Basset Makes Statement:

To the Editor: As some members of the campus community know, I have told the students involved with the Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights (CUSPR) that a planned talk by Professor Norman Finkelstein will not take place this semester. The University remains committed to inviting a wide range of speakers to encourage diversity of opinions on controversial topics. My decision was predicated on its untimely and unfortunate scheduling. The University began planning for the First International Graduate Students’ Conference on Holocaust and Genocide Studies a year ago. While I do not believe that the students who invited Mr. Finkelstein to campus intended it as an affront to those planning the conference, in the eyes of many in the Clark community and our invited guests, it seems to be just that. It is possible that our understanding of the Middle East conflicts would be enriched by conversations with Professor Finkelstein. It is my judgement, however, that having Professor Finkelstein speak on the same evening as our planned conference would only invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding. By this letter, copied also to the Chair of the Faculty and the President of Student Government, I am asking the campus community — faculty, staff, and students — to engage in dialogues about the right breadth at Clark for visiting speakers on controversial topics, about related matters of scheduling as raised in this case, and about this particular case. I will consult with faculty, staff, and students right after Fall Break in early October and report back to The Scarlet on those discussions. After those discussions have taken place, I will be happy to discuss with interested students the appropriateness of an invitation to Mr. Finkelstein.

If you would like to express your opinion to President Basset on his decision to cancel my lecture, you can reach him here:

presidentsoffice[at]clarku.edu, or through Clark University President’s Office contact page.

Please forward your letter to Normangf[at]hotmail.com for posting on this website.


American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Weighs In on Clark Cancellation

04.10.2009 | ACLU (pdf)

By email: presidentsoffice[at]clarku.edu and first class mail
John Bassett, President
Clark University
Geography Building – Room 202
950 Main St.
Worcester, MA 01610

Dear President Bassett:

The ACLU or Massachusetts is very disturbed bv your decision to cancel a talk by Norman Finkelstein who had been invited by a student organization to speak in April on the Clark campus. You have been Quoted in the Boston Globe today as saying that Finkelstein’s presence “would invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding” and that you objected to the timing of his speech which was to take place on the first day of a conference on the Holocaust. Finkelstein’s lecture was not about the Holocaust (even though he is the son of two concentration camp survivors), but was to address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. According to the Globe, the Jewish student organization Hillel raised objections to Finkelstein speaking at Clark.

I have also been informed that when students who had arranged the Finkelstein event met with you, the Dean, and the Provost, administrators referred to Finkelstein as as “extremist” who was “beyond controversial”, thus warranting cancellation of his speaking engagement.

In an email on this issue, you have stated:

There is no question that Clark University stands for full freedom of inquiry in the pursuit of truth and of the good. My decision in this case was based solely on the unfortunate timing of the propsed talk…. Clark’s Difficult Dialogues series next year is focusing on Israel and Palestine. We need to be good listeners to many perspectives. Perhaps one of those will be Norman Finkelstein’s.

Email from Basset to Witty available at philipweiss.org

Even if you are now relying solely on the timing of the Finkelstein talk, as opposed to his being controversial or “beyond controversial”, the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship. Certainly the Clark University campus is large enough to accommodate a speech at the same time as a conference on another subject. This is not the kind of “time, place or manner” restriction on a speaker who is seeks to speak in the same location at the same time as another speaker.

Nor may complaints from those disturbed by Finkelstein’s writings about the post-Holocaust “industry” justify a decision to prevent the lecture from taking place. Indeed, even if demonstrators came to protest against Finkelstein’s views, the obligation of a university is to protect the spaeker’s right to be heard and prevent diisruption of the speech by others. By censoring speech because of complains about offensiveness or the controversial nature of the speaker, the university has essentially allowed what the courts call a “heckler’s veto” over what speech can be heard.

Not only does this censorship violate Clark University’s own principles and your statement that “Clark University stands for full freedom of inquiry,” but it also at odds with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) principles, under which Clark University receives accreditation. Standard Eleven: Integrity, at 11.3 provides that the institution must be “committed the the free pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. It assures faculty and students the freedom to teach and study a given field, to examine all the pertinent date, to question assumptions, and to be guided by the evidence of scholarly research.”

