EXCLUSIVE: Norman Finkelstein requests apology from DePaul



Former professor Norman Finkelstein is demanding DePaul issue him an apology, alleging the university ruined his academic career.

In 2007, former DePaul political science professor Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure. The decision initiated a national controversy about personal feuds in academic settings, violations of academic freedoms and outside interference in tenure processes. 

This past weekend, Finkelstein told The DePaulia in an exclusive interview that for the first time since the incident, he is ready to revisit history and demand an apology from the university. 

“After the DePaul debacle I was never able to teach again,” Finkelstein said. “I never had another job because my name had been so blackened. And because of DePaul, I was destroyed and I want an apology. I want an apology for what they put me through.” 

The New York Times reported in 2007 that Finkelstein was awarded tenure by DePaul’s political science department, but the University Board on Promotion and Tenure rejected his bid. Finkelstein told The DePaulia he hasn’t spoken with any media about his fallout with DePaul since it all happened 14 years ago. 

“I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to return to it,” he said. “But now that I’m writing [a] book, I felt I needed to revisit it and to write an account of what happened.” 

Finkelstein is currently writing a new book about cancel culture and academic freedom, which touches on his experience at DePaul, he told The DePaulia. He has written over 10 books and the next will be titled “Cancel Culture, Academic Freedom, and Me.” It will be the final account of his impressions of and life in academia, he said. 

“How [DePaul] handled my case lingers,” Finkelstein said. “It lingers. It didn’t just disappear. When I was ‘disappeared,’ it lingered. And if DePaul wants to make any progress in rectifying its image, it needs to, it needs to apologize.” 

At the time of Finkelstein’s denial of tenure, many speculated that his departure was tied to his advocacy for Palestine. 

Finkelstein, who is Jewish-American and the son of Holocaust survivors, openly criticized Israel and its treatment towards Palestinians while he was a professor at DePaul. Although he is no longer teaching in an academic setting, Finkelstein is still using his platform to bring light to the conflict and to advocate for Palestinians. 

“I continue to write, I continue to speak, I continue to read,” he said. “I did what I did, then I continue to do it now. I wasn’t in the least bit deterred, with the single exception that I was denied entry into a classroom.” 

As the Israel and Palestine conflict continues to escalate, many social media users have brought Finkelstein’s denial of tenure back to the forefront of the community’s discourse and have been critical of DePaul’s recent statement about the conflict. 

Advocates for Palestine and Finkelstein have taken to Twitter to address their dissatisfaction with the university’s decisions. 

“DePaul University, your statement on Palestine is weak and misinformed,” one Twitter user tweeted.

“as 20,000+ people marched past depaul’s loop campus in solidarity with palestine, vocally opposing US financial backing + political support of israel, i was like damn when are they gonna issue norm finkelstein a public apology (sic),” a different tweet read. 

“depaul is so lame for denying norman finkelstein tenure. i can’t believe i could have been taught by norman and al*n d*rschowitz took that away from me (sic),” another user tweeted.

Russell Dorn, a spokesperson for DePaul, sent The DePaulia an email statement from the university in regards to Finkelstein’s recent demand for an apology.

“It has been almost 14 years since DePaul and Mr. Finkelstein entered into a settlement agreement following the decision on his tenure,” the statement read. “DePaul continues to abide by all the terms of that agreement and has fulfilled its obligations to Mr. Finkelstein. In addition, we must be mindful to respect the privacy of all members of the DePaul community, as the tenure and review process is a confidential evaluation of faculty by faculty.” 

Dorn said the university does not have anything else to share beyond this statement. 

Finkelstein alleged that after the tenure decision was made, DePaul began a series of campaigns against him, he told The DePaulia. He said that it wasn’t until he wrote to DePaul officials that he was going to go public that the university agreed to a cease-and-desist order.   

“It was only because I threatened to go to the Chronicle of Higher Education that [DePaul] desisted,” he said.

Finkelstein told The DePaulia that in 2007 he and the university reached an out-of-court settlement where he then resigned from the university. The agreement was in the form of a private settlement for which certain aspects can’t be made public, including the financial components within it. 

Finkelstein also said there is an anti-defamation clause, meaning he can’t say anything about the university that is factually untrue. 

“I’m going to write the truth about what they did to me, because it’s not known, you know, the written record,” he said. 

