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April 12, 2007

DePaul Dean Slams Finkelstein

Adding his voice to the chorus of criticism of Norman Finkelstein's work is none other than Charles Suchar, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at DePaul University, where Finkelstein teaches.

In a letter to Depaul's Board on Tenure and Promotion, Suchar noted his opposition to Finkelstein's application for tenure, in part because the assistant professor's scholarship "threatens some basic tenets of discourse within an academic community ...."

The full text of Suchar's letter follows:

March 22, 2007

To: The University Board on Tenure and Promotion

From: Chuck Suchar, Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Re: Norm Finkelstein

Dr. Norm Finkelstein, Assistant Professor of Political Science, has applied for promotion to Associate Professor with tenure. The Department of Political Science, as noted in its majority report, voted 9 in favor and 3 against supporting Prof. Finkelstein’s application for promotion with tenure. A minority report was submitted along with the departmental report. The department also submitted an addendum to the majority report as a response to the minority report.

The College Personnel Committee (CPC), by a unanimous vote of 5-0, also recommends promotion to Associate Professor with tenure. On balance, the CPC views Prof. Finkelstein’s contributions as a teacher and scholar as meeting the College’s criteria and standards for promotion and tenure. I, however, do not concur in this recommendation and withhold my support of this application.

Prof. Finkelstein received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1988. He joined the faculty in the Department of Political Science at DePaul as an Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2001 having spent previous years as an adjunct and visiting professor at Hunter College as well as other institutions.

Dr. Finkelstein teaches a variety of courses in the political science department in the areas of political theory as well as courses that focus on the Israel-Palestine Conflict, international politics, and he has also taught courses in various areas of the Liberal Studies program. These include courses in the Focus Point Seminar program, the Honors Program and a section of the Sophomore Multicultural Seminar. Student course evaluations reveal that he is a skilled teacher. The CPC is particularly impressed with Dr. Finkelstein’s consistently high course evaluations and the apparent positive impact he has made on scores of students throughout the years he has been at DePaul—this in a department with very high average scores on student course evaluations and a reputation for excellence in teaching.

The CPC notes the many comments by students that reflect a “transformative? experience in his classes. The Committee was impressed with how the strong student course evaluations reflected student views of Prof. Finkelstein’s skills in promoting student discussions over very difficult, controversial and complex topics, as well as the depth and breadth of his knowledge. It is noteworthy that no one in the College Personnel Committee, the members of the Political Science Department, including the members of the Political Science department that issued the minority report, disputes Prof. Finkelstein’s skills and abilities as an instructor. I am in agreement with the majority view of the value of Dr. Finkelstein’s contributions as a classroom instructor.

The College Personnel Committee was less than unanimous in its overall assessment of Prof. Finkelstein’s scholarly contributions. While, on balance, the voting members of the Committee were persuaded that his scholarship, while extremely controversial was, to use the words of one member of the committee, “…consistent with the academy and [gave] evidence of a passionate scholarship of high standard?, there were some reservations. The members of the College Personnel Committee unanimously supported the view [and they wished me to express in this report] that Prof. Finkelstein’s scholarship troubled them by its tone and by its frequent personal attacks that seemed to many to be needlessly inflammatory—thus agreeing with that claim in the minority report. To many members of the committee, however, the scholarship was, on balance, sufficiently noteworthy and praiseworthy to merit their support for the application for promotion and tenure. Their vote in favor of granting promotion and tenure reflects their overall perspective that Prof. Finkelstein’s scholarly work has been deemed by his colleagues and external reviewers as being of sufficient value and importance to merit his promotion and tenure.

I find it difficult to share their net assessment of Professor Finkelstein’s scholarly contributions. My own estimation of the tone and substance of his scholarship is that a considerable amount of it is inconsistent with DePaul’s Vincentian values, most particularly our institutional commitment to respect the dignity of the individual and to respect the rights of others to hold and express different intellectual positions—what I take to be one significant meaning of what we term Vincentian “personalism? as well as our commitment to diversity.

In agreement with the minority report, 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. I find this to be an unfortunate characteristic of his scholarship—one that threatens some basic tenets of discourse within an academic community—to conduct inquiry with civility and without undue or unnecessary personal injury or attack.

