August 29, 2007

"I intend to go to my office on the first day of classes and, if my way is barred, to engage in civil disobedience."

"If arrested, I'll go on a hunger strike. If released, I'll do it all over again. I'll fast in jail for as long as it takes." So says Paul Finkelstein, whose class "Equality in Social Justice" was canceled by DePaul University.

49 comments:

Doyle said...

You should make your support for Finkelstein clearer, Ann. Otherwise your right wing commenters might get the idea you're making fun of him.

Paddy O. said...

Why should he have to fight this on his own? There should be a mass amount of people all showing up to teach the class. They should all go to his office on the first day of classes.

There will be a whole army of courageous men and women teaching "Equality in Social Justice". Because if Paul Finkelstein isn't allowed to teach that class then maybe I wouldn't be allowed, or you, or that person over there. It's our Constitutional right. Truth to power.

"I am Paul Finkelstein."

Freeman Hunt said...

He doesn't have tenure. That being the case, can't DePaul decide who is to teach at the school?

jimbino said...

Finkelstein for Secretary of State!

I am so tired of hearing about Israel for the last 60 years. It was a big mistake to stand by and the Jews settle there. We should have offered them Nevada instead.

There is no excuse for continued US support of Israel, what with its egregious violations of the rights of Arabs, Christians and even some Jews.

XWL said...

Don't know the merits of the position taken by either DePaul or Prof. Finkelstein, but this part of the Chicago Trib story I found interesting.

According to the norms of academia, a professor denied tenure has the right to a final year of teaching at the university that turns him down. The watchdog of those rights is the American Association of University Professors, the umbrella organization of college teachers, which can censure a school found in violation of its ground rules. Such a finding also can be the preliminary to a lawsuit against the university by the faculty member.

According to Jonathan Knight, director of the AAUP's program in academic freedom and tenure, a university owes a faculty member denied tenure more than just a year's salary. He or she has the right to a classroom (and presumably an office). A university can't simply buy him or her out by invoking administrative leave, Knight said.


Not only are lecturers and professors owed salary, not only are they owed lenghty advanced notice regarding staff changes, but they're also owed access to classrooms and offices.

If only all industries worked this way. Your favorite team's struggling QB is owed his starting job, regardless of the wishes of the coaching staff, if it's the 'norm' in the industry.

News anchors are owed that chair, even if an incoming news director decides to change the style of the show.

Sounds to me like DePaul's actions may be unusual in academia, but they are within their rights to pay Finkelstein and keep him from teaching.

DePaul should let him do his 'teach in' and let those students show up to his 'class' if they chose, they won't be under any obligation to give those kids credit, so basically it would be a semester long on-campus club that has a frequent guest lecturer.

But since Noam Chomsky is in Finkelstein's corner, I'm going to definitely side with DePaul's administration on this one, whatever the facts may be.

Original Mike said...

XWL: The article doesn't do a good job of explaining the situation. Typically (though I don't know about De Paul specifically) probationary faculty have 7 years to obtain tenure or they're out. Thus, the tenure descision is made by the end of the 6th year, so if you don't get tenure you have the remaining year of your contract to find a new position.

Ann Althouse said...

XWL: I had that text from the article in my original version of the post, but decided to go for brevity. I also had this from the WaPo story:

After he was denied tenure, Finkelstein, a son of Holocaust survivors, posted a letter on his Web site explaining the school officials' reasons, including Finkelstein's "deliberately hurtful" scholarship along, lack of involvement with the school and tendency for public clashes with other scholars.

"In the opinion of those opposing tenure, your unprofessional personal attacks divert the conversation away from consideration of ideas, and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration," school President Dennis Holtschneider wrote in a letter dated June 8. DePaul at the time verified the letter was authentic.


Does the school consistently apply this principle of requiring complex, layered subtlety, or are they picking on Finkelstein because they don't like his conclusions?

Note that DePaul is a private Catholic school and it cites Vincentian beliefs to support its position.

I'm not taking a position on this story right now because I don't know enough about it yet, but I do care about academic freedom, and my opinion would not depend on where he is on the political spectrum. I'm certainly not making fun of Finkelstein.

Ann Althouse said...

