Did Norman Finkelstein deserve tenure?

Dan Drezner has an excellent post, with which I largely agree.  I haven’t read the guy’s work (I doubt if I would like it), but my smell test suggests the following.  Many non-top universities tenure a large group of faculty members, none of whom really deserve it.  They are insiders, they have friends in the department, the replacements wouldn’t really be better, and so the tenure sticks.  It is quite easy to argue ex post that a "no" vote is warranted in most of these cases.  But if Finkelstein hadn’t done controversial work, he in fact would have received tenure along with many other non-deserving candidates.  He didn’t, and in that sense I also suspect the process was unfair.


Actually, Finkelstein has six books out, although one is co-authored.
Yes, this "collegiality" thing stinks. It is a ruse when there are no
solid grounds for denying tenure otherwise, although I know of a couple
of cases where people were denied tenure by administrators who did not
like them because their service activities were deemed to be of a "low

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"...none of whom really deserve it...."

Just curious, based on what standard do you make that statement?

If you are implying that only "superstars" can get tenure, then almost no one would have tenure.


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Ah! The famous cowen smell test. OK
If Finkelstein is so good, can you sniff around and tell us why he didn't get a non-adjunct position until 10 years after getting his PhD? Obviously there wasn't anyone breaking down his door. Unless, for some reason, DePaul "owed him" for keeping him around for six years, I can't get very worked up about it.

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How about getting rid of tenure? It doesn't exist in business and the professions. Yes, a lawyer or accountant can make partner, but not by the seventh year; and even when they become a partner, they can be fired (or demoted) for doing something less egregious than having illicit relations with the dean's daughter.

If you're a .193 hitter, you go back to the minors. If your sales production plumets, you can easily be shown the door. If you're a trial lawyer and you lose all your cases, you might have trouble obtaining clients. Etc.

Columbia had a professor a few years ago who refused a tenure track position, opting instead for a deal that compensated him for his productivity, not for the tensile strenth of the iron in his butt.
Higher education would improve if a productivity model of compensation replaced the tenure model.

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"...none of whom really deserve it...."

I found that odd too. Most professors make a serious financial sacrifice for academia.

Lets, like Tyler, make the assumption that most professors at lower ranked schools are not productive. Tenure goes to those with the ability to suck up the most. regardless, giving tenure to professors who've stayed at an institution for a long period of time is not a terrible thing. god, don't public schools give out tenure to teachers after 2 or 3.

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Bill Stepp,

Yes, this tenure bit has been argued here before. So, do you really want administrators
to be able to arbitrarily fire controversial professors at the request of some politically
pissed off donor?

Are you willing to pay the much higher tuitions for kids going to college to compensate
faculty for the loss of job security, assuming that you wish to maintain approximately
equally qualified faculty?

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Am an economist that has worked at two non-top (far from top in anything) and currently at a top rate
university. Casual empiricism has shown that the obsession with and arbitrariness of tenure vary
inversely with the quality of the university and the marketability of your field. Political Scientists
at second and third tier universities are obsessed with tenure--as you would expect they would. Economists
in a worse case scenario have several options outside of academe. At top schools you get bounced so
what--you get a gig at a second tier place near a beach. big issue, is the industry structure of
universities. Top places where new ideas are generated and faculty teach 2/2 loads and ofter 1/1--here
you may argue that tenure protects people doing cutting edge research. Other places really focus
on teaching and some applied research--tenure there is just rent seeking.

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Tenure-track positions come with implicit contracts: if you do X, we will give you tenure. Therefore the question should be whether De Paul did or did not uphold their agreement, not whether he should have gotten tenure at some completely imaginary factory-standard university.

I also don't know why people complain about tenure. It is simply a contract between the university and the professor, albeit a rather long one. Are libertarians now opposed to private parties making contracts?

