Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bless Me, Father

No one outside of Chicago had heard about DePaul University until the basketball team made the news. Located in a very trendy neighborhood, the Catholic university and the athletic department staff put together some excellent teams and enjoyed a successful run, on into the NCAA Tournament.

With tournament appearances came money, lots of it, and the Vincentian Fathers who run the place sank the largesse back into the university. There was expansion, land acquisitions, buildings bought, new buildings constructed, and the corner of Belden and Sheffield has not looked the same since.

Having a basketball team on television on a regular basis provided the right sort of publicity, and before long the sleepy little private school was attracting more and more students. All to the good, for the purpose of the Congregation of the Mission is to teach. In spite of accepting federal dollars, DePaul held onto their Catholic philosophy, and the school is operated by priests. Where, in all of this, was there any training or preparation to handle a major dust up?

Allan Dershowitz, famous lawyer and frequent talking head, is out to get Norman Finkelstein. The DePaul University assistant professor is up for tenure, but Mr. Dershowitz will have none of it. Threats are flying right and left, while Father Holtschneider, university president, must sort through the babble and make a decision.

Mr. Finkelstein is controversial, taking the position of critic of the State of Israel and the notion of Jewish victimhood. He lashes the Jewish establishment, claiming that they are encouraging anti-Semitism by their actions. Wherever he goes, he attracts a crowd, and his students love his lectures. When a man titles a book The Holocaust Industry and has the likes of Noam Chomsky for a mentor, that man is a magnet for controversy.

To get tenure, college professors are expected to publish, and Mr. Finkelstein has done his bit, producing texts that have garnered positive reviews from scholars. But Allan Dershowitz thinks that the professor is an anti-Semite, and has no business getting tenure from any place. One might presume that Mr. Dershowitz was stung by Beyond Chutzpah, the Finkelstein answer to Dershowitz's The Case For Israel. Probably compared Amazon rankings and found that his tome was not selling anywhere near as well as Finkelstein's counter punch, and isn't there so much jealousy among authors? That, and Finkelstein called Dershowitz a moral pervert. A bit of an insult, and dueling has long since been outlawed, so they go after one another with the mighty word.

So what does the lawyer Dershowitz do? He threatened to sue Mr. Finkelstein's publisher if the 'moral pervert' business appeared in the new book. Just because the insult was not published, however, Mr. Dershowitz has not backed down or gone away. He's barraging the once quiet Catholic university, all in his protracted battle to deny tenure to his nemesis.

Father Holtschneider may be praying for divine guidance on this thorny issue. There's freedom of speech to consider, and freedom to express dissenting opinion. Yet there is a duty to respect the rights of others while upholding the rights of scholarly discussion. Some things they just can't teach a man in the seminary.

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