Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Target of a Witch Hunt

A Conversation with Norman Finkelstein


"Norman Finkelstein is the target of a witch-hunt that could cost him his job teaching at DePaul University in Chicago.

An outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights as well as a renowned scholar with a reputation for exceptional teaching, Finkelstein is being considered for tenure at DePaul. He won strong support from the political science department and the personnel committee of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, but DePaul's dean refused to back his application for tenure.

Finkelstein's longtime adversary, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, has publicly campaigned against Finkelstein getting tenure at DePaul. DePaul's provost will make his decision before June, and the university president has until June 15, the last day of the quarter at DePaul, to issue his final word.

Students and faculty have come to Finkelstein's defense. Hundreds signed a petition of support, and pickets and meetings were organized to draw attention to the case. Students began wearing armbands this week to show their solidarity, and plans are in the works for a week of support events starting May 21, culminating in a demonstration and town hall meeting on May 24.......

WHAT DO you think the state of academic freedom in the U.S. today?

I'M NOT as hysterical about these issues as other people. Mine is kind of an unusual case, because I don't confine my activity to academia. I speak before large numbers of audiences and I'm a known quantity outside the ivory tower, and so I pose many more problems to the powers that be than most academics.

I could be wrong on this subject, but I don't think that academic freedom is being threatened. There are some cases, but my case is simply unusual because I'm a political activist outside the ivory tower of academia.

DO YOU think that professors have an obligation to engage in political activity?

THEY DON'T have an obligation as professors; they have an obligation as citizens. They have the luxury of devoting their working life to trying to ferret out the facts and the truth about what's going on.

For most other working people, their working lives are devoted to jobs which have minimal levels of personal gratification and have very little to do with mental activity of the sort that creates informed citizens. So since you have the luxury of sitting around and reading books, you do have an obligation as a citizen to pursue and expose the truth."

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