During Finkelstein’s tenure process, Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider was the university’s president; in a letter to Finkelstein, Holtschneider wrote that Finkelstein is an excellent teacher and a nationally recognized public intellectual but does not “honor the obligation” to “respect and defend the free inquiry of associates,” according to The New York Times.

DePaul’s tenure process requires faculty to reach qualifications in three criteria: teaching and learning, scholarship and service. 

Chapter 3 (7!1!20 Edition) by DePaulia on Scribd

Finkelstein told The DePaulia that during his tenure process, DePaul abruptly revised the tenure criteria, adding in a component of “Vincentian values” that they claimed Finkelstein did not meet. 

“I met all the conventional criteria of tenure, and then pulled out of the hat [was] this rabbit, called Vincentian values, and [DePaul] used that as grounds for denying me tenure,” Finkelstein said. “I would be surprised if anyone ever in the history of DePaul University was denied tenure on the basis of Vincentian values.”

He told The DePaulia that he believes there was another factor at play in his tenure decision.

“It wasn’t my qualifications for tenure that caused me to be denied,” he said. “The most obvious explanation is it was a decision based on my political convictions and my political beliefs.” 

Finkelstein said at the time he recognized the difficult decision DePaul, as a Catholic university, had to make in regards to granting him tenure. 

“So it’s a Catholic university, which has this controversial Jewish professor who says unkind things about the state of Israel, and its Jewish supporters in the United States,” he said. “And since Catholics in general are very vulnerable on the question of antisemitism … I could understand it [DePaul] was in a difficult position.” 

But he said he wishes the university would have sat down and discussed the conflicts with him and worked out a way to proceed. 

“But that’s not what DePaul did,” he said. “And I can’t really forgive that. And I’m not about to forgive it or forget it.”

While Finkelstein was teaching at DePaul, he made an academic opponent and enemy out of Alan Dershowitz –– the lawyer, defender of the Israeli state and then-Harvard law professor.

The academic affair between Finkelstein and Dershowitz began around September 2003 when Finkelstein appeared on an episode of “Democracy Now!” with Dershowitz and called the Harvard professor out for factual errors and plagiarism in his book “The Case for Israel.”  

At the time of Finkelstein’s tenure bid, Dershowitz lobbied professors, alumni and administration officials from DePaul to deny him tenure, according to The New York Times. 

In a 2012 interview, Dershowitz told John K. Wilson from Academe Blog that he became involved in Finkelstein’s tenure matter after being requested to do so by professor Patrick Callahan –– the chair of DePaul’s political science department at the time. 

The role I played in the DePaul matter was to call attention to his lack of scholarship, his distortion of facts, his miscitation of sources and the one-sidedness of his writings,” Dershowitz told Wilson. “I am proud of the role I played in his tenure decision.” 

Despite Dershowitz’s involvement, Holtschneider said in a statement in 2007 that the outside attention paid to Finkelstein’s bid for tenure had no impact on either the process or the outcome of the case, according to The New York Times. 

“Some will consider this decision in the context of academic freedom. In fact academic freedom is alive and well at DePaul,” Holtschneider’s statement read. 

Craig Sautter is a part-time faculty member at DePaul’s School for Continuing and Professional Studies. He has taught at the university since 1981 and was there during Finkelstein’s bid for tenure. While he was not directly involved in the controversy, he remembers the media attention it received. 

“At the time, I thought DePaul was wrong to deny him tenure, even though I basically disagreed with his approach,” Sautter said. “I am a free speech advocate and believe that students learn how to think critically for themselves if their beliefs get challenged on all sides. I know I was slightly ashamed at DePaul’s decision.”

Around the same time Finkelstein was denied tenure, another DePaul professor, Mehrene E. Larudee was also denied and Finkelstein used his platform to address the unfairness in that process as well. 

Larudee was an assistant professor of International Studies at the time and defended Finkelstein during his tenure case, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported

After Finkelstein was denied tenure, he was still scheduled to continue teaching at DePaul for another year. In September of 2007, DePaul cancelled all of Finkelstein’s future classes. 

On Sept. 5, 2007 –– DePaul’s first day of classes for the fall quarter — dozens of students who  were either former students of Finkelstein’s or enrolled in his cancelled classes showed up to the university’s quad in support of the professor, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The crowd later grew into hundreds containing DePaul students, some faculty and local residents.

“This is kind of like ancient history … four different generations have passed with DePaul. I haven’t a clue what the administration is like now,” Finkelstein said. “What I can speak to is the fact that in my opinion, DePaul has a skeleton in its closet.”