Harvard Law School's "gadfly" (and recently converted torture advocate) Alan M. Dershowitz has made it his personal cause to convince DePaul Law School to deny tenure to Norman G. Finkelstein. In addition to writing a book taking Dershowitz and others to task for exploiting the Holocaust, Finkelstein also accuses Dershowitz of plagiarism, saying some of the things Dershowitz wrote in his 2003 book The Case for Israel were not quite original.
How does a professor at one university communicate his desire that a professor at another university shouldn't receive tenure? As documented by the April 5 Chronicle of Higher Education, well, ruthlessly:
Last fall, with Mr. Finkelstein up for tenure, Mr. Dershowitz sent the DePaul law school faculty and members of the political-science department what he described, in a letter dated October 3, as a "dossier of Norman Finkelstein's most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions." "I hope that this will serve as an introduction and primer to the so- called scholarship that Finkelstein will present this term as he is considered for tenure," Mr. Dershowitz wrote. Mr. Finkelstein said in an interview on Monday that Mr. Dershowitz had embarked on "this frenetic and relentless campaign to deny me tenure." "He sent to every member of the law school ... a dossier which came, I think, to about 50 pages, leveling or, I should say, recycling all of the allegations he's been putting forth for the past couple of years. And he sent a copy of that dossier to every member of my department."The packet included what Mr. Dershowitz's letter called "some of the lies I am absolutely confident that Finkelstein told" on such points asNow a lot of people say that academic politics are "small." Small-minded, perhaps, but in some cases, hardly small in magnitude...and, to be fair, most bourgeois politics fit that description: petty in conception but not in impact. And as much as I thought Dershowitz's book on the O.J. Simpson trial, Reasonable Doubts, was enjoyable, well-argued, and enlightening, I must say I have found most of Dershowitz's attitudes and positions to be not only reactionary, but the kind of reactionary one would expect from someone of great material and institutional privilege.
Israeli torture and whether or not Mr. Dershowitz writes his own books. In a telephone interview on Wednesday with The Chronicle, Mr. Dershowitz confirmed
that he had sent the information to "everybody who would read it." He said he had compiled the material at the request of some two dozen DePaul students, alumni, and faculty members who were alarmed at the prospect of Mr. Finkelstein's receiving tenure.
But more importantly: If Dershowitz did indeed plagiarize sections of his 2003 book, there is no doubt in my mind he won't lose his job, and it's doubtful that Dershowitz's immature nastiness will ruin the academic career of Finkelstein--all of which is more than one can say about Ward Churchill, whose head will end up on a platter for alleged sins just-short-of-routinely committed by other scholars. Not only were the findings in the Churchill case dubious, but the process itself violated the very rules of procedure and due process laid out in the Colorado University rules.
(In a phenomenon that is equally demonstrative of academic politics as microcosm, Churchill's situation has been exacerbated by his own long-term tendency to threaten, verbally brutalize, and dismiss others on the left who might otherwise have come to his defense more frequently and enthusiastically.)
The Churchill case, the battle between Dershowitz and Finkelstein, and countless other academic battles demonstrate that academic politics are not merely localized and irrelevant, but alternate as either microcosms or instantiations of larger political battles. This is a lesson which (although I won't get into the details just yet) I am learning myself as I attempt to make my own little section of the Communication Studies discipline more critical and educational. People get pissed off at you, and not merely for reasons of petty academic territoriality. Ideologies and empires are at stake--and given the fact that millions of working class youth (as well as nontraditional students) go through state universities, and that the line between private school privilege and public university access is at times thinner than we might think, the stakes may be very high indeed.