Go Ahead, Circle Your Wagons around Finkelstein
The latest chapter of the Norman Finkelstein tenure saga is unfolding at DePaul. Apparently, Finkelstein’s defenders are exerting outside pressure on DePaul to not cave into — you guessed it — outside pressure. Specifically, Finkelstein’s defenders are concentrating their fire on liberal lion (and civil libertarian) Alan Dershowitz. As I’ve said before, it would be wrong to deny Finkelstein tenure because he is “rude” or “uncivil.” However, if his scholarship is truly shoddy (and that is the core of Dershowitz’s argument), it would be equally wrong to grant him tenure simply as a defiant gesture against his (and the university’s) critics. Finkelstein should stand or fall on his academic record, and there is no doubt that Professor Dershowitz has raised some serious questions about that record. But looking at the bigger picture, the more time the radical academic left spends defending the Norman Finkelsteins and Ward Churchills of the world, the more they make our arguments for us. Their hysterical defenses of shoddy scholars with marginal academic credentials — often on the merits of their radical ideas — speaks loudly to the public and to state legislatures. Unless they have kids in college, members of the public often feel that academia is distant from them and irrelevant to their lives. But even individuals who don’t follow the academic culture wars have heard of Ward Churchill. Let’s be very clear: the academic left’s defense of Ward Churchill or Norman Finkelstein or Joseph Massad goes far beyond any legitimate free speech argument to a vigorous defense of their underlying perspective. Even the free speech arguments are often disingenuous (as evidenced by the deafening silence from Churchill’s free speech advocates at Colorado when conservative students have faced censorship and even physical attacks or the faculty’s unwillingness to defend Thomas Klocek at DePaul. It is the utter inability of the radical academic left to clearly condemn shoddy scholarship, plagiarism, and (in Joseph Massad’s case) the abuse of students that helps make our argument for us.