Sunday, June 17, 2007

Who Is John Simon?

In the week since Professor's Norman Finkelstein and Marueen Larudee were denied tenure by DePaul University, a lot has happened. Feeling that the two progressive faculty members were being targeted because of their political views critical of US and Israeli foreign policy, many took action. Students met with President of the school Fr. Holtschneider, and unhappy with his rationalizations, they sat in his office for 3 days and 2 nights before being kicked out under threat of arrest and expulsion. Community members joined a rally to support academic freedom and the Faculty Council and Administrative Faculty Council held meetings which affirmed that DePaul did not follow the tenure process according to the faculty handbook and authorizing an appeal to the professor's denied tenure.

What is becoming clearer over time is the behind the scenes role played by those who should not have a say in the tenure process. It should be a faculty and student decision, but more and more we are seeing evidence of interference by those with political agendas.

While many people are aware that Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and apologist for Israeli torture tactics, has been lobbying to prevent Finkelstein from receiving tenure, few are aware of some of the details of his influence at DePaul. Dershowitz has claimed in print that his involvement in DePaul's tenure process was a result of being asked into it by Patrick Callahan, the former Political Science department chair. In student's meeting with Fr. Holtschneider though, Holtschneider explained that Dershowitz was inviting himself into the tenure process by e-mailing and asking Holtschneider for a meeting. Holtschneider explained to us that he didn't even read the letters but instead handed them over to DePaul's general council.

It's becoming clear though that Dershowitz's influence at DePaul might go above Holtschneider.

The director of DePaul's Board of Trustee's is a lawyer, John Simon, who works for the law firm Jenner and Block. Jenner and Block has ties to anti-Finkelstein groups like the Jewish United Fund. In fact 50 lawyers with the firm attended a fund raiser for the group, featuring keynote speaker Alan Dershowitz. Recently the Jewish United Fund released a press statement praising DePaul's decision to deny tenure to Finkelstein.

This raises troubling questions. Did John Simon meet with Dershowitz to discuss the Finkelstein tenure case? How much money do anti-Finkelstein groups like the Jewish United Fund donate to DePaul and how much of an influence does this have on a tenure process which is supposed to be independent of the corrupting influence of money? How much influence does the Board of Trustee's have over the tenure process? I am e-mailing both John Simon and Alan Dershowitz with these questions today. Stay tuned for their responses.

For the Faculty Uprising

A showdown is brewing. DePaul faculty council, which represents all the faculty at DePaul, and the Faculty Governance Council, which represents the LA&S faculty, both decided, overwhelmingly, to allow Professor's Finkelstein and Larudee to appeal their tenure denials. The administration is claiming that there is no appeal process for cases like this. Who is right?
To answer that we have to look at the faculty handbook. While the section on tenure doesn't discuss an appeal to the President's decision, a section on contracts does discuss appeal a termination. The language of that section is a little vague though. It refers to a termination of a contract, so it's validity to this case depends on whether you consider the tenure track and tenure one single contract or two separate. It's likely that the school will argue that they are two separate contracts.

It may not matter what the administration argues though.

There were serious inconsistencies with the tenure process. The way the school brought in extraneous evidence into the tenure process is a troubling issue. Fr. Holtschneider accuses Prof. Finkelstein of ad hominum attacks on his colleagues and behavior that is not in accordance with Vincentian Personalism. This is troubling because the tenure process is not the process to determine whether or not a candidate has engaged in such behavior. Even if such behavior was admissible to the tenure process, it would have to be proven in a separate process. For example Thomas Klocek faced a harassment board which asked him to remedy certain issues, which he did not. When his contract was under review, they looked at how he did not meet those standards and decided not to renew his contract. Never before was Finkelstein notified that he was being ad hominum or uncollegial or non-Vincentian. Not even in his yearly tenure reviews.