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To Barkley, James et al.,

As a libertarian, I don't stop with "Jail to the chief." I also say abolish the public schools, including taxpayer-financed colleges.
Barkley assumes politically pissed off donors would not donate. Maybe, maybe not. But so what?
In a libertarian world (i.e., one without politics), what does it take to be politically pissed off?
As for James's point about tenure being a contract, I'm not sure. I'd like to know more about its origins.
I also don't believe that state-financed organizations have a right to enter into contracts, at least not ones that libertarians can't bust by saying get your hands off that stolen loot.
Yes, there can be long-term contracts that might have some characteristics of tenure. But the bottom line is that in the real world of business and the professions, no one has tenure and everyone, no matter how long in the saddle, has to produce at some minimum level.
I don't think tenure would exist in a world without publicly-financed schools.

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Professors have no real union and very little market power. In light of that what makes you think that tenure is anything more than an equilibrium outcome. It is not being imposed by any government regulator or being held in place by a unions threats. I always laugh when I hear conservative and libertarians complaining about tenure. Since tenure is not enforced by the government I assume they want the government to step in and abolish a private contract.

I don't belong to a union, nor do I have much market power. Please tell me what "market power" even means in this context.

Equilibrium against what, exactly? Other professors?

And no, I don't want the government to be part of the equation - this isn't a "let's ban tenure" argument, but more of a "why should universities have this system in the first place?"

I found that odd too. Most professors make a serious financial sacrifice for academia.

People who work in the non-profit world, especially at lower than Executive Director level, make a far greater financial sacrifice and there is no model for tenure in the NP world.

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FC said:
"And no, I don't want the government to be part of the equation - this isn't a "let's ban tenure" argument, but more of a 'why should universities have this system in the first place?'"
What you said is: "I agree with the suggestion to eliminate tenure."

Tenure is part of a private contract voluntarily entered into between a firm and a worker. Apparently both parties find contracts with tenure better than other contacts for various reasons. How would you eliminate tenure without government intervention?

What you are proposing is a price control on private contracts in a more or less competitive market.

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I guess we are playing a game of semantics. What I mean is that: were I in a position to be able to affect the contract - which I agree I am not, I am presupposing that I am in this case a univeristy Dean or whoever does create these contracts - I would take tenure off the table.

Posted by: fustercluck at Jun 13, 2007 11:17:53 AM
I doubt you would. You have to pay the wage (tenure is part of that) the market demands, or the quality of your department would suffer.

You sound like a leftest who calls for caps on CEO wages and then when pressed on it says "I am not saying there should be a law, I am just saying if I was on the board of a company I would cap the CEO salary of my company".

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"I'd eliminate tenure and others would follow."
No they wouldn't.

They now have an advantage over you. You have chosen to pay below market wages. Top schools like Harvard worry a lot about a drop in quality often paying a premium (not a discounted wage as you propose) to retain top professors.

This is pretty basic supply and demand competitive market stuff. A firm cannot unilaterally pay less than the market wage and expect to attract the same quality of labor.

I am more interested in why so many conservatives and libertarians have such a knee jerk negative reaction to this particular form of compensation.

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No they wouldn't.

They now have an advantage over you. You have chosen to pay below market wages. Top schools like Harvard worry a lot about a drop in quality often paying a premium (not a discounted wage as you propose) to retain top professors.

a) You're making the (incorrect) assumption that professors choose financial compensation above all other considerations. If that were the case, top notch profs wouldn't enter the profession in the first place as there is plenty more money to be made in the private sector.

b) I believe that if the two choices facing a professor were to teach at Harvard with no chance of tenure vs. teaching at Boston University with a chance of tenure, tenure quickly becomes a nonfactor. Also note the better chance at ancillary income that comes with the "Harvard Professor" title.

I suppose those large companies which were late in the game to cut pension benefits held a temporary hiring advantage over those that had, but this conversation is now moot since these silken safety nets no longer exist. Your premise doesn't hold real world water, sorry.