Ann Althouse said...
Freeman: He was denied tenure, but he had another year on his contract. He was scheduled to teach a class, which was full of students, and then it was abruptly canceled. We don't know what the terms of his contract were. Was he entitled to something more than his salary?

Kirk said...

What, no lameness label?

dick said...

If you read what the president of the university said, Finkelstein was not fulfilling the functions for which he was hired and was not up to snuff in his teaching and other duties. Sounds like, if true, it would be grounds for denying tenure to me. Also, should the university permit a professor who is not teaching well to continue his classes, especially in view of the tuition that private universities charge? I would think that his not doing a satisfactory job would also be grounds for not giving him a class to teach. It wouldn't matter what his political ideas were, he is still hired to teach a class and do it adequately at a minimum. If he is not doing so, then he should not be allowed to teach on the university's dime, academic freedom or not. Their classroom, their buildings, their reputation on the line.

Joe said...

Fuck Finkelstein and the bullshit of higher academics. Tenure is nonsense and so is the notion that a teacher has any rights to teach. Asserting that Finkelstein teaching is a sign of "openness" is equally asinine.

XWL said...

I suspect there was an administrative screw up where they had decided they were going to pay him and not have him teach in 2007-8 when they decided not to extend tenure, but the part of the department in charge of the schedule didn't eliminate his class.

Probably the people in charge of that part didn't know he was the only instructor who would teach that class, and it wasn't like replacing an instructor in an Intro to Astronomy class.

It's always simpler to blame incompetence over venality or malice for events like this, though it seems that Finkelstein is generating as much publicity for himself out of this as he can, and this incident will no doubt be a major chapter in the autobiography he's working on.

Seems like the notion of academic freedom goes one way. Instructors are free to do what they want, and administrators should accommodate them.

That's a gross simplification, but it's a strong impression that comes through with cases like this and Ward Churchill and that crazy 9/11 guy at UW (and I'm not equating Finkelstein's ideas with those nuts, but I am accusing him of similar self-promotion and seeking to be a martyr behavior)

And rooting around normanfinkelstein.com (especially these videos of his discussions with Dershowitz), he comes across as a bit of a jerk.

I think it's time teachers from pre school to university professors were welcomed to the wonderful world of being an at-will employee. Might do them some good. Excellent teachers would thrive, and the crappy wouldn't have union rules and tenure to fall back on.

But if the politics of this were reversed and say it was a conservative black man teaching within an African Studies department a popular class that challenged the usual narrative (say, Booker T. Washington was right, and WEB DuBois was a fool), I'd still side with the administration, even if they handled themselves clumsily.

David53 said...

Norms of academia = rights of salary, office space, and a classroom for an unwanted, non-tenured professor.

Is that correct? Because it's the norm it's also a right?

Have universities been sued and lost on these grounds before?

What exactly would be the effects of censure by the AAUP?

Althouse says,

Does the school consistently apply this principle of requiring complex, layered subtlety, or are they picking on Finkelstein because they don't like his conclusions?

Why does it matter? If you work for a corporation and they don't like you for whatever reason, they'll find a way to fire you. Why should this be any different? As you said, Depaul is a private school right? Are they violating any of his constitutional rights?

He had a choice position and chose to use it to expound positions unpopular with his bosses.

I hear they are hiring greeters at Walmart.

rhhardin said...

How does he know he'll survive the hunger strike? He sounds like he plans to return from it.

Original Mike said...

I do find the hunger strike amusing. Who does he think he is, Gandhi?

Bruce Hayden said...

The idea that untenured faculty should get a year of pay after being fired is a bit ludicrous. No wonder academia is in trouble.

I can understand to some extent tenure, as long as it is honestly obtained (and, yes, I aimed the later at a certain Native American studies prof who lied about being an Indian to get his job, tenure, and then chairmanship).

But where in the real world do non-performers get a year of pay after being effectively fired? This whole AAUP thing about non-tenured profs is pretty ridiculous.

SteveR said...

You would at least think he'd figure out how to get along with folks until he got tenure. I am not a big fan of tenure but if it exists (and there are good arguements for it) then it ought to be somewhat hard to obtain.

"Finkelstein, a son of Holocaust survivors" Is that important, how?

Original Mike said...

