Acknowledging "the process could have been better," Clark University President John Bassett has approved rescheduling the appearance of a controversial scholar and author whose talk he had canceled two weeks ago.
After learning earlier this month that the Students for Palestinian Rights had planned to bring Norman Finkelstein to campus yesterday, the first night of a university-sponsored Holocaust and genocide studies conference, Mr. Bassett nixed the student organization's plans.
The son of Jewish parents who survived concentration camps during World War II, Mr. Finkelstein has written and spoken about a "Holocaust industry" that he believes exploits the memory of the Holocaust. He has also argued that the genocide is overused to justify Israeli behavior in the conflict with Palestinians.
The cancellation of Mr. Finkelstein's talk, advertised as "The Gaza Massacre," upset the Students for Palestinian Rights and others who believed the decision violated academic freedom.
The Students for Palestinian rights circulated petitions and organized a protest rally, and the American Civil Liberties Union sent Mr. Bassett a letter disagreeing with his decision.
Students met with Mr. Bassett last week and were given permission to book Mr. Finkelstein after the Holocaust conference ended. Mr. Finkelstein now is scheduled to speak at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Atwood Hall.
"I freely admit that the process could have been better," Mr. Bassett said in a prepared statement. "I should have begun by consulting with the leaders of the sponsoring student organization, not by announcing a decision.
"I also should not have assumed that, because April 20-24 is the last full week of classes, nothing else could happen until fall. That assumption left too many people thinking that free speech was in abeyance for five months."
Though Mr. Finkelstein was never scheduled to speak about the Holocaust, Mr. Bassett believed that his views could be an affront to the conference's planners.
"My decisions along the way in this case were made in an attempt to balance two goods — free inquiry and common courtesy to visiting speakers," Mr. Bassett said. "The decisions were always made with my primary concern being what is best for Clark University."
Senior Thomas MacMillan, president of the Students for Palestinian Rights, said he was pleased that Clark would be hosting Mr. Finkelstein this semester. Mr. Finkelstein has been on the professional speaking circuit since resigning in 2007 from DePaul University in Chicago. He has been publicly criticized by Harvard professor, lawyer and political commentator Alan Dershowitz for his writings about Israel.
"I think, and I hope, that we created a buzz around campus about what everyone thinks are boundaries for acceptable speech at Clark," Mr. MacMillan said. "To us, this was never about what day Professor Finkelstein spoke. If (administrators) had come to us and asked us to move the date, we probably would have moved it."
The free event Monday is open to the public.