September 28, 2015
In Blog News
Dear Dr Finkelstein,
First of all let me congratulate you on your successful campaign on behalf of Al Awda hospital in Gaza. it was a really worthwhile cause. Secondly I would like to thank you for your forensic examination of Amnesty’s report on OPE. It was very enlightening and prompted me to write to Amnesty Ireland to complain. It may be of little consequence but it makes me feel I am doing something. Through my son we have, in recent years, met both Palestinians and Israelis. In fact we have had members of both communities staying we us here in Ireland. A Palestinian girl named Madj Stayed with us while on holidays in Spain. Madj’s eyes lit up when I mentioned that I had attended a lecture which you gave in UCD in Dublin. She said that she met you several times and holds you in high regard.
However i write to you now in relation to Pitts. I have written to the Provost R. Bonner on the matter of the cancellation of your invite and I enclose both e-mails. I signed off using my credentials as a veterinary surgeon in order to add a little gravitas to the correspondence.!!!
I am a graduate of UCD Dublin, Ireland, where I qualified in 1974 in Veterinary Medicine. I have had a long and fruitful career both in practice and as a government employee. I am now happily retired and I am in a position to pursue other lifelong interests, which extend over a wide range of fields but my abiding interest has always been in the Middle East conflict between Israel and Palestine. I have read many books on this subject, from authors with diametrically different perspectives on this conflict. I have read, in order to give me a broad view of the subject matter, books written by Efraim Karsh (Palestine Betrayed) to Avi Shlaim (Israel and Palestine) and many other authors including Edward Said, Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, Noam Chomsky, Shlomo Sand and Alan Dershowitz. It is quite evident where the injustices lie in this conflict and who are the oppressors and who are the oppressed.
The author I have found most interesting on this subject, is Dr Norman Finkelstein. Not only is Dr Finkelstein intellectually astute but his academic research is impeccable and stands up to the most rigorous inspection. In his many debates on television and in academic circles, he has rarely been challenged on his presentation of facts and is more likely to be countered with ad hominem attacks from his opponents.
I have had the privilege to meet Dr Finkelstein only once, very briefly, when I attended a lecture he gave on UCD Campus earlier this year. I have found him to be a most engaging speaker. The talk managed to sustain my interest over the one and a half hours. I have no doubt that this is where Dr Finkelstein vocation lies. He seems most happy in this endeavour and interacts with the students in a most natural way.
I read Dr Finkelstein’s website regularly and was surprised to see recently that a lecture that he was to give in Pittsburgh University was cancelled. The reasons given appear vague and convoluted but seems on face value to be a curtailment of academic freedom.
I can see from your website that your University is over 200 years old and has an academically acclaimed history. I note that Jonas Salk was associated with Pittsburgh when he made the dramatic breakthrough, producing a vaccine for the prevention of Polio. Last year your university held the Jonas Salk Centenary Symposium on Sustainability in honour of the great man.When asked about a patent on the vaccine Salk was reputed to have said “there is no patent can you patent the sun”. That action had a real moral resonance, more so today then ever before. I was the recipient of the polio vaccine, like most of my peers, when I was a young boy and many lives were saved and changed as a consequence.
Needless to say Pittsburgh University has a great reputation which will only be sullied by your refusal to allow Dr Finkelstein an opportunity to speak. It is paramount that Universities remain the vehicles for academic freedom, especially when the media in general, more and more, is becoming the preserve of big business.
Dr Tom Partridge MVB MRCVS.
I have just read the article, in The Pitt News, on the controversy surrounding the cancellation of Dr Norman Finkelstein’s invitation to the Symposium. I find the reasons given by the University for the cancellation incredulous to say the least. It would appear implausible that Professor Peterson’s understanding of events as outlined in his original communication with Dr Finkelstein would be so diametrically opposite to accounts given by others subsequently. The chasm between the two versions is so enormous as to seem incredible.
I note that the explanation given, by Brian Sisco, for this difference, is that Peterson had not been involved in any way in the planning and decision making nor was he fully informed throughout the organising process. He goes on further to say that“[Peterson is] not an organizer at all, It’s entirely student-organized. Technically, [he is the] faculty adviser. We approached him … to moderate the event, and we also asked him to be the direct communicator with invitations and such for the professional panel. We just thought that there would be a little bit more, I guess, legitimacy when you have a professor asking another professional”
It would seem ridiculous that if the organising committee having asked Peterson to do a very important job, a job on which the success of the Symposium may well have depended , left him almost entirely out of the loop. Even if he was not involved in the organising process, one would at least expect that he would have been informed of decisions arrived at by the organising committee, so that at the very least he could keep panellists informed and up to speed.
It appears that the fundamental misunderstanding,( the decision to cancel Dr Finkelstein invitation), between Sisco and Peterson took place on Sept. 16 following a rushed meeting between the two and after an e-mail had been sent to Deans Keeler and Bonner informing them of their decision. It would seem that whatever conversation took place that morning, no matter how brief, it seems incredible, that both men could have a totally opposite view on the reason for the cancellation.
I intended to finish my e-mail to you this morning but having read some of the correspondence between Dr Peterson and Dr Finkelstein I feel there is no need for me to speculate further on this matter. It appears that a backlash to Dr Finkelstein’s appearance at the Symposium was anticipated and that the organisers felt confident that they could withstand any anticipated pressure. It would appear that their confidence was ill founded. The name of Pitts has been sullied and dragged through the mud, reputations have been damaged and academic freedom has been dealt a severe blow. It is the worst possible outcome to this sad affair.