DePaul Rejects Finkelstein Tenure

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DePaul University on Friday formally denied tenure to Norman G. Finkelstein, who has taught political science there while attracting an international following — of both fans and critics — for his attacks on Israeli policies and the “Holocaust industry.”

Finkelstein’s tenure bid has attracted an unusual degree of outside attention and his research has been much debated by scholars of the Middle East. In evaluating his record, DePaul faculty panels and administrators praised him as a teacher and acknowledged that he has become a prominent public intellectual, with works published by major presses. But first a dean and now the president of DePaul — in rejecting tenure for Finkelstein — have cited the style of his work and intellectual combat. Finkelstein was criticized for violating the Vincentian norms of the Roman Catholic university with writing and statements that were deemed hurtful, that contained ad hominem attacks and that did not show respect for others.

Given that line of criticism, the Finkelstein case is emerging as a test of whether a range of qualities grouped together as “collegiality” belong in tenure cases. Many colleges and universities consider collegiality — perhaps not surprising given that a positive tenure vote can make someone a colleague for the duration of a career. But many experts on academic freedom, as well as the American Association of University Professors, view skeptically the practice of treating collegiality as a major, independent factor in the tenure process. They fear that collegiality can provide cover for squelching the views of those who may hold controversial or cutting edge views or who just get on their colleagues’ wrong sides.

Adding to the tensions over the Finkelstein case is another element to it. His tenure bid was backed by his department and a collegewide faculty committee, and hit roadblocks when a dean weighed in against him. And the same day DePaul’s president denied Finkelstein tenure, he also denied tenure to another professor — who had backing from her department, the collegewide faculty panel, and the dean who weighed in against Finkelstein.

While most tenure processes are layered, several people at DePaul said it was unusual for tenure candidates there to advance several steps in the review process — only to be rejected — and that the cases raise questions about how much deference should go to a department.

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