Bruce, it's called a contract. He has a contract for 7 years. At the end of 6 years, he's told it's not going to be renewed. You have a pronlem with the concept of a contract?

reader_iam said...

"the right to a classroom"

Fundamentally loathsome concept.

The Drill SGT said...

Original Mike said...
XWL: The article doesn't do a good job of explaining the situation. Typically (though I don't know about De Paul specifically) probationary faculty have 7 years to obtain tenure or they're out. Thus, the tenure descision is made by the end of the 6th year, so if you don't get tenure you have the remaining year of your contract to find a new position.
.
.Bruce, it's called a contract. He has a contract for 7 years.


I'm not an academic but I have doubts about any contract or any organization that gives a promise of 7 years of employment at the start of a working relationship. Do Universities really hire a new minted PhD and contractually promise 7 years of salary and classroom access? and if a guy is a loser in year 1? then what, 6 more years of work?

Academics need a better touch of reality. in my world, if you dont perform, somebody will escort you out of the building that day. check will arrive for 2 weeks pay in 2 weeks. that is the professional world. if it is blue collar, don't let the door slam you in the ass on your way out.

Ann Althouse said...

"The idea that untenured faculty should get a year of pay after being fired is a bit ludicrous."

But that isn't the idea, as Mike notes. You have a 7-year term and you learn by the 6th year whether it will be made permanent. If the answer is no, you launch a job search in the 7th year.

If the system were different, competent people would make different choices. Why become a lawprof "at will"? Tenure is part of the allure of the job and it offsets salary limitations. It allows you to speak and write freely, without modifying what you say to preserve your income. Take me for example. I've been out of law practice for more than 20 years. I've devoted myself to this job. Would I have done this if it didn't have the tenure element? I had many options at the point in life when I made this choice, and I have built my salary up over the years. The school might decide I'm too much trouble and that new people would get lower salaries, and where would that leave me? You can say you don't care, but the point is that I took the whole package into account when I opted for this career path and gave up others. If the deal were without tenure, you would get different people taking it. Now, maybe they'd do a better job, and they'd keep hopping to please the administration, but that would be entirely different. What makes you think it would be good?

Synova said...

Sure, a contract is a contract.

But what is this right to a classroom thing?

I suppose it does have something to do with being "right wing" by whatever definition... probably the "living in the real world" definition of "right wing" but the idea that a private university (or even a public one) can't fire you if they find you more trouble than you are worth is... not part of the reality I live in.

Perhaps I should aspire to academia?

The guy has a whole year paid with nothing to do but write a book.

And he complains?

Synova said...

Could you really not practice law if you had to, Ann?

Ann Althouse said...

"Could you really not practice law if you had to, Ann?"

I've been out of the practice of law for 23 years! If I lost my job as a law professor, I personally wouldn't go into the practice of law. I would look for jobs writing about law with newspapers or magazines, or I would simply live in retirement and write free lance. I'd develop book projects. I guess that is to say that there is no way I would ever have to practice law, and other options would work better for me.

The Drill SGT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Drill SGT said...

Ann

is this 7 year thing "custom" or "contract"?

a huge difference to even to us non lawyers.

so if you find out a new assistant professor 1 year into his Teachin gig is a total loser, you folks OWE him a job and a classroom to inflict his views and incompetence on your paying customers for 6 more years?

no wonder you folks cant run a business.

talk about uncontrolled costs and no HR policy.


customer satisfaction be damned, the guild rules rule.

Original Mike said...

Sarge: Good question. At least in my case, it wasn't a 7 years, no condition contract. The first few years (3, IIRC) there had to be a specific renewal of the probationary period each year. So the University had an out if it was clear in the first couple years that I was a loser. As they should.

Ann Althouse said...

Drill, it's a contract, but I haven't seen his contract and don't remember the terms of mine. But if you hire someone as a teacher, then tell him to be an administrator, that seems like a problem. But the teacher could breach the contract too, for example, if he doesn't teach the assigned subject.

MadisonMan said...

The normal expectation is a 7-year probationary period to make tenure. You can negotiate extensions for particularly onerous circumstances (say, a serious health crisis) and stop the tenure clock. And typically the University has some out clauses in the contract -- so they could ditch Professors who are discovered trolling for sex in airport bathrooms, for example.