The University’s censorship also conflicts with the principles of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The AAUP statement on outside speakers is available at their website and is relevant to the issue of censorship based on objections by others to a speaker:

The university is no place for a heckler’s veto….We have always been clear that colleges and universities bear the obligation to ensure conditions of peaceful discussion, which at times can be quite onerous. Only in the most extraordinary circumstances can strong evidence of imminent danger justify rescinding an invitation to an outside speaker.

There was no such evidence in this case.

These principles are just as important at a private university like Clark University as they are at a public university which is bound by the First Amendment. This was recognized recently by Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow.

While Tufts is a private institution and not technically bound by First Amendment guarantees, it is my intention to govern as President as if we were. To put it another way, I believe that students, faculty, and staff should enjoy the same rights to freedom of expression at Tufts as they would if they attended or worked at a public university….During the McCarthy era, a number of university presidents in the United States failed to defend the principle of expression. Students, faculty, and stuff paid for this equivocation as the government sought to purge University campuses of those expressing particularly unpopular opinions. We must be vigilant in defending individual liberties even if it means that from time to time we must tolerate speech that violates our stadards of civility and respect.

“Freedom of Expression at Tufts” (August 27, 2007)

The Tufts president is not alone. The Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences has adopted free speech guidelines which include a similar statement:

Because no other community defines itself so much in terms of knowledge, few others place such a high priority on freedom of speech. As a community, we take certain risks by assigning such a high priority to free speech. We assume that the long-term benefits to our community will outweigh the short-term unpleasnt effects of sometimes-noxious views. Because we a community united by a commitment to rational processes, we do not permit censorship of noxious ideas. We are commited to maintaining a climate in which reason and speech provide the correct response to a disagreeable idea.

https://www.fas.harvard.edu/~secfas/public/FreeSpeech.html

We urge you to acknowledge, as President Bacow did at Tufts, that mistakes have been made by Clark University in canceling the Finkelstein lecture. AS the U.S. Supreme Court has noted: “[t]he vigilant protection of constitutional freedom is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools.” Shelion v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479,487 (1960). The Court has emphasized that the “college classroom with its surrounding environs is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas,’ and we break no new constitutional ground in reaffirming this Nation’s dedication to safeguarding academic freedom.” Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 180-81 (1972), quoting Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 603 (1967).

I look forward to hearing from you about these important issues.

Sincerely,
Sarah Wunsch


Clark drops Holocaust scholar – Schedule conflict, controversy cited

04.10.2009 | The Boston Globe

By Matt Byrne – Globe Correspondent

Clark University canceled a campus talk scheduled for later this month by controversial Holocaust scholar Norman Finkelstein, saying his presence “would invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding,” and would conflict with a similar event scheduled around the same time.

The Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights, a student-run group on the Worcester campus, had arranged for Finkelstein to speak on April 21, said Tom MacMillan, the group’s president. School administrators, however, contend the topic and the timing conflict with a similar university-sponsored event.

In a letter to the university’s campus newspaper, Clark’s president, John Bassett, wrote: “The university remains committed to inviting a wide range of speakers to encourage diversity of opinions on controversial topics. My decision was predicated on its untimely and unfortunate scheduling.”

Finkelstein’s address would conflict with a similar conference hosted by the university’s Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, scheduled for April 23-26, two days after Finkelstein’s speech, Bassett said in his letter. That conference could draw Holocaust scholars who MacMillan said may disagree with Finkelstein.

Although Bassett wrote that he did not believe that students intended Finkelstein to be an affront to the conference, he said he believed it could be viewed that way.

“It is possible that our understanding of the Middle East conflicts would be enriched by conversations with Professor Finkelstein,” Bassett said in the letter. “It is my judgement, however, that having Professor Finkelstein speak on the same evening as our planned conference would only invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding.”

John Foley, assistant secretary at Clark, declined to comment when reached late last night. Jane Salerno, a university spokeswoman, deferred comment to a later date.

Finkelstein agreed to the engagement in February, and the student group received funding from a variety of other campus organizations to help pay his speaking fee.

The dispute came to the attention of college administrators after Hillel, a Jewish campus group, objected to Finkelstein’s scheduled appearance.

Bassett met with MacMillan, two other members of the group, and a handful of other campus administrators, including public safety personnel, on Monday to discuss Finkelstein’s speech, MacMillan said.