I believe that Harvard or Yale or Princeton could do away with tenure and suffer no loss in quality. Lower tier schools, perhaps not as easily at first but over time, certainly.

What we have now is what has evolved out of a largely free market, for better or for worse.

Arguing that tenure has arisen as a part of the free market is on par with arguing that trade tariffs have arisen as a part of free trade.

The genesis may have been different as you noted, but both are protectionist measures closing out segments of those wishing to engage in free trade.

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I think you are confusing Phoenix College (a small community college in Arizona founded about 1923) with the University of Phoenix (founded in 1976). The latter is part of the Apollo Education Group, and has been a recognized leader in higher private education, and was a pioneer in online education. It's stock did rather well after its 1994 IPO, although it has struggled a bit lately. Similarly, Indianapolis-based ITT Education has also done well in technology education. (I have owned both stocks in the past.)
To describe either of these as "nowhere, a big fat zero" is just plain wrong, even by the refined sensitivies of an Ivy Leaguer.

And in what sense is Harvard (and other name brand colleges) not for profit? After all, it's got a gazillion dollar endowment, with lots of money invested in hedge funds and other capitalistic endeavors. That money is at risk every day and has earned good, even market beating returns.
Without government subsidies, all educational institutions would be for profit. Their quality would be at least as good and probably a lot better without the State getting involved.

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I believe that if the two choices facing a professor were to teach at Harvard with no chance of tenure vs. teaching at Boston University with a chance of tenure, tenure quickly becomes a nonfactor.

I think it's more likely that the two choices facing a professor might be teaching at Harvard with no chance of tenure versus teaching at Yale with a chance of tenure. That is, there's lots of competition within a given tier (for students as well as faculty, of course, and we've actually seen some collusion among the Ivies just for the purpose of limiting such competition.) Harvard will always have an advantage over a second-tier school, but is it really going to give up some aspect of its competitiveness unilaterally, alone among its peers? I doubt it. At least, not without substituting some other sort of compensation.

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I think it's more likely that the two choices facing a professor might be teaching at Harvard with no chance of tenure versus teaching at Yale with a chance of tenure. That is, there's lots of competition within a given tier (for students as well as faculty, of course, and we've actually seen some collusion among the Ivies just for the purpose of limiting such competition.) Harvard will always have an advantage over a second-tier school, but is it really going to give up some aspect of its competitiveness unilaterally, alone among its peers? I doubt it. At least, not without substituting some other sort of compensation.

Fair enough. But using your example, once those Yale quotas fill up, where are those other top-tier professors going to go? And don't you suspect that Yale, Princeton, Columbia, etc. would eventually start to eradicate tenure as well?

This is what happened in the private sector. Back in the early 80s, I'm sure people were saying the same things you're saying about company pensions.

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No fuster, you didn't blow my mind. Your post made me realize that there is really not any basis for us to have a conversation. You are a shoot-from-the-hip jack-of-all-trades that thinks he has it all figured out. As far as I can tell you lack any real training or expertise in any area that would allow you to substantively comment on tenure (or in fact any of the topics in your list).

But you keep seeing the "real truth" and exposing all the ways that society is duping us and I will go on doing social science. K?

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Bill Stepp,
About to go catch a plane, but I just went through the college search process for a daughter this past year. So, I have the latest US News & World Report manual and Barron's one for colleges around the country, you know, those things put out by evil government agencies, big fat books with thousands of colleges and universities of all types listed in each.

I just checked. Neither lists "The University of Phoenix." So, maybe you made some money on your stocks with them, but Big Fat Zero.

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Bill, you won't get anywhere with these eggheads. They know full well what a racket the institution of higher learning is how a good ole boy network oughta work.

I'm a one-time product of this environment myself, but was lucky (crazy?) enough to have broken free of the insular Elysia and thrown myself to the real world wolves.

Maybe if I spent more time with my nose in social science textbooks I'd be less of a shoot-from-the hip type and might come to learn what the real world is like.

