יום שלישי, יוני 12, 2007

 

Professor Finkelstein's tenure case

Norman G. Finkelstein, a political science professor at De Paul University, was denied tenure by a vote of his university's campuswide committee on promotions. On the department's website, he is defined as a scholar of "theory of Zionism, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the Nazi holocaust."

Finkelstein has received considerable attention for a book, published by the University of California Press in 2005, Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history. The book has generated considerable controversy (putting it mildly). I have not read the book or a review of it, but from various news stories I am aware of the spat he got into with Alan Dershowitz over this book and some of his other work. Dershowitz reportedly wrote a letter to DePaul against Finkelstein's tenure. Now, I am normally quite ready to back anyone who gets into a spitting war with Dershowitz. But is Finkelstein's academic career really falling victim of his own controversial views?

Finkelstein and his supporters allege that he was denied because of the views he has articulated in the book and other published items. If that is the case, it would be a bad day for academic freedom. However, is it the case? I know little about the standards for tenure at DePaul. The university is not really "on the map" for political science. I know of one study that lists the top 200 political science departments in the world (using a methodology that I consider the best of the many rankings out there). DePaul does not make the list. So the standards for tenure in political science at DePaul presumably are a bit lower than in the circles I am more familiar with. Still, when I downloaded his curriculum vitae from his academic site, I was rather surprised. The man received his Ph.D. in 1988 (from Princeton), the same year as yours truly. Nineteen years is a very long time from Ph.D. to tenure, had it been granted. (I was awarded tenure in 1995, a bit earlier than average, but not by a lot.) It is also a long time to have had only two books published by a university press (besides Beyond Chutzpah with UC, there was The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifadah Years, published by University of Minnesota Press in 1996) and apparently no articles in academic journals. I also note that Finkelstein lists Noam Chomsky (who is not a political scientist) as one of his two references. The other is Avi Shlaim, whom I had not heard of before, but who is a historian of the Arab-Israeli conflict and is at Oxford. Nothing inherently wrong with these references--the lightning-rod nature of Chomsky notwithstanding--but when one is seeking employment or promotion in an academic field, one normally has references within the discipline.

In short, while I can't pretend to offer judgment on the justification, yet alone the motives, of this tenure denial, a quick glance at his record does not exactly allow us to reject the hypothesis that the decision had to do with his academic productivity and impact on the discipline of political science.

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