Friday, April 1, 2005

Regarding the ongoing saga of DePaul University professor Thomas Klocek (see previous posts here, here and here) - I have received a copy of the email response DePaul's President has sent out to someone who contacted him about the issue. He has agreed to have his email shared publicly. Rev. Holtschneider responds to the notice many have taken (I mentioned it in my first post on the issue, and it has been brought out in many other places, as well - see here for instance) that DePaul employs noted Holocaust minimizer and "anti-Zionist", Norman Finkelstein. Some have noted that Finkelstein's presence on campus belies the idea that the University is a place where all student's and their "narratives" and backgrounds are equally protected - that some may be more protected than others. (See that first entry for links to the DePaul student paper to see what I'm getting at.)

Here is the President's letter:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding adjunct instructor Thomas Klocek, and for the evident concern and ideals you hold deeply in your heart.

As you might suspect, some media accounts of this situation had omissions and inaccuracies, which were repeated via Web sites and blogs.

Because this is a personnel matter and privacy rights must prevail, and also because this instructor is threatening legal action unless the university pays him a great deal of money, I am not able to respond in full detail. However, this issue is not about academic freedom. It is about inappropriate and threatening behavior.

DePaul University has great respect for academic freedom. You can find evidence of DePaul's commitment to the free exchange of ideas throughout the university--in the formal curriculum, the range of faculty scholarship, and our co-curricular activities. On a daily basis, faculty and staff are committed to fully exploring with students the most important ideas of our time, including difficult and contentious issues. Our mission leads us to engage ideas in ways that respect the dignity and worth of each individual. This commitment and mission applies to this incident, as well.

Last September, while students were passing out literature at a table in the cafeteria, Mr. Klocek confronted them in a belligerent and menacing manner. He raised his voice, threw pamphlets at students, pointed his finger near their faces and displayed a gesture interpreted as obscene. This continued for some time before other students in the cafeteria summoned staff help to intervene.

After conversations during which Mr. Klocek would not acknowledge the inappropriateness of his behavior, we reached a mutual decision that he would withdraw from his single-course teaching assignment, with pay and medical benefits, while he attended to personal health issues that we discovered were impacting his effectiveness in the classroom.

DePaul offered to give Mr. Klocek a spring quarter class assignment if he met with the students to apologize for his behavior and if the program director could drop by his class to ensure that the health issues that affected his teaching were resolved. He refused.

As an adjunct instructor who is hired on an as-needed basis each term, Mr. Klocek does not receive the same privileges as full-time tenured professors. However, the university and its Faculty Council have encouraged him to file a grievance and receive the hearing he claims he was denied. In the six months since that suggestion was made, Mr. Klocek has not done so. Instead, his lawyer threatened DePaul with litigation and demanded a large sum of money. Then, he hired a publicist in an attempt to exert pressure to secure the financial settlement.

You noted the contrast between Mr. Klocek's situation and that of Dr. Norman Finkelstein, an assistant professor of political science at DePaul. While the incident involving Mr. Klocek had nothing to do with academic freedom, Dr. Finkelstein's position in the university community has everything to do with it.

Dr. Finkelstein was hired at the recommendation of the Political Science faculty after extensive reference checks and an evaluation of the quality of his teaching. The faculty were aware of his published works that have provoked disagreement from many quarters, but also recognized that mainstream publishers, publications and reviewers have taken his research seriously, if critically.

Dr. Finkelstein has fulfilled his teaching responsibilities and presented his views at forums alongside other faculty who hold opinions that differ from his, thus contributing to the marketplace of ideas where concepts rise and fall on their merits. As is always the case, the ideas that a faculty member expresses are his alone and do not represent those of other members of the DePaul community or the university as a corporate entity.

We are confident that those who find his views distasteful, especially DePaul's longstanding friends in the Jewish community, will recognize the need for us to refrain from censorship in order to ensure that all viewpoints on a given issue at a particular moment in time can be heard.

We have learned throughout history that the greater good is served when all people are allowed to express an opinion.
DePaul is continuing to honor its century-long tradition of academic freedom, open expression, and due process. But DePaul also will continue to insist on the highest professional standards of behavior from our faculty and staff. Our students and alumni deserve no less.

Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M.

One may be reasonably skeptical of President Holtschneider's contention that it is only the appropriateness of the behavior - not the content of the ideas - that separate Klocek from Finklestein when one reads the portrayal of the case in the Depaul paper, and especially when one reads the letter from Dean Susanne Dumbleton of the School for New Learning in that same paper:

...No students anywhere should ever have to be concerned that they will be verbally attacked for their religious belief or ethnicity. 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. This is particularly true at DePaul, which strives to be an institution in which the values of all faiths and all peoples are held in high esteem.

That does not mean that every person at a university needs to agree with the ideas of every other person. The opposite is true. The university must serve as a forum at which individuals are able to express contrary ideas, debate opposing positions, challenge assumptions, press areas of the unknown, and consider unimagined possibilities. Vital to such a forum is the climate of openness.

On Sept. 15, at the Loop Student Involvement Fair, these assumptions were violated. The students’ perspective was dishonored and their freedom demeaned. Individuals were deeply insulted.

Our college acted immediately by removing the instructor from the classroom. This is a part-time faculty member, whom the university contracts for individual courses. He has no further responsibilities with the university at this time.

In my meeting with the students on Sept. 23, I apologized to them for the insult and disrespect they had endured, acknowledged the seriousness of the offense, and informed them that this teacher had been removed from class. I repeat that apology now. I sincerely regret the assault on their dignity, their beliefs, their individual selves, and I continue to be saddened by the fact that they have experienced such pain at the hands of a person who taught at my school, which has defined commitment to social justice as one of its core values. Indeed, our mission says: “SNL deliberately works to shape a more just, livable world; to ensure that those who have historically been ignored, excluded, marginalized, oppressed and economically disenfranchised benefit from the many learning opportunities available through SNL and beyond.

In its curriculum, its classroom environments, its assessment practices, its advising strategies, and its formal advocacy, SNL creates an intellectual and social milieu where a plurality of worldviews, cultures and value systems are respected, understood, encouraged and appreciated.” ...

That certainly sounds to me like there are some ideas that are acceptable, and some that are not. Is a professor required to respect erroneous beliefs? Are students required to be shielded from uncomfortable truths? How does doing so square with the Academy's purpose as a place of Truth? The Dean's words seem to be at odds with the President's assertions, for there is nothing in the Dean's letter that indicates that, even had Professor Klocek's remarks been made with the utmost propriety and solicitude, that they would have been acceptable in any case. I think any fair and complete reading of the record will show that to be the case. If the question was solely one of Professor Klocek's behavior, the Dean should have stuck to that one issue. Instead, she went far afield from behavior, and well into the realm of the ideas Prof. Klocek was expressing. She's probably closer to the truth of the matter as it happens.

Finkelstein (to say that he has "provoked disagreement" is the understatement of the year, btw) should have nothing to do with the issue, of course, but to be honest, it remains problematic and illuminating that Professor Klocek's employment is now in limbo, while Norman Finkelstein soldiers on.

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Thomas Klocek - DePaul's President Speaks.

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» DePaul: Where only the students can be right at the blog Number 2 Pencil

DePaul University is apparently a school in which deans can demand that professors never insist they're right. Adjunct professor Thomas Klocek taught in the university's School of New Learning in relative anonymity, until the day he decided to challeng... Read More

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Thanks to Solomonia, I got a full understanding of Klocek's case. Here goes the summary:

The old lecturer went berserk, had to be removed by security and foresaw a possibility of hitting the jackpot by suing the University.

That is the whole story in less than 30 words!



"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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