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On point (a) you are simply incorrect; that is if you are willing to take a historical perspective. I will post a link tomorrow at the office where I
can find it easily. In the meantime if you are up to searching a bit you can find it on
Philip R.P. Coelho's home page at Ball State university: Look for the link to the pub with
a title about non-profit institutions and/or tenure (I can't remember his title). Coelho's arguement is that tenured workers are more interested in taking actions that constrain the behavior of adminstrators/controllers/ etc. Its a nice argument; and an economist named Bill Brown has done empirical work that confirms aspects of Coelho's hypothesis. BTW, Coelho's argument was an offshoot of some work by Armen Alchian on residual claimancy in corporations.

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here is the link


you'll find his papers electronically accessible there including the one I mentioned.

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If Kling is saying that given the constraints the optimal choice involves lots of ignorance, Ok, but lets be clear that its due to the constraints. There is no basis for hypothesizing that utility increases in ignorance. If this were true, people would pay more, ceteris paribus, to have English teachers to teach Math and vice versa.

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Did I say "community service", no, I said "service activities (committee work)". As you thought, I meant something very different from community service. Let me give you an example or two. The university I am working for is engaged in lots of strange proposals initiated by various faculty groups and administrators. I serve on various committees and am trying to be sure that common sense prevails (that is, I'm trying to make sure that proposals that would be major blunders for the univesity don't go forward). Another example, I serve on the search committee that is acting to replace the dean of our business college. BTW, if you know any good candidates please send them my way.

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Its not just showing up for meetings; our search committee is initiating contacts as opposed to sitting back waiting for people to respond to our ads. As it turns out there are some untenured faculty on the committee and consistent with the theory, their contributions are spotty (after all, their tenure will be decided primarily upon their research productivity and since they are not tenured their self-interest is not as securely tied to the long-run interest of the university).

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I emailed DePaul President yesterday focussing directly on his given reasons for denying tenure, and why those reasons simply do not hold water:

Below is my email to DePaul University President. It sets out my detailed position - directly focussed on the reasons given for tenure denial - and why they simply do not hold water.

Martin, UK

"From: martin.....@i....com
Sent: Tue, 19 Jun 2007 08.22
To: president@depaul.edu
Subject: Denial of Tenure for Doctors Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee

Dear Fr. Dennis Holtschneider

Please bear with me in taking the liberty of contacting you about what, in normal circumstances, should be a matter for your institution alone. However, since you have yourself made your detailed decision in at least Doctor Finkelstein's case public, I understand that to mean you recognise the circumstances are far from normal.

Let me say straight away that the history of the scholarship of Doctor Finkelstein, both before and during his period at your University, make this very clearly a matter of academic freedom, integrity and honesty in scholarship.

Your decision letter, which I have read most thoroughly and thoughtfully, made the case for denial of tenure based on your characterisation of Doctor Finkelstein as someone who fails to achieve some minimal norms of 'collegiality'; that he engages in frequent 'personal attacks' on those that disagree with him and that he does not 'respect and defend the free enquiry of associates' nor 'show due respect for the opinion of others'.

These are most serious charges and, given that you accept that Doctor Finkelstein's literary scholarship and teaching excellence more than meet the requirements for tenure, one would expect to have specific examples to back up those charges. Alas, you provide none.

That lack of justification in the form of verifiable proof for your charges against Doctor Finkelstein - rather than just third-party expressed 'opinion' - is a very serious omission on your part and of itself places your decision in a position of serious weakness. Moreover, it is disquieting coming from an academic like yourself, given that one could assume and hope that your former academic training would have imbued in you the need to back your arguments with facts. Such a lack of intellectual rigour rather places you at risk of a greater academic failing than the charge you lay against Doctor Finkelstein. After all, while it has been said that in some fields of academic study Harvard was not somewhere that could be faithfully relied upon to supervise its graduate students (see the late Baruch Kimmerling, George S. Wise Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the case of the Phd thesis of Daniel Goldhagen) one hopes that your studies at Harvard were of a more rigorous nature.

