Norman Finkelstein has been denied tenure at DePaul, apparently for his lack of collegiality and inappropriate tone. Richard Silverstein has the details, but I’d like to just add to and emphasize his utter disbelief at the thought that these could be grounds for denying someone tenure. Why, I had the impression that rudeness, lack of collegiality, arrogance and so on were practically requirements for star tenured professors. No matter how the university tries to play this, they aren’t going to convince anyone, having failed to show concrete academic reasons for denying tenure, that they have not been influenced by Dershowitz’s mudslinging (and hey, speaking of rudeness, inappropriate tone and so on – pot, meet kettle). I suppose it’s difficult to match a star lawyer’s skill at smearing, particularly when said star lawyer seems to have decided to become a sort of roving one-man ADL.
Update: Check out the coverage in the NYT, particularly this “where do they get the cojones” line from the university president:
In a letter to Mr. Finkelstein, Father Holtschneider wrote that Mr. Finkelstein is an excellent teacher and a nationally recognized public intellectual but does not “honor the obligation” to “respect and defend the free inquiry of associates.”
I’m not generally a fan of the tenure system, and this case proves that it’s only ever protected the academic freedom of those who reach a certain point in their careers (usually requiring much networking and conformity and keeping quiet about one’s political opinions). In these cutthroat times on the academic job market, it has given senior tenured professors every incentive to farm out their core teaching responsibilities to graduate adjuncts paid less than waiters. It has created a two-tier system of academic employment with established, well-taken-care-of tenured professors and a large underclass of part-time, contract or untenured instructors (who certainly can’t afford to antagonize anyone with their political opinions) whom departments either cannot afford to put on tenure track because of salary commitments to the upper tier, or have no incentive to do so because so many are willing to work in insecure conditions. While the concept of equal pay for equal work will never quite apply in academia because people bring in such different qualifications and skills, the tenure system has made things much worse.
This case is not a wake-up call about why tenure is so important. If anything, it shows just how the tenure system discourages free expression. Finkelstein, like all untenured professors, could only be punished for voicing controversial opinions – you can’t afford to say what you really think till you have tenure safely in hand. Finkelstein can’t exactly sue against the kind of woolly, subjective reasoning that academic boards are allowed to use to make or break careers, and he can barely hold his employers accountable the way a middle manager could – and there are many others who are not star public intellectuals like he is, and whose right to academic freedom is certainly not of interest to the media.
3 Comments so far
Leave a comment