Norman Finkelstein ordeal raises questions

Dana Abed and Ellen Francis
Lifestyle Editor and Managing Editor

In the wake of the ongoing debate regarding Norman Finkelstein’s application for a teaching position at AUB, an investigation has revealed further conflicting accounts from various people involved, including Finkelstein himself.

The renowned American political scientist, whose strong views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict propelled him into the spotlight, recently told AUB student Tony Kanaan by email that he had applied to AUB several times but was always rejected. Finkelstein said he knows AUB Provost Ahmad Dallal “quite well,” adding that the provost had once promised to help him get hired, “but nothing ever came of it.” Kanaan, a psychology senior, decided to take this to the student body via the Facebook group “AUB COURSES/TEACHERS GURU,” where a lengthy and heated discussion ensued in the comment section, as is often the case on “GURU.”

As previously reported, Provost Dallal told Outlook that he was not aware of Finkelstein’s application to AUB as he had neither received a recommendation nor heard any opposition related to Finkelstein’s possible appointment.

In a more recent email correspondence with Outlook, however, Finkelstein had a somewhat different story to tell. “I have always had difficulty finding even a part-time position in academia,” he said, after explaining that he received his doctorate from the Princeton University Politics Department in 1988. “Many people over the past couple of decades recommended that I apply to AUB.”

The American professor, author, and activist said he did apply, both “formally and informally,” numerous times. “I distinctly recall applying once to the political science department and once for the rotating Edward Said chair. I was rejected for both positions,” he continued. Dr. Lisa Hajjar, a professor of sociology at the University of California – Santa Barbara, currently holds the position of Edward Said Chair of American Studies at AUB.

According to his email, Finkelstein approached Dr. Ahmad Dallal, “who is an old friend,” when the latter was appointed provost.

“I had dinner at his home, in the company of As’ad AbuKhalil and Dr. Samah Idriss (of Al-Adab publishers),” he added. “We discussed my job prospects at AUB, and Dallal promised to assist me. It is regrettable that he apparently no longer remembers this meeting.”

In order to draw more concrete conclusions, Outlook also recently got in touch with the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), Dr. Patrick McGreevy, who said he agrees with the provost’s response. “Norman Finkelstein has not to my knowledge applied for any position at AUB in the last six years when I have been dean of FAS and Dr. Dallal has been provost.” Prior to that, however, Dr. Finkelstein did visit AUB when he was an invited speaker at the Center of American Studies and Research (CASAR), according to McGreevy.

The FAS Dean continued that Finkelstein had applied to AUB over six years ago, partially confirming the controversial political scientist’s account. “I am aware also that he applied for a visiting position as Edward Said Chair of American Studies, perhaps in 2007 or 2008, but was not selected,” he explained.

As for the reason behind Finkelstein’s rejection, McGreevy said he was unable to disclose such information. “I was on that committee and can verify that he was seriously considered. That’s about all I can say, as a level of confidentiality must be maintained around hiring processes for many reasons, including protecting the privacy of applicants who may not want their current institution to know they are applying elsewhere.”

With more questions raised than answered, the hype around this issue has dwindled down in recent weeks, but it still holds the attention of a relatively significant portion of the AUB community.

Sakhr Munassar, a public administration student in his senior year, said he believes that hiring a well-reputed professor such as Finkelstein could add value to the university. “Finkelstein has his strong stances on a lot of issues, which might upset some people in the country and at AUB,” he said, “but that’s what education is about: getting to explore other points of view in order to create our own.”

While Sakhr does not think students should be so involved in the process of hiring faculty members, he added that “AUB should have valid educational reasons for rejecting applicants, not purely political or interest-oriented ones.”

Second year mechanical engineering student Amjad Kiwan suggested the possibility of Finkelstein’s rejection being due to financial reasons. “Accepting Finkelstein might cause troubles with the American donors,” he explained. “[Perhaps] while AUB is suffering financially, they cannot afford to go through this trouble.”

Karim El Aridi, a third year computer and communication engineering student, did not agree, however. Even though he said he appreciates Finkelstein’s status as a high-profile intellectual, he also thinks that bringing him to AUB might cause problems. “The popular video “tears of the crocodile” in which Dr. Finkelstein accuses a student in the University of Waterloo of fake tears, as she was defending Israel during a lecture he was giving, could push us to think that Finkelstein might not be tolerant of other points of view.”

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