It's my understanding that in the Finkelstein case, the department voted to grant tenure, and so did the college, but the President overruled. That is highly unusual.

Original Mike said...

...so they could ditch Professors who are discovered trolling for sex in airport bathrooms

Depends on the Department.

Paddy O. said...

There seems to be two aspects to his contract: pay and teaching. The university is fulfilling the contract by paying him for the 2007-2008 year. However, it has decided not to use him as a teacher. Finkelstein is demanding both.

I could understand the conflict if they had decided not to pay him and just cut him loose. However, instead they are saying it is not conducive to the overall teaching atmosphere to keep him around, likely something his colleagues had to support.

That he is, in essence, threatening to throw a tantrum for being paid for not working seems juvenile and suggests validity to the university's decision.

Joe said...

Why become a lawprof "at will"?

To teach for the love of it.

Isn't that the bullshit line teachers and professors always give? Ironically, I attended a university, then graduated from a different college, neither of which had tenure and they had no problem attracting top notch teachers. (One of my fellow students from my alma mater had transfered from UCLA precisely because the teachers were better and the program more practical.)

The Drill SGT said...

That he is, in essence, threatening to throw a tantrum for being paid for not working seems juvenile and suggests validity to the university's decision.

and who'd have thunk it, all this time when folks thought that sabbatical time off was an educrat bennie, and now we learn from the AAUP that paid sabbaticals are in fact an unacceptable punishment.

well let's just stop punishing all those poor profs with paid time off then. and if they have a right to classroom opportunities, shouldn't we increase podium time?

Original Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

"Ironically, I attended a university, then graduated from a different college, neither of which had tenure and they had no problem attracting top notch teachers."

I think law professors are in a different kind of market, but generally, you should want to attract normal people who have financial needs into teaching -- otherwise you'll have a high proportion of woolly-headed misfits.

Original Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Original Mike said...

I suspect if I were to dig into this case, I wouldn't be a fan of what he's teaching. I will argue, however, that whether or not DePaul lets him teach in his last year should rest on his teaching evaluations from his peers and from his students. If there's a problem there, fine, keep him out of the classroom. But, if MM is correct (and MM spanked me this morning for relying on hearsay evidence, so I'm going out on a limb to do it again), it wasn't the Dept. and it wasn't the tenure committee who black balled him, it was the the college President. So there probably wasn't a teaching problem. If there was no previously documented case of poor teaching in his folder, they should let him do his last year and move on.

Pogo said...

There is clearly a need for Chomsky University, a sort of island for misfit University professors. Ward Churchill, Kevin Barrett and Paul Finkelstein can all teach there. It could avoid the hard sciences (and evidence) entirely, and be solely dedicated to the study of bogus, anti-semitic, anti-American, anti-West, anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, and generally leftist thought.

I think there are lots of parents stupid enough to spend $50K annually for a college experience that will leave little Janey Sue totally unready for the real world. But she'll know how to protest!

Trumpit said...

A year or more ago, I listened to a debate between Finkelstein & Dershowitz. Finkelstein lambasted Dershowitz for writing a dishonest book. But, whatever merit there was to Finkelsteins argument, it was lost by the shouting, insulting and obnoxious way that he verbally attacked Dershowitz. He lost the debate by his total lack of class. Dershowitz, to his credit, didn't respond in kind. I think they have a longstanding feud that continues to this day. He can hate Israel all he wants, but I'd never listen to his arguments for a New York minute. Paul Finkelstein can blow it out his nose all he wants. I'll find a sanitary place to hide.

The Drill SGT said...

Pogo said...
There is clearly a need for Chomsky University,


Pogo, there was such a place, but it's going out of business :)

Antioch College is a private, independent liberal arts college in Yellow Springs, Ohio and founder of the six campus Antioch University system. In June 2007, the University’s Board of Trustees announced that the college would be suspending operations as of July 2008, and would try to reopen in 2012.[2] More than half of the Antioch College faculty filed a lawsuit in August of 2007 to bar Antioch University from firing the college's tenured faculty or liquidating the college's assets

a perfect fit. college going bankrupt and the tenured faculty suing demanding that somebody continue to fill the troth they swill at.

Pogo said...