At that meeting, the administration suggested that as many as six uniformed or plain-clothes security officers attend Finkelstein’s speech, in case the forum became violent, MacMillan said.

Finkelstein has been the center of controversy in the past. In June 2007, DePaul University in Chicago denied Finkelstein’s bid for tenure after a feud with Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz escalated when Dershowitz publicly opposed Finkelstein’s tenure application.

Finkelstein asserted in his book “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” that Israel uses accusations of anti-Semitism to deflect criticism, a response to Dershowitz’s book “The Case for Israel.”

Clark’s decision to deny Finkelstein’s speech comes less than a month after Boston College made a similar move, barring William Ayers, a University of Chicago professor and a former member of the Weather Underground, from speaking on campus at the request of a student group there.


Student group protests Clark canceling talk Speaker’s views controversial

04.11.2009 | Telegram & Gazette

By Danielle M. Williamson – Telegram & Gazette Staff

Clark University President John Bassett said the fact that political author Norman G. Finkelstein is considered controversial would not, in itself, keep the former professor from speaking on campus.

After learning that a student organization planned for Mr. Finkelstein to speak at Clark the same week as a scheduled Holocaust and genocide studies conference, however, Mr. Bassett questioned the timing of the speech. Mr. Finkelstein, whose Jewish parents survived concentration camps during World War II, has written and spoken about a “Holocaust industry” that he believes exploits the memory of the Holocaust. He has also argued that the genocide is overused to justify Israeli behavior in the current conflict with Palestinians.

“I’m not in the business of canceling talks,” Mr. Bassett said of his decision to nix the plans of Students for Palestinian Rights, an organization at the university, for Mr. Finkelstein to speak April 23. “This may well happen next year. I just said, ‘This is the wrong week, folks.’ ”

Mr. Bassett’s action, announced to student leaders Monday and justified in a letter to the student newspaper Wednesday, has prompted Students for Palestinian Rights to circulate two petitions. One questions whether the president should be able to cancel events without first consulting event organizers, and the other asks whether Clark students can have productive conversations about issues with which they may not agree.

“We consider this an abuse of academic freedom,” said senior Thomas MacMillan, president of the organization, which had raised half of the $1,800 costs associated with Mr. Finkelstein’s talk before Mr. Bassett canceled it. “Free speech is probably one of the greatest things we have in this country, as long as it’s not encouraging hate or violence toward someone else.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts echoed the sentiment in a letter to Bassett yesterday, saying the cancellation of the speech: “violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom, which are so fundamental to an institution of higher learning.”

Mr. Finkelstein, a scholar of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust, has been on the professional speaking circuit since resigning in 2007 from DePaul University in Chicago. Before resigning, Finkelstein had put on administrative leave by the university. Harvard professor, lawyer and political commentator Alan Dershowitz had publicly criticized Mr. Finkelstein for his writings about Israel.

“Our group helps bring the issue of Palestinian suffering to light,” Mr. MacMillan said. “People are perfectly within their rights to come or not come to our events and question sternly our speakers, but we are within our rights to have them.”

Mr. Finkelstein’s talk, similar to one Mr. MacMillan saw him give Thursday night at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, was to be titled “The Gaza Massacre” and was not related to the Holocaust, Mr. MacMillan stressed.

“Any Middle Eastern topic is going to generate controversy,” he said. “But most Clark students are very willing to sit down and talk about a controversy.”

Mr. Bassett wrote in his letter to The Scarlet student newspaper that a speech by Mr. Finkelstein on the same night as the start of the April 23-26 conference hosted by the university’s Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies “would only invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding.”

Mr. Bassett said Clark’s Jewish campus group, Hillel, opposed Mr. Finkelstein’s appearance. He said his decision to cancel the talk, however, was made before representatives from Hillel approached him.


Clark University President asserts that ‘anti-Semitism is increasing in America’

04.11.2009 | Mondoweiss

By Philip Weiss

I missed a stretcher. Yesterday Clark University President John Bassett wrote a letter seeking to justify his censorship of Norman Finkelstein, who had been scheduled to give a speech on campus, and his letter included this statement:

What especially exaggerates emotions on this topic are the combined facts that Palestinians have suffered and are suffering many abuses and that anti-Semitism is increasing in America.

