Last spring, when organizers were booking speakers for the inaugural National Security Symposium today at the University of Pittsburgh, the first name on the list was Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish-American academic, son of Holocaust survivors and an outspoken critic of Israeli policy.
"I was the very first outside speaker invited," said Mr. Finkelstein, a prolific and controversial author with a doctorate from Princeton University who was banned from visiting Israel in 2008 over trips to Lebanon and meetings with Hezbollah operatives, which resulted in several published articles, the Haaretz newspaper reported at the time.
However, Mr. Finkelstein was informed last week that his invitation to speak had been revoked.
According to a statement by Kenyon R. Bonner, Pitt's interim vice provost and dean of students, the decision was "made independently by the student organizing committee that had invited him to speak at their event," not the university administration.
"The University of Pittsburgh respects its students' right to speak, write or print freely on any subject and to sponsor speakers of their choice, in accordance with the guarantees of our federal and state constitutions," Mr. Bonner said.
In an interview, Mr. Finkelstein said he was told by Luke Peterson, a visiting professor at Pitt who is moderating the symposium, that the university had refused to sign off on his contract because of concerns over his views.
"If you believe that a university administration should not be in the business of shredding a signed contract in order to shield Israel from informed criticism, register your concern," Mr. Finkelstein wrote on his website Saturday.
Mr. Finkelstein, who says he speaks at dozens of colleges and universities every year, said he also heard explanations ranging from a lack of funds to a misunderstanding on Mr. Peterson's part. He doesn't buy them.
"If you want to cancel me, it's your university, not mine," he said "At least show the integrity to take responsibility for your act. ... Just say, 'We don't want Finkelstein here for X, Y, Z reason.'"
However, Mr. Peterson said in a statement Wednesday that the mistake was all his.
"I am sorry to say that the information that I gave to Professor Finkelstein blaming university administration for the decision not to include him in the symposium event was given very hastily," he wrote in an email. "It was my sincere attempt to do Professor Finkelstein a courtesy by informing him of a change to the program sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, in rushing to speak with him I gave him a version of events that was rife with error. The claim that the university was responsible for Professor Finkelstein's removal from the program of events was and is simply not true. I very much regret that this mistake maligned university faculty or officials or otherwise inflamed the situation in any way, shape, or form."
Brian Sisco, a graduate student and Pitt's student government president, said he and the other students planning the event made the decision to cancel Mr. Finkelstein as a result of "time and budgetary constraints."
"This was the first time we were organizing this event, entirely driven by full-time students," Mr. Sisco wrote in an email. "It is very disheartening to see individuals exhibiting frustration toward university administration who supported us, and constitutional liberties, throughout this process. Additionally, we are disappointed our moderator of the event has been a target of this misplaced outcry. We asked the moderator to be the direct communicator with our speakers, but he has not been involved in the planning and decision making, nor has he been made fully informed throughout the process."