New at Reason

Cathy Young re-investigates the Norman Finkelstein tenure controversy and ponders whether it will have any other impact.

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  • ||

    You are simply not informed about this peer review nonsense. Dr Finkelstein has published in Georgetown Law Review and his latest monograph published by University of California Press; that Berkeley by the way. Normally such publications would merit tenure at elite RI institutions. Thanks for the link and if you want more detailed information feel free to contact the principals or me at

  • thoreau||

    Regarding Finkelstein: If he has relatively few peer reviewed publications, then all the rest of the debate surrounding him is probably just window dressing and ego stroking.

    Regarding the astronomer who favors ID (mentioned in Cathy's article): If he has very little research money, then there's no way he can get tenure in a Ph.D. granting physics department. The responsibility of the professor in a Ph.D. granting physics department is to get grant money to support graduate student projects. One can argue that it shouldn't be that way, but that is a separate issue from whether his support for ID was the key factor. If somebody doesn't get enough money to support a group of graduate students, all the rest is irrelevant. Maybe it shouldn't be that way, but that doesn't change the fact that grant money is what matters, not his ID stance.

  • thoreau||

    Peter-

    I don't know what the standards are in Finkelstein's field. You list two publications. Were there others, and is the total number sufficient?

  • ||

    The responsibility of the professor in a Ph.D. granting physics department is to get grant money to support graduate student projects.

    Or so the university gets their half. I know of a lot of groups that are primarily composed of postdocs. You might argue that postdocing is still education, making postdocs "students". But I don't see it that way.

  • ||

    Academic freedom should grant quite a bit of leeway, but let's remember one of the primary functions of professors--to teach. If an astronomer is teaching intelligent design/Young Earth, then he's not doing his job. Period.

    This type of line-drawing is, of course, much harder to do in the liberal arts. Still, if research and education aren't being served by a professor, I don't see much point in retaining him, barring some additional value, like thoreau's above-mentioned grant-raising ability.

    I don't have a huge philosophical issue with refusing to grant tenure to someone who is so far off the reservation that he harms the department's or school's reputation. Once you grant tenure, getting rid of some wacko can be very hard. Where I do have an issue is when the "off the reservation" line becomes political, as opposed to merely "He's nuts".

  • Edward||

    I think tenure should be done away with altogether. Why shouldn't academics suffer the vicissitudes of the market like the rest of us.

    What, by the way, are Cathy Young's intelligent, balanced pieces doing here? They don't seem to fit the tenor of the forum.

  • thoreau||

    Or so the university gets their half. I know of a lot of groups that are primarily composed of postdocs. You might argue that postdocing is still education, making postdocs "students". But I don't see it that way.

    Valid point, but the fact remains that most groups have at least one grad student. If he can't get enough money to support even one grad student, he isn't supporting the department's Ph.D. program, so doesn't deserve tenure.

    This is why I'm going to a department that has only undergrads, although there's talk of starting an interdepartmental M.S. program, in which my participation would be at my own discretion (i.e. as funding permits). I don't want to raise money for Ph.D. student salaries.

  • ||

    After being an academic for a while, my inclination is to say to hell with tenure. However, there is something to the rationale that without tenure, we'd be tossing the fringe thinkers out of academia, which might be a bad idea. I think that's particularly true in the hard sciences, as counterintuitive as that may sound.

    Academics in the liberal arts these days, on the other hand, all seem to be fringe thinkers (just kidding. . .I think).

  • ||

    By now there are enough colleges out there to support the fringe thinkers. They can also start up their own myspace page. The professor's views get a reputation boost by being associated with a university. If the university leaders thinks those views are pulling their reputation down, they can expell the professor.

  • ||

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but DePaul is a private university. Thus, they get no tax dollars, only private donations. Seems to me this is a great opportunity for people to vote with their wallets, as it should be. If you don't like the school's decision, don't give them your money.

    As for Iowa State, that's a seperate issue, and one that I'll have to ruminate on for a while (unless I can say "get them off the public teat", which is a fine answer, too).

  • thoreau||

    After being an academic for a while, my inclination is to say to hell with tenure.