Also it's important to note that this is a case of the administration seeking to extricate, remove, or at best marginalize, the faculty's voice in regards the tenure process. With Finkelstein, the best support he received came from his colleagues. The Political Science department wanted him as one of their tenured friends, and voted 9-3 to have him inducted into the club. The college of LA&S tenure review board voted 5-0 to approve tenure. Altogether, Finkelstein received 16-7 votes in favor of tenure. Larudee was also overwhelmingly popular among her colleagues. She was supposed to be the chair of the International Studies Department next year. Likely her vote was 17-6.

None of this faculty support mattered to the administration though. When Fr. Holtschneider met with students, he explained to them that the votes did not matter to him, what mattered was the reasoning behind them. Who decides what is and isn't good reasoning though? Reasoning is a subjective thing. I don't find it all to convincing that the universe was created by a magical sky wizard in 7 days. Nor do I find it convincing that Sacco and Vanzetti were murderers, and I don't find the anti-Finkelstein and anti-Larudee arguments convincing either.

What I do find convincing is the idea of democracy, and grassroots power. The decision for tenure should not rest with a dictator like Fr. Holtschneider. It should rest with the faculty and students who make up the tenure review committees and make democratic decisions on the issue.

What next? What should faculty do? Many faculty will try to stay out of the issue and say "I don't know enough about the case," unless it becomes an issue over their power. The AAUP has clear guideline on shared governance which DePaul is violating in it's rush to stamp out academic freedom. Faculty will defend these rights. What we should push is more than simply tenure for two professors, but for the faculty, and students to be the final word on who receives tenure and who does not. That means stripping the president of those powers to decide. This would be a monumental step. To reach that it means the the faculty should go through with the appeal next fall. When the administration refuses to recognize it, the faculty must not budge in their demands. They will have to try different ways to route the administration out of office, and to seize the means to grant tenure themselves in regards to funds, etc. They might want to consider going on strike, even if it's a one day or one week strike. All of this might lead to forming a faculty union or even turning the University into a cooperative where faculty, students and staff own and operate the school in a democratic fashion.

Students Sit-in to Demand Tenure for Palestine Supporting Professors

This article was originally published online by the Electronic Intifada.

You can read the original published article at

This morning, DePaul University students in Chicago began the third day of their sit-in at DePaul President Fr. Holtschneider's office. The students have spent two nights sleeping in the office, a rally is to be held today in solidarity with them and it is possible that the DePaul University Faculty Council will pass a vote of no confidence in the president of the school.

It begins with DePaul Assistant Professor Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein has been writing on and speaking out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine since he received his doctorate at Princeton. He has published six books that have been translated into about 40 languages. This has not been easy for him to do. At every step of the way, Israel's apologists have attempted to drag Finkelstein down.

Finkelstein began teaching at DePaul in 2000 and he was eligible for tenure this 2006-2007 school year. Finkelstein met all the requirements. His teaching is regarded by all as excellent. His scholarship far exceeds the demands of any scholarly institution, and he had completed service through his faculty governance responsibilities and his role as a public intellectual, speaking out across the country. His fellow faculty members in the Political Science Department agreed, and voted 9-3 to approve tenure. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LA&S) tenure review board voted unanimously, 5-0 to approve him for tenure.

However this has not been unopposed by Israel's apologists. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, whose scholarship Finkelstein criticizes in his latest book, lobbied DePaul to deny Finkelstein tenure. By taking Finkelstein's quotes of of context and libeling him as a "holocaust minimizer," among other things, Dershowitz was able to influence three political science professors to write an anti-Finkelstein minority report. This minority report was essentially the basis for the LA&S Dean Charles Suchar's letter recommending against tenure.

Seeing their favorite professor's tenure in jeopardy, students at DePaul reacted. When Finkelstein met with the university level tenure board, 40 students rallied outside the meeting. They collected close to 800 signatures to support tenure, while those concerned about academic freedom signed online petitions calling for a fair tenure process.

DePaul students sitting-In President of DePaul Fr. Holtschneider's office demanding tenure for Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee. (Matt Muchowski)
DePaul students taking part in the sit-in write "TENURE FINKELSTEIN" on the windows of Fr. Holtschneider's office. (Matt Muchowski)

Things continued to become suspicious at DePaul. Alan Dershowitz claimed that he was only involved in the tenure process as he was asked by a political science professor to submit materials about Finkelstein. After students met with Fr. Holtschneider, however, it became clear that Dershowitz was lobbying the president, seeking a meeting with him, which Holtschneider claims was turned down.

