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The DePaul Dismissals

A major symposium on academic freedom at the University of Chicago on October 12 drew a crowd of nearly 2,000 people to an event which lasted over four hours (audio of the speakers is available at academicfreedomchicago.org).

Moderator Tariq Ali began by noting that the event was inspired by the denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein, and declared that the event was meant to say, “There is where we stand, and this is what are going to defend.”

Noam Chomsky called Finkelstein a scholar “whose work has received the highest praise by some of the most distinguished scholars in the field where he has worked.” Chomsky argued that “truth poses a serious barrier to the policies carried out by state power.” For that reason, “The assault on academic freedom has deep roots and ominous portent.”

Akeel Bilgrami, philosophy professor at Columbia, noted that Finkelstein’s “academic career has been completely ruined...unless some university decides to make its reputation in the most honorable way” by hiring him. He declared that Finkelstein “has produced brilliant and painstaking research.”

Tony Judd of NYU noted that for Norman Finkelstein, without tenure, “the act of speaking out...took very significant courage and has exacted a very significant price.” Judd said he is so alarmed by “the nature of university cowardice in our time.”

John Mearshimer of the University of Chicago expressed alarm that “outside forces have intervened in academia in hiring and tenure decisions,” cancelled speeches, and “they have put pressure on university presses not to publish controversial books.” According to Mearshimer, “the case for his tenure was open-and-shut.”

Evan Lorendo, a DePaul student, called the student protests a “transformative experience.” Lorendo noted, “We run the risk of a self-censoring faculty who are not publishing or saying what they believe....What kind of environment is this?” He said a faculty member came up to them and said, “After seeing what they did to Mehrene, the fear is rising.”

Mehrene Larudee said, “Those of us who care most about academic freedom are those who believe there is some specific truth that will be snuffed out. Most often, it is some kind of truth about injustice.” She added, “If the truth about the Israel/Palestine conflict is lost, there will never be peace and justice.” Larudee said, “If we only defend the academic freedom of those with whom we agree, it may not be there for us.”

Norman Finkelstein argued that in “the search for truth, a fundamental prerequisite is liberty” and “Outside the university, outside the classroom, you should be free to speak your mind like any other citizen in our society.” Finkelstein asked, “What are the proper limits of civility, which any professor has to respect?” He declared, “Inside the classroom, as my students know, I am quite conservative and old-fashioned. It is not a soapbox, it is not a lecturn for indoctrination and toeing the party line. In the classroom, your responsibility as a professor is to stimulate. At a public lecture, it’s quite different. It’s to convince.” He obsered, “In my personal case, the issue of my conduct in the classroom never arose.”
Finkelstein added, “there is a time honored tradition for shouting the emperor is naked.” Finkelstein concluded, “Emily Post’s rules of etiquette, however real the question, is a meaningless sideshow, or a transparent pretext for denying a professor the right the teach on the basis of his or her political beliefs.”

For the complete summary of the academic freedom symposium, go to collegefreedom.blogspot.com