I notice that commenters have leapt on this statement. My friend James North says it is possibly the most astonishing statement he’s ever read on this site. What is Bassett’s evidence that anti-Semitism is increasing? And to equate that with the horrors in Palestine? What does he mean by abuses? Why not call things by their name? 1200 Palestinians were killed, most of them civilians. That’s abuses? This is a disgrace. And remember, Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. He can tell you about anti-Semitism. Bassett’s action is the sort that feeds anti-Semitism, because it seems an expression of Jewish power. Note that Witty thinks that anti-Semitism is a real problem in the U.S. but he wants to let Finkelstein speak!


Students rally after school cancels controversial speaker

04.13.2009 | NECN

By Jennifer Eagan

(NECN: Jennifer Eagan, Worcester, Mass.) – Students rallied outside Clark University Monday in response to the school’s decision to cancel a controversial speaker.

The university’s president told students Dr. Norman Finkelstein wouldn’t be allowed to visit campus later this month.

Finkelstein is a scholar of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and was scheduled to speak on that topic at Clark. He’s also faced controversy for his views on the Holocaust.

Finkelstein’s parents survived World War II concentration camps.

He’s written and spoken of a “Holocaust industry”, which he says exploits the genocide to further Israeli interests and make money.

As the president of Clark noted in the student newspaper last week, Dr. Finkelstein’s speaking engagement was canceled because it fell during the same week as a conference hosted by Clark’s center for holocaust and genocide studies.


Letters to Clark University President Office – 1

04.11.2009 | Original

By Doug Tarnopol

Once again, a university has bowed to pressure to limit free speech and academic freedom. Once again, in so doing, it has made itself a laughing-stock and has amplified the message of the person disinvited. The excuses are transparently false. From Freud to Fraud in just under a century; you must be so proud. Well done!

I understand that a college president’s main job is to ensure the flow of funding, but one would hope that some vague notion of the educational purpose of the university would still occasionally penetrate the miasma of corporate decision-making.

As for Hillel’s position, take it from this American Jew whose family lost members during the Nazi holocaust: by using that historical event to undermine, Nazi-like, the free speech and academic freedom of a nonviolent scholar, you have committed one of the worst moral atrocities I can imagine that doesn’t entail physical violence. Well done!

This is surely the triumph of ethnocentrism over ethics, and it pretty much solidifies in the public’s mind that Dr. Finkelstein’s work on Israeli crimes in the occupied territories, and the ideological use of the Holocaust to silence those crimes, is pretty much on the ball.

I’m of two minds on this — on the one hand, I’d like to see you stop your hysterical jihad against Finkelstein; on the other hand, said hysteria is the best imaginable publicity for his utterly crucial message. Given my experience with Hillel and other supposedly representative Jewish organizations, there is little chance that any of you will stop acting like little Dershowitzes, so my desires are probably beside the point.

So, keep up the good work: your hysterical reactions only serve to widen the cracks in American Zionism.


Letters to Clark University President Office – 2

04.12.2009 | Original

By Omar Baddar

Dear Mr. Bassett,

I was very disappointed to read that you have cancelled Dr. Finkelstein’s talk at Clark University, on the grounds that it was scheduled close to the conference on Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The problem here is two-fold: (1) The false assumption that Dr. Finkelstein’s appearance can legitimately be taken as an “affront” to those planning the conference, and (2), even if it that false assumption were correct, that it would then be appropriate to cancel one academic talk to accommodate the fragile sensibilities of the organizers of another event.

The first fold of the problem is of little interest to me; though I would encourage you to read what the late Dr. Raul Hilberg, widely recognized as the leading Holocaust scholar, had to say about Dr. Finkelstein to acquire a better picture on the issue’s merits. As for the second fold, you certainly wouldn’t cancel a lecture by one theoretical physics professor on the grounds that it is scheduled too close to the lecture of another theoretical physics professor who strongly disagreed with the first. A serious commitment to academic freedom would extend this tolerance of intellectual diversity to slightly more contentious issues.

I hope that you will reconsider your decision.

Sincerely,
Omar Baddar; M.A.

Reply:

Dear Mr. Baddar:

My decision to decline to bring Professor Norman Finkelstein to campus next week was based upon mindful concern of a scheduling conflict with an institutionally sponsored event that had been in the planning stages for more than a year. This concern remains.