Drill SGT,

Damn. I'm always one step behind. And just today I was thinking about buying some stock in a new comapany called IBM...

Paddy O. said...

whatever merit there was to Finkelsteins argument, it was lost by the shouting, insulting and obnoxious way that he verbally attacked Dershowitz.

Which sounds like a habit of his:
"In the opinion of those opposing tenure, your unprofessional personal attacks divert the conversation away from consideration of ideas, and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration,"

This isn't about particular views. This is about professional behavior. My suspicions is that Finkelstein made the wrong assumption that his particular views would shield him. He overestimated his appeal and engaged in boorish behavior to those he disagreed with. I could be wrong, but it's my suspicion.

This kind of behavior in no way advances academic freedom which depends on the cordial exchange of views, even when there are disagreements.

downtownlad said...

Well he has tons of publicity now.

He aint suffering.

The Drill SGT said...

Pogo,

speaking about bad decisions concerning IBM, consider this bit of history:

In 1980, IBM first approached Bill Gates and Microsoft, to discuss the state of home computers and Microsoft products. Gates gave IBM a few ideas on what would make a great home computer, among them to have Basic written into the ROM chip. Microsoft had already produced several versions of Basic for different computer system beginning with the Altair, so Gates was more than happy to write a version for IBM.

As for an operating system (OS) for the new computers, since Microsoft had never written an operating system before, Gates had suggested that IBM investigate an OS called CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers), written by Gary Kildall of Digital Research. Kindall had his Ph.D. in computers and had written the most successful operating system of the time, selling over 600,000 copies of CP/M, his OS set the standard at that time.

IBM tried to contact Kildall for a meeting, executives met with Mrs. Kildall who refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement. IBM soon returned to Bill Gates and gave Microsoft the contract to write the new operating system, one that would eventually wipe Kildall's CP/M out of common use.

The "Microsoft Disk Operating System" or MS-DOS was based on QDOS, the "Quick and Dirty Operating System" written by Tim Paterson of Seattle Computer Products, for their prototype Intel 8086 based computer.

QDOS was based on Gary Kildall's CP/M, Paterson had bought a CP/M manual and used it as the basis to write his operating system in six weeks, QDOS was different enough from CP/M to be considered legal.

Microsoft bought the rights to QDOS for $50,000, keeping the IBM deal a secret from Seattle Computer Products.

Gates then talked IBM into letting Microsoft retain the rights, to market MS DOS separate from the IBM PC project, Gates proceeded to make a fortune from the licensing of MS-DOS.

In 1981, Tim Paterson quit Seattle Computer Products and found employment at Microsoft.

Pogo said...

I hope Gary Kildall had tenure.

Revenant said...

It is interesting that the two academics cited as defending Finkelstein's work are Noam Chomsky (known for his dalliances with Holocaust deniers) and Raul Hilberg, identified only as a "Dean of Holocaust Studies".

Hilberg is indeed a prominent Holocaust historian, but his work is quite controversial -- he is part of the "functionalist" school that denies the existence of a high-level Nazi plan to eradicate the Jews. Calling him a "dean of Holocaust studies" implies a leadership position that he simply does not have.

His views also explain why he might be sympathetic to Finkelstein. After all, if you believe, as Hilberg does, that the Holocaust just sort of "happened" because of how German society was structured then it isn't really anybody's *fault* -- and if it isn't anybody's fault, then suing someone for their part in it is unfair.

Henry said...

How about this little piece of nonsense:

This year, though, Dean Chuck Suchar found Finkelstein's scholarship inconsistent with "DePaul's Vincentian values," among them respect for others' views.

So he didn't show "respect for others' views"? Is that the best you can do, Chuck?

Maybe you can replace Finkelstein with a golden retriever. That should be safe.

SGT Ted said...

He was a teacher of "Social Justice"?

Finkelstien was engaged in academic fraud. Such nonsense is always fraught with histrionic leftwing politics. It sure isn't scholarship.

But what it comes down to is that he was fired for being an asshole. His hunger strike merely proves the decision to fire him was correct.

Revenant said...

So he didn't show "respect for others' views"? Is that the best you can do, Chuck?

Why should he have to do better? If that is something the school values, the fact that Finkelstein doesn't uphold it is sufficient grounds for kicking him out.