For the first time since a 2007 tenure dispute that resulted in his resignation, former political science professor Norman Finkelstein returned to DePaul Monday, Jan. 16.
Two men dressed in black stood at the door of a crowded Cortelyou Commons creating an unofficial checkpoint before people were allowed to enter. The men were not searching guests, but they appeared to represent security.
Inside, the room was bustling with anticipation as guests were asked to find their seats. The excitement became nearly palpable as a statement was read on behalf of the university, warning that those being disrespectful would be removed from the venue. The man who stepped up to the podium looked weary but spoke slowly and with confidence.
Finkelstein began his speech by announcing that he would not be speaking about "academic freedoms," as was widely publicized on campus. Rather, the speech became a personal statement of innocence and an announcement that he had not "moved on" from the injustice he says he experienced for his pro-Palestine advocacy.
"I am not forgiving what is happening, and I will not forget," Finkelstein said.
At the time a tenure-track professor, Finkelstein resigned following a private settlement with the university nearly five years ago. Finkelstein was brought back to DePaul through a joint effort by two student organizations, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Middle East Politics Association (MEPA).
Although the Jewish professor has earned academic fame for his views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, he remains a very controversial figure due to his pro-Palestine stance.
In his speech, Finkelstein referred to his tenure denial as a "filthy frame-up" and a "plot to destroy" his professional career. He also acknowledged each individual he deemed guilty, using job titles— but not names.
"No, Norm. Don't go there. I won't say more," he said after each one.
His speech continued with over a dozen accusations, at one point referring to the "'Judas'" in his department. Although he did not elaborate on that charge, Finkelstein implicated other DePaul faculty members, including Charles Suchar, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, the president of the university.
Agnieszka Karoluk, board member of SJP, expressed noticeable shock during his brief lecture, which lasted less than 15 minutes.
"I knew it would be eloquent, but oh, wow," said Karoluk.
The student organization had been in contact with the professor for over two months about the event. Karoluk herself claimed to have spoken to him nearly every day for the prior two weeks while planning the event.
"I asked him more than once what he planned to say, and he never gave me a clear answer," Karoluk said. "I was expecting him to name names, but I'm very happy with how it turned out."
Syed El Salamony, board member of MEPA, was not shocked by Finkelstein's words, but he admitted "the honesty and confrontation" in the speech were not predicted.
"I expected something strong but didn't expect the diplomacy in that he didn't mention names," said El Salamony. "I think this event was healthy for students both past and present."
While some appreciated the diplomacy, other students expressed disappointment at the lack of specifics.
Finkelstein went on to call for "justice," requesting a public apology and a reversal of the five-year-old decision. He then took time to thank his supporters, as well as his former students, roughly a dozen of whom attended the event. Finkelstein acknowledged the group multiple times.
"It is a credit–not just for DePaul–but to any place, what the students did for me," Finkelstein concluded.
Stephanie Willding, a 2007 graduate and one of Finkelstein's former students, returned the sentiment during the Q & A portion of the evening.
"What they cannot rob you of is the impact you've had on your former students," said Willding. The statement was met by applause from the audience.
Finkelstein's speech was preceded by a lecture he gave on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which lasted over two hours. Both lectures began with a statement from the university regarding audience behavior.
The professor is preparing to publish his ninth book, his first regarding Mahatma Gandhi, a figure discussed extensively in his lecture. He also announced plans to speak at Yale University and Harvard Law School.
In closing, Finkelstein offered those involved in his tenure-denial a chance to reply to his claims. None seemed to be in attendance.