DePaul’s Jihad against academic freedom

April 18, 2005

In Uncategorized

DePaul University in Chicago is one of the fastest growing universities in the country. It has become the largest Catholic-affiliated university in America. Muslim and Arab students are one of the segments of DePaul’s student population that has seen the greatest increase in numbers in recent years. Although no figures are available, these students are an important source of revenue for the University, and many may well pay full tuition, making their attendance particularly lucrative.

Perhaps in recognition of this market segment, the University hired Norman Finkelstein to teach in its Political Science Department. This acquisition of “talent” took place after Finkelstein had lost his job at two different colleges in New York, following controversy over his support of holocaust denier David Irving and his bitterly abusive attacks on the state of Israel.

DePaul, like many other colleges and universities, may have also received significant funding for new academic chairs and programs from various Arab countries. When a college can find a Jew who loathes Israel like Finkelstein, supports holocaust deniers, and is the go-to-guy on lots of viciously anti-Semitic websites, Arab money is almost sure to follow.

To top it all off, DePaul is currently exhibiting a Palestinian art exhibit, cosponsored by twelve academic departments of the university, which might suggest to any fair minded observer, that for Palestinians, art is defined only by hatred of Israel and Jews.

This is the backdrop for an almost astonishing violation of the academic freedom of Thomas Klocek which has been perpetrated by the University. For 14 years a part time adjunct professor in DePaul’s School of New Learning, Klocek has been a popular professor, with large enrollments, and excellent student reviews for his teaching.

But Klocek has lost his teaching position and school-paid health insurance benefits, and faces a bleak future due to his chronic health problems. He is guilty of a thought-crime, challenging the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel mindset which has come to dominate the DePaul campus

Klocek’s challenge to this new campus orthodoxy occurred in a cafeteria during a student activities fair last September. For 15-20 minutes, Klocek, who is Catholic, not Jewish, confronted a group of 8 students manning two tables for the groups Students for Justice in Palestine, and United Muslims Moving Ahead. Klocek says he argued that the materials the groups were disseminating were one-sided. On this, he is indisputably correct. Neither group pretends to provide balanced information on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. That of course, is perfectly understandable and acceptable. These are advocacy groups.

Klocek says the discussion was heated at times, and he admits to raising his voice. He says he told the students that Palestinians were Arabs who lived in the West Bank and Gaza – that they had no unique national historical identity. He challenged one student’s assertion that Israel was behaving like the Nazis. He stated that while most Muslims were not terrorists, pretty much all terrorists these days were Muslim. This statement had originally been made by the manager of an Arab news channel, and had recently been quoted in the Chicago Sun Times. It has the incidental merit of being true.

Clearly, the students were not used to such a challenge. DePaul in fact has gone out of its way in recent years to make the campus dialogue “safe” for Muslim and Arab students. The University administration warned the campus community after the September 11th attacks that offensive speech hostile to Muslims would not be tolerated.

But speech hostile to Jews, or Israelis, or for that matter, the great mass of Americans grieving and offended by the 9/11 attacks, was perfectly legitimate. While New York and Washington were digging up their 3,000 dead, Muslims students at DePaul were using the post 9/11 environment to publicly attack America and Israel for their crimes and policies at campus forums, paid for with student fees. The campus has welcomed representatives of the Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad to campus. The scurrilous propaganda “documentary” Jenin Jenin has been shown on campus.

I have a bit of personal experience with DePaul’s concept of academic discussion and balance. I was invited a few years back to participate in a debate that was a final class project for a course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There were six debate participants, three on each side. That much seemed fair enough. However the class material that had been distributed to students before the debate had been provided by pro-Palestinian groups including Students for Justice in Palestine. The suggested reading list could have been prepared by Norman Finkelstein himself. Two of the three debate moderators were aggressively hostile to the pro-Israel speakers (the third played it down the middle). The audience constantly interrupted the pro-Israel speakers.

I have participated in several such debates, and the atmosphere at this one was more physically threatening than any other in which I took part. Two of my family members who attended said they were concerned about my safety at times during the debate, as some audience members (almost all of whom were Palestinian supporters) shook their fingers and approached the podium, with the audience loudly cheering and hooting. It was, for a good part of the time, a free-for-all. Such is a final class project at DePaul these days.

During his cafeteria confrontation with the students, Klocek did not identify himself as a professor at the school. He did not know any of the students, and had not had any of them in a class. After realizing that the argument needed to end, Klocek started to walk off. One student then asked if he taught at DePaul, and if so, what classes. The students followed Klocek, eager to continue arguing with him. He signaled he was done with the debate by thumbing his chin, meant to indicate, he says, enough already. The Muslim students later claimed this gesture was obscene.

For his behavior in this brief debate with the students, Klocek, a popular long-time DePaul professor, has lost his job, his health benefits, and has been smeared and humiliated by the University administration.

It has gotten so bad that Klocek has even been told not to pray at the campus chapel, which he formerly did regularly during his DePaul teaching stint. Such is the retribution of a Catholic University for a professor who has taken the risk of challenging the established mindset at DePaul on the subject of Israel and the Palestinians.

It would be too easy to compare Klocek’s alleged misbehavior – engaging in a short debate in a cafeteria with students who were not in any of his classes and who did not even know he was affiliated with DePaul – with the recent well-publicized events at Columbia University. At Columbia, one professor was alleged to have ordered a pro-Israel student out of his classroom, and to have accused a former Israeli soldier of being a murderer at a public lecture. Another professor ridiculed a Jewish student for her eye color, using this as justification to deny any real Semitic link.

