Friday, June 22, 2007

Illinois AAUP on DePaul Cases

The Illinois AAUP (which I'm involved with) has sent the following letter today to DePaul University about the tenure controversy:

June 22, 2007

The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D.
President DePaul University
1 E. Jackson
Chicago, Illinois 60604

The Illinois Conference of the American Association of University Professors is deeply concerned about the implications of the denial of tenure and promotion in the cases of Norman G. Finkelstein (Political Science) and Mehrene Larudee (International Studies). Dr. Finkelstein, an internationally known scholar on the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, was recommended by his department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Personnel Committee. Dr. Larudee received recommendations for tenure and promotion from her department, college-wide personnel committee and Dean Chuck Suchar.

We assert that your reasons for denial of tenure to Dr. Finkelstein violate the standards of the A.A.U.P., and those of DePaul's own Faculty Handbook. Your letter of denial of tenure to Dr. Finkelstein, which sustained the 4-3 vote of denial of tenure from the University Board on Promotion and Tenure, focused on the topic of tone and collegiality as evidenced in his writings.

There are also issues related to due process that appear not to have been adhered to in either Dr. Finkelstein's or Dr. Larudee's case. DePaul's rules require allowing a candidate to be not only informed of each decision during the tenure-review process, but also to respond to any negative vote. These likely due process violations of your own regulations are significant if they denied these candidates all due transparency and the right of response.

In particular, we object to the reasoning of the University Board on Promotion and Tenure (U.B.P.T.) which you quote in your June 8, 2007 letter to Dr. Finkelstein. The U.B.P.T. acknowledges Dr. Finkelstein's abilities as a teacher and a scholar, which would normally be more than sufficient to justify tenure. The sole basis of denying tenure, it appears, is the “collegiality” criterion that is invoked, calling Dr. Finkelstein's work “deliberately hurtful” and denouncing him for his “inflammatory style” and “personal attacks” in his writings. The U.B.P.T. declares that these issues are “relevant” because “an academic's reputation is intrinsically tied to the institution of which he or she is affiliated.” It is entirely illegitimate for a university to deny tenure to a professor out of fear that his published research, including those that appear under the University of California Press, might hurt a college's reputation. Please recall the seminal A.A.U.P. 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure affirms “teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and the publication of its results.”

All of these reasons are unsustainable in considering tenure, and threaten academic freedom. Neither A.A.U.P. standards nor DePaul's guidelines allow for “collegiality” to justify a tenure denial. Nor is there any prohibition on alleged “personal attacks” in the writings of scholars. These kind of criteria fall under the category of “collegiality,” that the A.A.U.P. explicitly rejected in its 1999 statement “On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation.” As that statement observed, “Historically, “collegiality” has not infrequently been associated with ensuring homogeneity, and hence with practices that exclude persons on the basis of their differences from a perceived norm…Certainly a college or university replete with genial Babbitts is not the place to which society is likely to look for leadership.”

The June 2006 report of DePaul University's Promotion and Tenure Policy Committee affirms the above assertion in Section W, “The Role of Collegiality:” “The Faculty Handbook does not incorporate collegiality as a criterion in promotion and tenure reviews.” Its “Recommendation:” “Collegiality should not be a factor in a candidate's promotion and tenure review or report.”

You wrote to Professor Finkelstein: “as the American Association of University Professors has recognized, all professors have basic obligations, as colleagues in the community of scholars: (1) to `not discriminate against or harass colleagues,' (2) to `respect and defend the free inquiry of associates,' (3) to `show due respect for the opinions of others,' and (4) to `acknowledge academic debt and strive to be objective in their professional judgment of colleagues.'”

You misconstrue the A.A.U.P.'s Statement on Professional Ethics. These are statements of professional ideals that ideally all scholars would adhere to. These are not enforceable rules to be imposed, in the form of sanctions, on faculty in the tenure process particularly when they are gratuitously applied to monographs and other forms of published research. It is disturbing that you charge Dr. Finkelstein with “unprofessional” misconduct in his writings without even acknowledging the explicit rejection of this charge in the comprehensive report of the Department of Political Science Personnel Committee of November 1, 2006.

While we appreciate your claim that it would be “mistaken” to assume that external parties that “lobbied” DePaul impacted the decision, it appears likely that Professor Finkelstein was denied tenure, at least in part, due to the controversy generated by his publications and the extraordinary public-media blitz campaign that was waged by Professor Alan M. Dershowitz, Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard. Interpretive Comment #2, which is part of the 1940 statement as revised in 1970 affirms: “Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire [1940] statement is designed to foster.”

We respectfully ask you to reverse your decision of June 8, 2007 and grant tenure and promotion to Dr. Finkelstein. We are also deeply concerned about the denying of tenure to Dr. Larudee, who openly supported the academic freedom of Dr. Finkelstein. Such a decision would strengthen academic freedom, restore the reputation of DePaul University as a defender of this precious right, and send a resounding message across academia, that due process, the internal sovereignty of a university's review process and academic freedom shall be preserved and safeguarded.


Leo Welch
President, AAUP-Illinois Conference

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