The controversial Norman Finkelstein has been denied tenure after a bruising battle by DePaul University.
I am of several minds on this. Having not read his scholarship, I register no opinion as to its quality (from the descriptions, I gather I'd disagree with it, but tenure is not contingent on me agreeing with the professor).
A significant part of the denial seems to be justified by Finkelstein's alleged intemperance, ad hominem attacks, and otherwise crude form of discourse, even in his academic works. On the one hand, I do think that treating one's intellectual adversaries with respect and civility is an important part of being an academic. Especially when one is dealing with charged topics, as Finkelstein is, where the dignity, rights, and at times the physical safety of an oppressed group is at stake, this is all the more important. I think that the failure to do so does seriously implicate one's qualifications as a scholar. There is a difference between writing a carefully written piece of scholarship, a la Richard Sander, arguing against Affirmative Action, and a screeching polemic making the same points but calling AA advocates race-baiters, charlatans, reverse-racists, or other such claims. Such incendiaries seem best kept out of the Ivory Tower. On the other hand, I am aware that calls for "civility" can be merely excuses to silence dissenters who refuse to tailor their critiques to generally acceptable norms. By and large, this will hurt minority groups, and that's something that needs to be kept in mind to.
In an ideal world, do I want Finkelstein to be tenured? Honestly, I'm not sure. It would be easy to say that I'd rather him not be teaching anywhere. But that would merely feed into his persecution complex that the big bad Zionist establishment is out to get him. So it might be better if he were to settle down to languish in obscurity at some "third-rate" institution. But this concession dies at the specific. Do I want to see Finkelstein tenured at UCLA? No. DePaul? No. Minnesota-Morris? No. Southwest State Community Technical College? Maybe.
Finally, I am more than a little distressed by the hyperbolic rhetoric from some of Finkelstein's supporters, such as this post (the author of which, like Finkelstein, is Jewish) which calls his critics "academic Brownshirts." The flippant comparison of pro-Israel Jews to Nazis is deeply hurtful and hateful, and is the type of extremist exaggeration that feels like anti-Semitism (regardless of whether the source is Jewish). Whatever Professor Dershowitz and his peers are, they are not Nazis, and it is wrong to refer to them as such. This is what, I believe, people are concerned with when dealing with folks like Finkelstein--it's not that any criticism of Israel is out of bounds, it's that they've so lost touch with reality that they are no longer engaging in academics as much as an anti-Jewish furor.
Navigating these lines is difficult, I grant that, which is why I am not officially taking a position as to whether the tenure denial was justified. I'd like just a little more recognition that many Jews view Norman Finkelstein the way Blacks might view Alan Keyes. When Finkelstein is disrespectful, the disrespect is not taken as being directed just at Alan Dershowitz or Ariel Sharon. It feels like he disrespects Jews qua Jews. And that's neither insignificant nor a footnote.