The departmental minority report cites Dr. Finkelstein’s personal and reputation demeaning attacks on Alan Dershowitz, Benny Morris, and the holocaust authors Eli Wiesel and Jerzy Kosinski. My own examination of Prof. Finkelstein’s works corrobarates the minority report’s claims and conclusions in this regard. My reading of Dr. Finkelstein’s work, especially The Holocaust Industry, where in one chapter alone Goldhagen, Morris, Wiesel, Kosinski and many others are collectively attacked as “hoaxters and huxters?, typifies his apparent penchant of reducing an argument and oppositional views to the inevitable personal and reputation damaging attack, demeaning those with whom he disagrees. It is my view that DePaul’s commitment to personalism basically prohibits addressing individuals with the kind of invective or insult that I find all too common in Dr. Finkelstein’s scholarship where the dignity of the individuals with whom he disagrees are routinely disrespected.

While the CPC found this aspect of Dr. Finkelstein’s scholarship to be troubling but not sufficient to merit rejection of his application for promotion and tenure, I must say that I find this very characteristic aspect of his scholarship to compromise its value and find it to be reflective of an ideologue and polemicist who has a rather hurtful and mean-spirited sub-text to his critical scholarship—not only to prove his point and others wrong but, also in my opinion, in the process, to impugn their veracity, honor, motives, reputations and/or their dignity. I see this as a very damaging threat to civil discourse in a University and in society in general. Such inflammatory polemics in no way further the civil discourse and serious intellectual inquiry that the Academy stands for to say nothing for the deeply shared DePaul University and Vincentian value of “personalism?…respect for the dignity of the individual. I also wish to note that Dr. Finkelstein’s tendency to personally attack those who disagree with him is also borne out in his behavior with his colleagues.

In a memo I received on January 22, 2007, the General Consul’s office informed me that it had learned from DePaul’s Political Science Department that Professor Finkelstein had indicated he was considering filing a law suit against DePaul and his fellow political science professors who had authored the minority report. Disagreements over the value of his work seem to prompt immediate threats and personal attacks. This does not augur well for a College and University that has a long-standing culture where respect for the dignity of all members of the community and where values of collegiality are paramount.

The College Personnel Committee viewed Dr. Finkelstein’s service record as being mixed. Those who accepted the departmental perspective that his contributions as a public intellectual largely established his record of service in his probationary period were satisfied with his service record. A few were vocal in supporting this service record as a significant contribution to DePaul. Several members of the Personnel Committee wished to clearly indicate, however, that they found a service record largely configured through such contributions not to be very convincing. I agree with this latter perspective. Beyond service on departmental committees, I find Dr. Finkelstein’s service contributions to the College and University to be unimpressive. There has been no service on College or University-level committees to my knowledge.

In sum, the College Personnel Committee, by its vote and evaluation, supports Dr. Finkelstein’s request for promotion and tenure. They find his teaching to be exceptional and believe that his scholarship, on balance, meets and, for some, exceeds the minimum standards of the College. The views on his service record are mixed with some supporting the departmental evaluation of his record as a public intellectual as important while others view his service record outside the department as less remarkable. The reservations expressed in this report that reflect the more difficult and contentious aspects of his scholarship that I view as inconsistent with institutional values prevent me from sharing in their support of his application for promotion and tenure.

Posted by GI at April 12, 2007 03:46 PM


This critique, while welcome, does not go far enough. The propagation of demonstrable falsehoods by Finklestein - some of which must surely have come to Suchar's attention - is incompatible with the promotion of scholarly prionciples.

If, in fact, Finkelstein is good at teaching, this makes matters worse.

Posted by: Paul at April 13, 2007 06:00 AM

Alan Dershowitz -- who is behind this whole fiasco -- is completely without morals or scruples. He is simply seeking revenge a debate on Democracy Now, where Finkelstein made a complete fool out of Dershiwitz. Finkelstein then completely discredited Dershowitz's book "The case for Israel" in his book "Beyond Chutzpah". Remember that Dershowitz is the same guy who defended OJ Simpson -- not a good track record.

Posted by: George at April 16, 2007 11:28 PM

How can anyone question the academic importance and value to the community of a scholar whose tools of scholarship and are slander, insults and harassment law suits? I might but for fear of being sued and called bad names on top of it I dare not even hint at such a thing.

Posted by: Bruce at April 19, 2007 02:13 PM

Finkelstein's academic record should be brought into question. He lies and misrepresents even his own source material.

Posted by: Toni at April 19, 2007 04:35 PM

There's no one to blame but Finkelstein himself. Accusing Dershowitz of having no morals or scruples is an attempt to DISTRACT FROM Finkelstein's own "track record," but it certainly doesn't CHANGE Finkelstein's disturbing, hate-filled, record.