So to come to these charges of personal attacks.

Doctor Finkelstein has, since the mid 1980s, been subject to the most personal attacks ('Holocaust Denier', 'Holocaust Minimizer', 'Anti-Semite', 'Self-Hating Jew') from a large number of people. That in itself is nothing out of the ordinary in these - Israeli, Zionist and Arab-Israeli Conflict studies - most difficult of subject areas.

However, every single one of those forms of attack have been made against Doctor Finkelstein by a wide-array of well-known ACADEMICS and specifically by the Harvard Professor of Law Alan Dershowitz. And much more. Dershowitz has publicy verbalised and written, out and out lies about Doctor Finkelstein. You will know of that since your colleague, DePaul Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Charles Suchar and others at DePaul (as well as yourself for all anyone knows) have read the Dershowitz Dossier of charges against Finkelstein. If you have not read it (and I would be somewhat astounded if you hadn't) then please consult the in depth study of the Dershowitz 'List' and 'Dossier' of charges against Doctor Finkelkstein by Dr Frank J Menetrez JD. I don't need to repeat here Dr Menetrez's academic qualifications or awards. You can find those out for yourself. But here is a link to the very detailed analysis of the Dershowitz charges by Dr Menetrez: http://counterpunch.org/menetrez04302007.html

You would have to have a very strange take on the truth and verifiable facts if, having read Dr Menetrez's work, you did not at the very least come to the conclusion that some kind of witch-hunt was being waged against Doctor Finkelstein - and that would hold sway even if Dershowitz's own writing 'The Case for Israel' had not itself been proven to be so faulty as to be a scandal in itself.

Let us be clear about one thing. Doctor Finkelstein's area of scholarly writings focusses on systematically dissecting widely read and published theses on the Holocaust, Zionism and the Arab-Israeli conflict. You will know that his doctoral thesis on Zionism proved the total fabrication of 'From Time Immemorial' by Joan Peters; that his book 'The Holocaust Industry' proved the lack of merit in the settlements made with Swiss Banks; that his book 'Beyond Chutzpah...' proved that Alan Dershowitz employed fabrication, distortion, failure within established academic protocols to cite sources used, and reproduced verbatim - including original author errors - large parts of Joan Peters's discredited work referred to earlier.We see therefore, that it is in fact Doctor Finkelstein himself who has been subject to the most brutal consequences of a lack of 'collegiality'; 'ad hominem' attacks and 'character assassination' covering a period of over 20 years. Even the most cursory examination of the comments of the most respected world figures in the same academic field of studies as Doctor Finkelstein, would place your decision to deny tenure perilously close to being an act that was in concert with the campaign against Doctor Finkelstein. A campaign that seeks to remove him from a position of teaching - not because he is a 'bad' teacher; not because he is a 'failed' scholar; not because he is a 'faulty' scholar; not because his is a scholar of works that have been proven to be 'inaccurate', 'false', 'fabricated' or in any other way not to be trusted. On the contrary, precisely because his scholarship has quite simply lifted the lid on exactly those transgressions in others.

I suggested a cursory examination of the comments of the most highly respected world figures in the relevant field of studies. Let us examine just a few. These people need no introduction as I am sure you are acquainted with their academic credentials.

Raul Hilberg:

On attacks on Doctor Finkelstein:

- "Finkelstein was the first to publish what was happening in his book The Holocaust Industry. And when I was asked to endorse the book, I did so with specific reference to these claims. I was also struck by the fact that Finkelstein was being attacked over and over...but I was saying the same thing, and I had published my results in that three-volume work, published in 2003 by Yale University Press, and I did not hear from anybody a critical word about what I said, even though it was the same substantive conclusion that Finkelstein had offered."

- "it was clear to me already years ago that some campaigns were launched -- from what sector, I didn't know -- to remove him from the academic world."

