial topics. My decision was predicated on its untimely and unfortunate scheduling."
Finkelstein's address would conflict with a similar conference hosted by the university's Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, scheduled for April 23-26, two days after Finkelstein's speech, Bassett said in his letter. That conference could draw Holocaust scholars who MacMillan said may disagree with Finkelstein.
Although Bassett wrote that he did not believe that students intended Finkelstein to be an affront to the conference, he said he believed it could be viewed that way.
"It is possible that our understanding of the Middle East conflicts would be enriched by conversations with Professor Finkelstein," Bassett said in the letter. "It is my judgement, however, that having Professor Finkelstein speak on the same evening as our planned conference would only invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding."
John Foley, assistant secretary at Clark, declined to comment when reached late last night. Jane Salerno, a university spokeswoman, deferred comment to a later date.
Finkelstein agreed to the engagement in February, and the student group received funding from a variety of other campus organizations to help pay his speaking fee.
The dispute came to the attention of college administrators after Hillel, a Jewish campus group, objected to Finkelstein's scheduled appearance.
Bassett met with MacMillan, two other members of the group, and a handful of other campus administrators, including public safety personnel, on Monday to discuss Finkelstein's speech, MacMillan said.
At that meeting, the administration suggested that as many as six uniformed or plain-clothes security officers attend Finkelstein's speech, in case the forum became violent, MacMillan said.
Finkelstein has been the center of controversy in the past. In June 2007, DePaul University in Chicago denied Finkelstein's bid for tenure after a feud with Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz escalated when Dershowitz publicly opposed Finkelstein's tenure application.
Finkelstein asserted in his book "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History" that Israel uses accusations of anti-Semitism to deflect criticism, a response to Dershowitz's book "The Case for Israel."
Clark's decision to deny Finkelstein's speech comes less than a month after Boston College made a similar move, barring William Ayers, a University of Chicago professor and a former member of the Weather Underground, from speaking on campus at the request of a student group there.