Posted by: jones at April 24, 2007 12:36 PM

I am not a student nor a faculty member at De Paul. However, having read much of Dr. Finkelstein's work I think that it is of high quality. The fact that it is controversial and that he has been personally attacked by some prominent academics should not be a reason for De Paul to back down in the face of this criticism and deny him tenure. According to the Dean's dissenting report, the faculty, the students and the CPC, all praise his work and are at the very least sufficiently satisfied to reccommend promotion. Outside commentators should be summarily disregarded especially since at least one of them is at least as personally abusive toward Dr. Finkelstein as he is criticised as being toward them. Perhaps someone should write to Harvard with the same complaint as De Paul received. It is true that Finkelstein should tone down the rhetoric since it only deflects legitimate criticism from the topic at hand and focuses it instead on his personality.

It is also worth considering the source of the pressures which made the Polish Embassy cancel Dr. Finkelstein's lecutre and which encouraged Yale to deny a position to Dr. Juan Cole. If these are the same pressure groups at work in this case, then De Paul should demonstrate its legendary Vincentian moral courage and make its own decision based on its own standards. I am a graduate of a Jesuit university and I would hope they would do the same in a similar case.

Posted by: Dave Orintas at April 25, 2007 02:46 PM

True, the fact that Finkelstein's work is controversial is not a reason to deny tenure.

But the fact that it is a travesty of scholarship, agitprop that overtly rips facts (and falsehoods dressed as fact) from their context, before brushing this context under the rug along with any facts that contradict his extremist theses so that readers and students don't have to grapple with the true complexity of the issue, is a better reason. We expect more from our universities.

Posted by: william p at May 3, 2007 12:02 PM

It is curious to note that certain of Finkelstein's supporters appear to have taken a page from his playbook: attack individuals without regard to content. Specifically, George (supra) states that Dershowitz is without morals or sruples, without noting that it was Finkelstein's accusations of plagiarism against Dershowitz (accusations which were proven unfounded) that catalyzed the dispute between the two. Finkelstein is now tasting voices of opposition which he has long tried to mute.

Posted by: vabsalom at May 8, 2007 05:10 PM

I think the debate should focus solely on the quality of Finkelstein's scholarship--and there seem to be many who believe Finkelstein's scholarship is of insufficient quality to warrant tenure.

Finkelstein's support appears to be based on the fact that he is controversial -- not that he is thorough and rigorous in his research. Surely this is not basis enough to grant tenure.

Posted by: Grace W at May 9, 2007 05:09 PM

Alan Dershowitz is a foreign agent. Working for the likud( Israel). He should be deported to Israel. The Bar Association and Harvard should kick him out. Fight Fire with Fire!!!

Posted by: lida at May 10, 2007 01:17 PM

Thank you, Lida, for that oh so insightful addition to this conversation!! What would we have done without that nugget of wisdom??

Posted by: Anonymous at May 10, 2007 02:57 PM

thank you lida. to the point. this is a fight between Imperialist minded/AIPAC-ADL gangs and those who challenge it. How much did Suchar receive from Dershowitz/Israeli lobby?

Posted by: rodeo at May 12, 2007 02:02 AM

Hmm. This letter mostly backs up Finkelstein's scholarship. The Dean is basically saying that Finkelstein should be denied tenure because of some of the claims he makes against certain individuals (i.e. Dershowitz) is offensive. Dershowitz is the one who orchestrated this witch hunt against Finkelstein. Finkelstein is unpopular because he can be overly blunt about the truth and it "hurts" people's feelings. Nonetheless its good scholarship. Finkelstein holds his own in debates with both Dershowitz and Schlomo Ben-Ami.

Posted by: Matt Shelton at August 12, 2009 04:13 AM

I see a lot of the commenters above "interpreting" Suchar's letter and concluding that Finkelstein was denied tenure because of bad scholarship.

But the letter does not say that -- nor should it, since Finkelstein's scholarship has been praised by the likes of Raul Hilberg. The letter essentially says that Finkelstein's manners are bad and incompatible with DePaul's values, which favor politeness in debate.

There may well be "many who believe Finkelstein's scholarship is of insufficient quality to warrant tenure," as a commenter above claims. But neither the College Personnel Committee nor dean Suchar are among that group.

Posted by: Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf at August 31, 2009 08:19 PM


You are not a very accurate reader. Clearly you err in saying that "Suchar is not among the many who believe Finkelstein's scholarship is of insufficient quality to warrant tenure." Quite the contrary, Suchar wrote that while some members believed that Finkelstein's scholarship "was, on balance, sufficiently noteworthy and praiseworthy to merit their support for the application for promotion and tenure," he clearly stated that "I find it difficult to share their net assessment of Professor Finkelstein’s scholarly contributions." Thus Suchar is stating the opposite of what you attribute to him.

Posted by: Lara at September 1, 2009 12:54 PM

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