More troubling was the fact that the administration was not following the DePaul faculty handbook on tenure. The handbook makes very clear that at every stage of the process, any vote or decision would be communicated to the professor. This was not done for Finkelstein. In their meeting with the DePaul president, students found out that in practice the university had not communicated the university level tenure board decision to professors for the last twenty years. For the last twenty years the administration has not been following the faculty handbook.

On Friday, 8 June, Fr. Holtschneider issued his decision that Finkelstein would not be granted tenure. More surprising was that International Studies Assistant Professor Mehrene Larudee was also denied tenure. Larudee had received unanimous support at both the department and college levels, and even received the support of the dean of LA&S. But she was a vocal critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a vocal supporter of Finkelstein.

Finkelstein was given a three-page letter describing Holtschneider's reasons for denying tenure, citing ad hominem attacks as a principal one. This contradicts the American Association of University Professors Statement of Collegiality that makes clear that issues like alleged "ad hominem attacks" are not criteria for tenure.

Students quickly mobilized. On Monday morning, 11 June, a dozen students entered Fr. Holtschneider's office. They began the sit-in at the conference room. At 3:00 that afternoon, thirty students met with Fr. Holtschneider. They were dissatisfied with the answers he gave and made clear their demands for tenure for both professors.

Since then students have not left the office. They placed signs in the window that are visible on the street level, and have slept in shifts. Some have left to take tests and come back. The students' actions have emboldened the faculty and the community. The faculty council is having a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the issue and, according the Chicago Sun-Times, may vote for a no-confidence measure on the President of DePaul who denied tenure.

A rally is expected at 11:00am Wednesday to support the sit-in, but the administration is telling students that they want the sit-in to end at 5:00pm Wednesday. It has become a test of wills to see who will blink first.

When Finkelstein appeared on Chicago Public Radio, he explained, "By a strange concatenation of events, DePaul University has become a battleground. ... Number one, to defend academic freedom, which is under assault in our country, and is now under assault at DePaul University. And number two, it is a battleground about this hideous forty year old occupation. We as Americans have the right to speak out, to deplore the occupation of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government, which is supported by our tax payer dollars."

Matt Muchowski is an alumn of DePaul University with a degree in Political Science. He has taken several classes with Norman Finkelstein and is currently writing "A People's History of DePaul University."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

DePaul U. Students and Alumni Stage Sit-In to Protest 2 Tenure Denials by Sierra Millman

This article was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It quoted me speaking about the sit-in for Finkelstein's Tenure.

The original article and comments is available here.

A group of students and alumni of DePaul University have spent more than 24 hours in a conference room near the president’s office and say they won’t leave until he agrees to grant tenure to two professors.

“We don’t have anything specific planned yet,” said Matt P. Muchowski, who graduated last June from DePaul with a degree in political science. “At some point, we’ll have to meet with the president again, and, you know, quite frankly, we hope that it will be to accept his retraction of the denial of tenure and to offer tenure.” Mr. Muchowski said he was one of about a dozen students in the conference room now.

The two professors denied tenure are Norman G. Finkelstein and Mehrene E. Larudee. Ms. Larudee, an assistant professor of international studies, believes she did not receive tenure because of her active support of Mr. Finkelstein, an assistant professor of political science. Mr. Finkelstein is known for his strong advocacy of Palestinian rights and an escalating war of words with Alan M. Dershowitz, a law professor at Harvard University and an impassioned defender of Israel, who openly tried to influence Mr. Finkelstein’s tenure case.

About two dozen students waited in the conference room starting on Monday morning and met with DePaul’s president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, that afternoon. He told them that he would not grant tenure to the two professors, a spokeswoman said. She declined to comment on the university’s decision to allow students to continue to occupy the conference room.

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