Saturday, April 28, 2007

Finkelstein and Klocek

Earlier, I criticized FIRE for the presence of Candace de Russy on their board. Here’s an example of why I think she’s an enemy of academic freedom. Less than six months ago, de Russy denounced DePaul for firing “stellar” adjunct professor Thomas Klocek, attacking DePaul for violating “Fair treatment of Klocek and his constitutional rights.” Of course, the constitution doesn’t apply to private colleges, but de Russy proclaimed the case as “the subjugation of academic freedom to Sharia.”

Yet de Russy last week embraced the idea of DePaul firing Norman Finkelstein for a similar charge of rudeness: “Those at DePaul who care about the integrity of the Catholic-Vincentian academic ethos now have a rare opportunity to explain and defend this philosophy and, indeed, the neglected notion that ethical standards count in the appointment and promotion of professors.”

Would de Russy call the Finkelstein case the subjugation of academic freedom to Zionism? Of course not, because that would be silly. In reality, both Finkelstein and Klocek have fallen victim to a misguided notion of “civility” which is used to punish professors who engage in angry rhetoric over controversial issues.

There are some small differences between the two cases: Klocek was punished for his personal interactions, while Finkelstein is being attacked for his writings; Klocek was offered the chance to teach if he apologized to the students and allowed administrators to monitor his class (which he rightly rejected), while Finkelstein may be fired no matter what he does. Klocek was denied due process, while Finkelstein is going through the process (and therefore may be more likely to keep his job). But at a basic, principled level, the Klocek and Finkelstein cases are the same. That’s why de Russy is a hypocrite, and why CAIR Chicago deserves criticism for similar hypocrisy from the opposite side, in seeking to have Klocek fired while defending Finkelstein.

De Russy asks, “Where are the higher education leaders able to stand up to extremists?” Apparently not at DePaul, whether the extremists are de Russy or her opponents.

Despite de Russy, I hope that FIRE will stand for Norman Finkelstein’s rights with the same devotion that it defended Klocek.

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