- "But there is very clearly a campaign, which was made very obvious in the Wall Street Journal, when Professor Dershowitz wrote in a style which is highly uncharacteristic of the editorial page of this newspaper."

On tenure:

"I will say,.. that I am impressed by the analytical abilities of Finkelstein. He is, when all is said and done, a highly trained political scientist who was given a PhD degree by a highly prestigious university. This should not be overlooked."

"It takes an enormous amount of academic courage to speak the truth when no one else is out there to support him."

"That takes a great amount of courage in and of itself. So I would say that his place in the whole history of writing history is assured, and that those who in the end are proven right triumph, and he will be among those who will have triumphed.."

Avi Schlaim:

"I think very highly of Professor Finkelstein. I regard him as a very able, very erudite and original scholar who has made an important contribution to the study of Zionism, to the study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, in particular, to the study of American attitudes towards Israel and towards the Middle East."

"Professor Finkelstein exposed it (Joan Peters's 'From Time Immemorial')* as a hoax, and he showed how dishonest the scholarship or spurious scholarship was in the entire book. And he paid the price for his courage, and he has been a marked man, in a sense, in America ever since. His most recent book is Beyond Chutzpah, follows in the same vein of criticizing and exposing biases and distortions and falsifications in what Americans write about Israel ('The Case for Israel' by Dershowitz)* and about the Middle East. So I consider him to be a very impressive and a very learned and careful scholar."

(* my additions for explanation above in italics)

"his style is very polemical"..."but what really matters in the final analysis is the content, and the content of his books, in my judgement, is of very high quality."

"His last book, Beyond Chutzpah, is based on an amazing amount of research. He seems to have read everything. I find his critique extremely detailed, well-documented and accurate."

Now a purely 'academic' judgement from a UK-based Jewish Zionist, Emeritus Professor of Government, University of Manchester, United Kingdom - Norman Geras:

1) ..extrapolating from what I have read, I'd reckon he was perfectly eligible for tenure.

2) The support for Finkelstein from a scholar of Raul Hilberg's stature.

3) The fact, as reported, that Finkelstein's 'department and a college-level personnel committee both voted in favour of tenure'.

4) The letter received by Finkelstein explaining why tenure had been denied him:

The three-page note cites Finkelstein's "deliberately hurtful" scholarship along with his lack of involvement with the school and his tendency for public clashes with other scholars.

"In the opinion of those opposing tenure, your unprofessional personal attacks divert the conversation away from consideration of ideas, and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration..."

These complaints - 'hurtful' scholarship, 'public clashes with other scholars', and 'polarizing' or 'simplifying' conversations - may say something about how Finkelstein is perceived by many and, indeed, about the sort of person he is, but from the point of view of upholding academic freedom, they are not reassuring ones. The President of DePaul may be satisfied that 'academic freedom is alive and well' at his university, but it needs to demonstrate that its decision in this case hasn't betrayed that principle. You don't have either to agree with or to warm to Norman Finkelstein to find the decision suspect, at best."

See: http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2007/06/norman_finkelst.html

I have not commented on the issue of Doctor Finkelstein exhibiting a lack of 'Vincentian' values by DePaul LAS Dean Suchar, since the very idea is not just an unwarranted insult of massive proportions but simply ludicrous. Doctor Finkelstein's Phd thesis and his exposure of the falsity and fabrication in Joan Peters's book 23 years ago, by itself, was an act of such worthy scholarship; personal courage and of such benefit to the souls and daily lives of millions of Palestinians, that it was of itself a 'Vincentian' act most unlikely ever to be matched by those who so wantonly accuse him lacking such values.

In conclusion, I sincerely hope that you will now initiate an immediate re-examination of your decision in both cases and grant tenure - in the interests of your students and your college since they are the most direct victims of your original, mistaken and insupportable decision.

Yours sincerely

Martin B.....

United Kingdom"

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Please come to aoc money, we will give you a great surprise.

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