    I actually sympathize with that to some extent. I do think there would be some issues with academic life cycle: the older faculty tend to do less research, but they often serve as mentors to younger faculty, act as valuable second advisors for grad students (it's good ot be able to talk to somebody who isn't your primary research advisor), and render other services to the profession. So research expectations would need to be revised for people in a less creative stage of their career. But I'm sure those issues could be worked out.

    The reason it will never happen on any large scale, however, is as much a matter of competition as inertia: Any university that doesn't offer tenure will be at a disadvantage in faculty recruitment.

  • Ashish George||

    "Finkelstein has assailed the film Schindler's List as a propaganda ploy to drum up sympathy for Israel, compared the Anti-Defamation League to Nazis, mocked Holocaust memoirist Elie Wiesel as a 'clown,' and suggested that Holocaust survivor accounts are routinely fabricated."

    The first claim is absurd. The second is hyperbole, but the ADL do often act like bullies (witness their response to the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis--"classical conspiratorial anti-Semitic analysis"). I'm not sure what's so appalling about calling Wiesel a clown; that judgment is probably incorrect, but Wiesel has behaved inconsistently in the past, especially when it comes to his relative concern for Israeli and Palestinian victims. The last assertion about Holocaust survivor accounts may or may not be true, but Young gives no evidence to suggest it is motivated by bigotry or hate.

    Can Young produce any text from Finkelstein's actual work to suggest he's a kook instead of just linking to book reviewers? And why is it that while young would (justifiably) be skeptical of accusations of racism being hurled around, she seems quite credulous whenever anti-Semitism enters the debate?

  • shockcorridor||

    Peter Kirstein huh?

    "You are a disgrace to this country and I am furious you would even think I would support you and your aggressive baby killing tactics of collateral damage. Help you recruit. Who, top guns to reign death and destruction upon nonwhite peoples throughout the world? Are you serious sir? Resign your commission and serve your country with honour.

    No war, no air force cowards who bomb countries without AAA [Anti-Aircraft Artillery], without possibility of retaliation. You are worse than the snipers. You are imperialists who are turning the whole damn world against us. September 11 can be blamed in part for what you and your cohorts have done to Palestinians, the VC, the Serbs, a retreating army at Basra.

    You are unworthy of my support.
    Peter N. Kirstein"

    jerk.

  • ||

    Articles published in the Georgetown Law Review (or any university law review for that matter) are not peer-reviewed, they are edited by law students. The rest of that post is incomprehensible.

  • shockcorridor||

    Not much of what Kirstein has to say is particularly eloquent except when he goes on self-important, narcissistic , rants against the military.

  • ||

    Cathy Young is a national treasure. If you've ever wondered what David Broder would sound like if someone taught him the word "libertarian," this is it.

  • ||

    What the hell is this "Academic Freedom" business? If I'm spending $40,000 a year to get my child useful knowledge, why should some nut job, and there are way too many working on college campuses, get in the way of that by using the money I am paying him to teach whatever he damn well feels like? College "professors" seem to be the most irresponsible human beings on the planet. Their main purpose seems to be to parade their delicate egos in front of children. The entire system should be abandoned and education should displace "just doing my thing" on college campuses.

  • ||

    Robert Adamson,

    The problem lies with the combining of research and teaching.

  • thoreau||

    Combining research and teaching is the way that scholars stay sharp.

    And does anybody want his kid to learn science from somebody who hasn't done an experiment or calculation in the last 20 years? Does anybody want their kid to learn history from somebody who doesn't continue to uncover and analyze documents and other artifacts of the past?

    And wouldn't you be happier if your kids learn science from somebody who has some ongoing research projects that they can participate in? I can teach your kids far more lessons if I'm mentoring them on a project than I can if I'm standing in front of a blackboard.

    Academia has many problems, but the core missions of teaching and research are intertwined for a reason. And whatever else might be said about American academia, the world's students are eager to come here to study. Our faculties are far less inbred than other faculties (though that might be more of a negative statement about other countries than a positive statement about the US). And despite tenure, our faculties are generally held to higher standards (incentivized with raises and promotions) than faculty in a lot of countries.

    We have our problems, but let's not throw any babies out with the bathwater.