Critics of Columbia also have charged that the Middle East Studies Department had become little more than an advocacy forum for Israel-bashing professors. When the charges of faculty misconduct from the Columbia students were considered by a faculty panel, the faculty members appointed by the university were individuals who had demonstrated in the past that they were Palestinian sympathizers. Not surprisingly, with only one small exception, the students’ complaints were rejected. So Columbia University has formally indicated that far more egregious conduct in the classroom is quite important to academic freedom.

What is surprising at DePaul is that groups which might normally come to the defense of a beleaguered professor unjustly removed from his position have been nowhere in sight. The ACLU has been silent. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has also not yet gotten involved. Perhaps for these groups, the “crime” of defending Israel may trump a professor’s right to free speech.

The University wasted little time after hearing of the students’ complaints about Klocek. The students first met with their advisors and then with a series of University administration members. They said that he had insulted them and their religion and (imagine this!) acted as if he was right and they were wrong. DePaul accepted the charges in toto and without holding a hearing (to which Klocek was entitled) quickly suspended the Professor.

The Muslim students also sent out an email to a large population at DePaul declaring a fatwa on Klocek for insulting Islam. With the recent history of the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands, and the secret life of Salmon Rushdie for more than a decade since the Iranian fatwa directed against him, one might have expected DePaul to have viewed this email as possibly threatening to Professor Klocek, and as potentially criminal behavior.

But that would be to misunderstand the political environment and cowardice at DePaul. Threaten the life of a pro-Israel professor, and it is apparently no concern to DePaul’s administration. But argue with a group of pro-Palestinian students, and you create great offense, and hurt.

The public comments by the DePaul administration prove their self-interested narrow vision of academic freedom: the freedom to preach the party line only. Amazingly the President of DePaul, Father Dennis Holtschneider, argues that the proof that DePaul values academic freedom is that they protect Norman Finkelstein’s ability to make his case against holocaust survivors and Israel, regardless of its unpopularity (and regardless of course of its untruth!). For DePaul the defense against charges that it is limiting the ability of pro-Israel speakers to make their case is that they allow anti-Israel speakers to make theirs!

DePaul has argued that they object to Klocek’s behavior, not to his speech nor to his views. This is nonsense. Susanne Dumbleton, Dean of the School of New Learning, Klocek’s boss, made the following priceless remark about the Klocek case :

“No one should ever use the role of teacher to demean the ideas of others or insist on the absoluteness of an opinion, much less press erroneous assertions.”

So what Klocek argued was erroneous (meaning of course that the pro-Israel position is wrong). But at the same time, no opinion should ever be argued as right or wrong (the absoluteness of an opinion). And no teacher should ever tell a student that he is wrong about anything. Make these three contradictory statements in one sentence, and you too qualify to be a dean at DePaul.

When she met with him, Dumbleton also told Klocek that the students were hurt and crushed by his behavior. She effectively accused Klocek of being a religious bigot and a racist with this comment:

“No student anywhere should ever have to be concerned that they will be verbally attacked for their religious beliefs or ethnicity.”

Dumbleton’s comment picked up on the theme of a student emailer who said the incident was a “racist encounter.” Accusing somebody who disagrees with you of being a racist is a very common technique, especially by those who lack history or facts to make their case. Apparently none of the students were so badly injured by Klocek that they missed classes due to their distress.

Dumbleton also accused Klocek of using his power as a professor, and therefore his power over the students, to force them to accept his views as true. But until the students asked, Klocek revealed nothing about his campus teaching role, and had no power relationship (professor with his students) to use against any of the student complainers. DePaul, in defending its actions, went so far as to argue that since Klocek was older than the students, that in and of itself, established a power relationship. Evidently older people are to be cautioned against disagreeing with their juniors, on the danger of wielding power. At DePaul, evidently the student inmates run the asylum, based on the principle of Bizzaro-world seniority.

As for forcing the students to accept his views as true, if that were indeed the case, then Klocek presumably should have stuck around until he forced the students to accept his views, rather than walk off realizing the discussion was not changing anybody’s minds (neither his nor theirs). Klocek clearly accepted that failure to ever agree. What the students seemed to resent, in his view, is that somebody on campus did not accept their views.

Dean Dumbelton said in an interview with the campus paper that she was

“deeply saddened by the loss of intellectual empowerment that the students suffered.”

She later wrote a letter to the same paper that the

“students’ perspective was dishonored, and their freedom demeaned. Individuals were deeply insulted.”

She said she had met with the students and apologized to them for the insult and disrespect they endured.

“I regret the assault on their dignity, their beliefs, their individual selves.”

Remember that these alleged abuses and injuries were all suffered as a result of one 15-minute conversation with Professor Klocek in the cafeteria. One wonders how the University might describe a rape or murder victim. Could such an offense to a victim be any greater than that supposedly suffered by the Muslim students who were forced to discuss their propaganda with somebody who did not agree with them?

As the humorist Dave Barry would say, I am not making any of this up. This is the house of horrors that DePaul has become, and this is how the university administration defends its outrageous behavior. It is why Professor Klocek plans to sue the university.

In the black-is-white, white-is-black world that is DePaul, he has been left with no other option. When you stand for Israel at DePaul, you will not be left standing much longer.

Richard Baehr