Controversial Professor Plans to Risk Arrest After University Cancels His Classes

A professor whose views on the Holocaust irked critics plans to risk arrest by showing up on the first day of classes next week at DePaul University after officials canceled his courses, took away his office and put him on leave.

The private Chicago Catholic university recently informed professor Norman Finkelstein that his three courses were canceled after a dispute over tenure that drew charges of anti-Semitism against him.

Critics find issue with Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, who believes that some Jews have exploited the Holocaust. Finkelstein is the author of five books, including "The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering."

When classes start on Sept. 5, Finkelstein, who teaches political theory, will return to campus in response to "an attack on academic freedom and due process," he said. He was expecting to return this semester to teach "Equality in Social Justice," "Freedom and Empowerment" and an honors seminar.

"As usual I will show up for class on the first day and go to my office. I fully expect to be arrested," Finkelstein told

Finkelstein said the DePaul administration hinted it would cancel his classes after a fight over tenure, but "it was informed that I would not tolerate such a breach of my contractual rights," he said.

"The university has been in communication with Professor Finkelstein throughout the summer and informed him of his status well in advance of the fall quarter," according to a statement released by DePaul University.

DePaul President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider cited criticism of Finkelstein’s writings in a letter dated June 8 to Finkelstein about denial of tenure.

"Scholars must be free to write about even the most controversial issues and to disagree vociferously about each others’ work," according to Holtschneider’s letter posted on Finkelstein's Web site. "But tactics such as ad hominem attacks threaten, rather than enhance, academic freedom. They have no place in the scholarly process."

The letter makes no mention of the cancellation of his courses.

The university put Finkelstein on administrative leave with full pay and benefits last week for 2007-2008, the final year of his contract.

"Administrative leave relieves professors from their teaching responsibilities," according to DePaul's statement. "DePaul is acting well within its rights as an employer and as a university. There is no basis to suggest that DePaul has failed to fulfill any contractual obligations."

University officials informed Finkelstein that he could not have his office space, according to an e-mail message posted on Finkelstein's Web site.

"We do not have office space assigned to you for the coming academic year," according to a recent e-mail from Charles Suchar, professor and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Finkelstein's rocky relationship with the university came to a climax last spring over a fight for tenure. A registered DePaul student group that organized amid the tenure debate plans to back Finkelstein amid the latest scuffle.

The Academic Freedom Committee, with about 20 student members, plans to rally behind Finkelstein to get him back in the classroom on campus, said Kathryn Weber, president of the Academic Freedom Committee.

"We’re hoping that we’ll have a swift resolution towards the beginning of the year," Weber said. "Ideally, these classes will be reinstated. We’re willing to fight hard for them."

Weber, who took two of Finkelstein’s classes, said despite criticism of his teaching, Finkelstein does not bring his opinion into the classroom and offers all sides of an issue to his students.

Finkelstein will teach his courses at the Chicago Public Library, she added.

Students found out they were dropped from the classes when university officials notified via e-mail of the canceled courses.

"Students who registered for courses that will not be offered this term were informed and given detailed instructions on how to register for alternative courses," according to DePaul's statement.

Meanwhile, a faculty advocacy group sent the university a letter demanding the administration reinstate Finkelstein or hold a hearing with an elected faculty body to show cause for the suspension.

"There ought to be a hearing before any such action is taken," said Robert Kreiser, senior program officer for the American Association of University Professors.

Administrative leave with pay isn't justification for removing Finkelstein from teaching, Kreiser said.

"They have the burden of demonstrating that there was good reason to suspend him," Kreiser said.