  • ||

    I read Finkelstein's book Beyond Chutzpah and was very impressed. Most of it is devoted to going through Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel--a bestseller by a Harvard professor that got rave reviews in The New York Times and elsewhere--and refuting its claims virtually sentence by sentence. The book notes many examples of scholarly sloppiness on Dershowitz's part; for example, Dershowitz cites a reader's letter in The Orlando Sentinel as a source and misidentifies it as an editorial, confuses the fraudulent writer Joan Peters with George Orwell, misidentifies the British lord who helped draft Resolution 242, and cites a Jerusalem Post article of very dubious veracity to argue that the Palestinians bear significant responsibility for the Holocaust. Finkelstein also contrasts Dershowitz's claims about Israel's human-rights record with the findings of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Israeli group B'Tselem. He does a really beautiful job of demonstrating that while Dershowitz's book has been accepted as a sensible, levelheaded take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it's really just a bunch of misleading pro-Israel propoganda.

    That's why it's really been killing me for the last couple of months to see Dershowitz claiming everywhere--from mainstream publications like The New Republic and The Wall Street Journal to David Horowitz's unintentionally amusing FrontPage Magazine--that Finkelstein is the unscholarly nutcase who doesn't deserve tenure. Maybe The Holocaust Industry (which I own but never finished) does have some serious flaws, even though Raul Hilberg doesn't seem to think so. Also, it's true that Finkelstein can be something of a jerk and that he's been guilty of outrageous hyperbole, like that line about three out of four Jews in New York claiming to be a Holocaust survivors. In some ways, he reminds me of early Philip Roth in that he seems to thrive on pissing off other Jewish people. But I think that the guy often knows his stuff very, very well and that his willingness to stick up for the Palestinians is to be admired.

    Anyway, I've gotten pretty obsessed with this tenure case and I should probably try to forget about it. I've been reduced to sending nasty emails about it to David Horowitz, which doesn't seem like a profitable use of time.

  • Melissa||

    "...his willingness to stick up for the Palestinians is to be admired."

    Sticking up for the Palestinians is the mental masturbation of the intellectual class. The Kurds, on the other hand, not so much...

  • John C. Randolph||

    Finkelstein is a self-hating Jew, and he's bloody tedious. If DePaul decided he wasn't worth his salary, that's their choice to make.

    -jcr

  • thoreau||

    One more thing about teaching and research:

    If anything the problem is that we don't combine them enough. Classes are something that we go to at the scheduled times to deliver our lectures, and our research is something we do in time that isn't devoted to classes. Undergraduate involvement in research, introduction of new research into the classroom, and curriculum innovation (a research endeavor in its own right) are only starting to be rewarded, and the research universities have a long way to go.

  • Peter N Kirstein||

    To Thoreau: Dr Finkelstein has written several books and has published more than any other faculty member in his courageous department. To the one who quoted my e-mail to the Cadet. Right on with 3500 KIA in a criminal war. Right on to those who oppose American violence, preemptive war and imperialism.Right on to those who suspended me for daring to oppose this country's policy. Been there done that and am ready to take on those who try to deny tenure and silence American professors who are opposed to racism, colonialism, and the loss of basic free speech rights for humanitarian professors. Also I sign my e-mail> How about you folks showing some guts too.

  • ||

    Since when do we even need tenure to espouse our ideas, however loopy.

    Tenure is a medieval concept and has no place in a modern institution of learning, which should be interested in turning out well educated citizens able to perform in the workplace.

    At the University of Iowa, ny kids have been subject to any manner of "Bush is Hitler" bullshit, even in hard science classes.

    Time for Universities to downsize as the baby boom has passed and place emphasis on competent teaching professionals, not self-hating people of whatever stripe mentally masturbating with a captive platform of people with something to lose if they dare talk back.

    It ain't free speech, people.

  • ||

    But Mr. Wolf, no one at DePaul has questioned the fact that Finkelstein is a competent teaching professional, and no one there has accused him of mentally masturbating with a captive platform of people with something to lose if they dare talk back. In denying tenure to Finkelstein, DePaul's University Board on Promotion and Tenure wrote that, "By all accounts, he is an excellent teacher, popular with his students and effective in the classroom." The board's main complaints were that he has a "deliberately hurtful" and inflammatory style and a tendency to launch ad hominem personal attacks.

  • ||

    How about you folks showing some guts too.

    Because some of us have jobs?

  • ||

    " The board's main complaints were that he has a "deliberately hurtful" and inflammatory style and a tendency to launch ad hominem personal attacks."

