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Thursday, April 5, 2007
Harvard Law Professor Works to Disrupt Tenure Bid of Longtime Nemesis at DePaul U.
By JENNIFER HOWARD
The highly public feud between Norman G. Finkelstein of DePaul University and Harvard Law School’s Alan M. Dershowitz has taken an unusual procedural twist, with Mr. Dershowitz attempting to weigh in on Mr. Finkelstein’s bid for tenure at DePaul.
How Mr. Dershowitz’s move will play out remains to be seen. Mr. Finkelstein’s department supported his tenure bid, but the dean of his college has refused to support him. A final decision is expected next month.
There’s no love lost between Mr. Finkelstein, an assistant professor of political science, and Mr. Dershowitz, a law professor. The two scholars have attacked each other repeatedly in the past few years, hurling accusations of plagiarism and polemicism at one another.
They’ve taken adversarial stances on such issues as the Israel lobby, anti-Semitism, and what Mr. Finkelstein terms “the Holocaust industry.” Mr. Dershowitz threatened to take legal action against the University of California Press if Mr. Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (2005) went to print with allegations that Mr. Dershowitz plagiarized portions of his 2003 book The Case for Israel (The Chronicle, July 22, 2005).
Last fall, with Mr. Finkelstein up for tenure, Mr. Dershowitz sent the DePaul law school faculty and members of the political-science department what he described, in a letter dated October 3, as a “dossier of Norman Finkelstein’s most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions.”
“I hope that this will serve as an introduction and primer to the so-called scholarship that Finkelstein will present this term as he is considered for tenure,” Mr. Dershowitz wrote.
Mr. Finkelstein said in an interview on Monday that Mr. Dershowitz had embarked on “this frenetic and relentless campaign to deny me tenure.”
“He sent to every member of the law school … a dossier which came, I think, to about 50 pages, leveling or, I should say, recycling all of the allegations he’s been putting forth for the past couple of years. And he sent a copy of that dossier to every member of my department.”
The packet included what Mr. Dershowitz’s letter called “some of the lies I am absolutely confident that Finkelstein told” on such points as Israeli torture and whether or not Mr. Dershowitz writes his own books.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday with The Chronicle, Mr. Dershowitz confirmed that he had sent the information to “everybody who would read it.” He said he had compiled the material at the request of some two dozen DePaul students, alumni, and faculty members who were alarmed at the prospect of Mr. Finkelstein’s receiving tenure.
Asked what he hoped to accomplish, he said, “Revealing the truth — all I’m doing is disclosing the truth.”
Mr. Dershowitz continued, “It would be a disgrace to DePaul University if they were to grant tenure. It would make them the laughing stock of American universities. … His scholarship is no more than ad hominem attacks on his ideological enemies.”
He added, “I think, by every standard, he’s worse than Ward Churchill. … He’s a propagandist, not a scholar.”
Given Mr. Dershowitz’s history of clashes with Mr. Finkelstein, some might conclude that the matter had by now become more personal than professional. Mr. Dershowitz denied that. “For me, it’s not personal. It’s institutional.” He said that Mr. Finkelstein sent “a message to other pro-Israel writers: If you dare write anything scholarly in favor of Israel, I will call you names, I will call you a plagiarist.”
Mr. Dershowitz’s involvement has stirred serious concern among the DePaul faculty.
Gil Gott, a professor of international studies at DePaul who is chairman of its Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Faculty Governance Council, said in an e-mail message on Wednesday that the council had taken up the matter at its November 17, 2006, meeting. (Mr. Gott was not then chair of the council.)
According to the minutes of the session, the council voted unanimously to authorize a letter to DePaul’s president, Dennis H. Holtschneider, and the university’s provost, Helmut P. Epp, along with the president of Harvard University and the dean of Harvard Law school. The letter was to express “the council’s dismay at Professor Dershowitz’s interference in Finkelstein’s tenure and promotion case” and also to explain “that the sanctity of the tenure and promotion process is violated by Professor Dershowitz’s emails.”
The minutes add: “A discussion followed in which members expressed their views that this was a very disturbing intrusion which attacked the sovereignty of an academic institution to govern its own affairs.”
Asked whether it was unusual for a scholar to weigh in on tenure deliberations at another university, Mr. Dershowitz responded, “What’s so unusual about a concerned academic’s objecting to his receiving tenure? He would be the first person in history ever to receive tenure based on no scholarship other than personal attacks.”
Mr. Finkelstein contacted The Chronicle last weekend to discuss his concerns about the status of his case. He said that his department had investigated Mr. Dershowitz’s claims and “concluded that none of the scholarly allegations that Dershowitz leveled against me had any merit.”
But he added: “DePaul is in a growth mode, and they see me as an albatross because they’re getting all this negative publicity because of me. And they want to get rid of me. And now the question is, what’s going to prevail? The principles of fairness, the principles of academic freedom, or power and money in the form of a mailed fist?”
According to Mr. Finkelstein and to departmental reports sent to The Chronicle, his department voted 9 to 3 in favor of granting him tenure, with the majority voicing strong support for his scholarship and giving him high marks for his pedagogy. One of the reports described him as “an outstanding teacher whose contributions to student learning and transformation are impressive.” It concluded that “while not all members of the department share a love of polemic and inflammatory rhetoric as practiced by Norman and his adversaries, there is clearly a substantial and serious record of scholarly production and achievement.”
The College Personnel Committee subsequently voted 5 to 0 in favor of tenure for Mr. Finkelstein. But Charles S. Suchar, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, shot down the recommendation in a March 22, 2007, memo, a copy of which was also obtained by The Chronicle.
In language similar to that used by Mr. Dershowitz, the dean wrote, “I find the personal attacks in many of Dr. Finkelstein’s published books to border on character assassination and, in my opinion, they embody a strategy clearly aimed at destroying the reputation of many who oppose his views.”
Because the process is not yet complete, the DePaul administration has not made a public statement about Mr. Finkelstein’s case.
“No comment at this time,” Mr. Suchar wrote in an e-mail message. “The promotion and tenure review process is still under way, and final decisions are not expected until mid- to late May.” The final decision on whether Mr. Finkelstein receives tenure rests with the provost and president of the university.
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