    So, why should they continue to employ someone who, by your own account, is an asshole?

    -jcr

  • ||

    Well, my point was that the poster shouldn't have called Finkelstein a horrible teacher when no one at DePaul has said that. But I don't know--do you guys think that all assholes should be fired? Haven't you ever gained something from a writer or teacher who was kind of an asshole? Most of my favorite writers probably fall into that category, but for all I know, the most influential libertarian thinkers have all been kind, gentle souls.

  • ||

    Since I haven't followed Finkelstein too closely, and there are always two sides of a story, I'll defer on Finkelstein as a particular.

    I'm mostly perturbed that profs and TA's can't seem to distinguish between a large classroom, and the business at hand, to do what they are paid to do (teach young minds), and exploring more controversial, even inflammatory ideas in a proper context - a seminar, small groups, and so on, in a more or less equal, collegial setting.

    I wouldn't fire the "Bush is Hitler" folks (hell, they have some good points, if a bit shrill at times), but just keep it in context.

    Any way, we can't fire all the assholes (this would have wiped out 75% of my grad school profs), but we have to keep in mind when speech could be coercive - not that these porfs have made a dent in my libertarian kids POV.

    At the end of the day, we have to remember that the University is an employer, who (or should) be able to hire or fire or even restrict (while on the job) some forms of speech.

    [A counter argument presents itself in the case of the nutjob Noam Chomsky at MIT. Sometimes its worthwhile to keep an aberrant example around for its cautionary example - sort of like keeping just a couple communist basketcases for educational purposes]

  • Ventifact||

    So... there are a lot of unusual names making a lot of unusually lengthy and formally composed posts on this thread. I suppose those folks were just regular H&R lurkers who suddenly got a bug to become essayists on this one topic.

    And if you think it's ungutsy for me to make such statements and not sign with an email address, then maybe you miss the point -- what I have to say. Indeed, perhaps academia is too much about ego and identity, and not about ideas and truth. It's not a particularly conventional expectation that blog posters sign with real contact info.

  • ||

    I found the Cathy Young article by searching for Finkelstein's name on Google News. The only Reason articles I read on a regular basis are the comics by Peter Bagge, who is one of my all-time favorite cartoonists. By the way, he often gets into long, heated arguements about his Reason work and liberatarianism in general with the almost entirely left-liberal posters of The Comics Journal Message Board, so maybe you guys would be interested in those.

  • ||

    Hey Venti -

    Don't know if you're reffering to me, but I'm not an academic - Just a guy with an advanced degree who just went through college orientation with his second kid, hence the venting.

    And, yeah, normally I do lurk, and I need to jump in the pool more often. Thoreau can't have all the fun!

    bizarre side thought due to Mr. Baney- I love comic books and libertarianism, and it seems to be a common thread in many of the Hit & Run posts. Observing that many of us adult comic book lovers have Asperger's Syndrome (a mild form of autism), any correlation/causations to posit out there?

  • ||

    I could swear that this is the second time in the last few weeks when I've heard someone posit an Asperger's Syndrome/comics correlation, but I can't remember the other context.

    For anyone interested in comics and Asperger's, I recommend the one-shot American Splendor: Transatlantic Comics, which seems to be available through a few web sites. It's a collaboration between Harvey Pekar and Colin Warneford, a British artist/writer who has Asperger's. Warneford does an amazing job of illustrating the book and describes his mental condition in detail.

    About comics and libertarianism... Pekar also collaborated with an extreme libertarian/right-wing anarchist named Michael Malice on a graphic novel called Ego & Hubris. It's very interesting, although I don't care for Gary Dumm's artwork. The all-time champion of libertarian comics is Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-Man and has done a lot of work informed by his worship of Ayn Rand. People have described him as socially very odd, and I wouldn't be shocked if he had Asperger's.

  • Ventifact||

    Well, the only thing I can think of regarding Asperger's and comics is that since Asperger's obstructs social interaction a bit, solo activities make sense. But I can't think of why comics would beat out novels, jazz, movies, etc.

  • Tony from TN||

    I am GLAD to see bullies like Finkelstein rejected.

    The tactic of making personal attacks in service of radical views is just too poisonous in the area of political controversies. I say BRAVO to DePaul.

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