At no time did I indicate that Professor Finkelstein would not speak at Clark on another occasion. I also support a broad and deep engagement of the Clark community with the Israel-Palestine issues.

If our students wish to schedule the speaker here before the semester ends, or in the future, they can certainly work through the student planning process to make this happen. I would not oppose such a visit at all.

I have respect and often commend the activism of Clark’s bright and engaged students. I expect this administration and Clark’s dozens of student organizations will work together on these and other issues now and as we move forward.

John Bassett
President


Letters to Clark University President Office – 3

04.12.2009 | Original

By Mirène Ghossein

Dear President Basset,

If Clark University’s motto is truly “Change Convention, Change Our World”, then Norman Finkelstein should be your ideal choice for a “Conference on Holocaust and Genocide Studies”. Indeed Dr. Finkelstein’s book The Holocaust Industry challenges the conventional views on the Nazi Holocaust, and goes on to prove that the quote he chose to introduce the book was indeed appropriate : “It seems to me the Holocaust is being sold-it is not being taught” ( Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, Hillel Director, Yale University) .

Raul Hillberg, founder and undisputed authority on holocaust studies, refers to those passages in Dr. Finkelstein’s book which deal with the claims against the Swiss Banks, as a “breakthrough”, and predicts that one day, we would all come to agree with Finkelstein’s findings. Hillberg was right. Many articles have since been published showing the misuse of humanitarian compensation funds by American and Israeli Jewish organizations alike, as well as individuals. Haaretz ( 08-06- 2007) , The Jewish Week ( 05-04-2007), The Jewish Forward (06-06-2003) are but a few examples. Haaretz cites one Holocaust survivor as saying : ” I want the Germans to know that Israel took the money we should have received”.

Remembering this (and more) I was truly taken aback by your letter to the editor of The Scarlet, especially by the use of the word “affront” in the following context: “While I do not believe that the students who invited Mr. Finkelstein to campus intended it as an affront to those planning the conference, in the eyes of many in the Clark community and our invited guests, it seems to be just that”. Speaking of Norman Finkelstein, Raul Hillberg said : ” It takes an enormous amount of academic courage to speak the truth “. It also would take academic courage to stand up for one’s own motto, against pressure groups. I urge you to reverse your decision regarding Dr. Finkelstein ‘s talk. Let your “invited guests” challenge his facts, in a true scholarly manner. And unless Dr. Finkelstein would find it an “affront” to speak, after reading your letter, he should be allowed to make his case. For one , it would be intellectually more stimulating for students to hear different and opposing points of view. It would also show that Clark University is neither afraid of the truth, nor of freedom of speech.

Sincerely,
Mirène Ghossein

I refer now to the part of the book that deals with the claims against the Swiss banks, and the other claims pertaining to forced labor. “I would now say in retrospect that he was actually conservative, moderate and that his conclusions are trustworthy. He is a well-trained political scientist, has the ability to do the research, did it carefully, and has come up with the right results. I am by no means the only one who, in the coming months or years, will totally agree with Finkelstein’s breakthrough.”


Letters to Clark University President Office – 5

04.12.2009 | Original

By Bridget Kane

Dear Ms. David,

My name is Bridget Kane, and I graduated from Clark in 2007. I have never been anything less than proud to tell people I am a Clarkie — that is, until today. When I read the article in the Boston Globe today about Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s visit to Clark being canceled, I was embarrased and ashamed that it was all coming from my Alma Mater. To me, this cancellation really negates Clark’s reputation of “Challenging Convention” and encouraging real “Difficult Dialogues,”. As an undergrad, I craved for a speaker like Finklestein to come into the Clark community and show an informed, educated and respected “other side” to the student body. Too many times at Clark, students are scared too speak their mind if it doesn’t exactly mesh with what the general student body appears to think. If there is any school around that would benefit from having a speaker like Finklestein to their campus, it’s Clark that needs it the most. I hope you will consider rescheduling him, as I think his presence would be of great value to the Clark community.

Sincerely,
Bridget Kane

Reply:

Dear Ms. Kane,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Clark University stands for full freedom of inquiry in the pursuit of truth and of the good. President Bassett’s decision regarding the lecture featuring Dr. Norman Finkelstein was based solely on the unfortunate timing of the proposed talk. He has not banned Dr. Finkelstein from ever speaking on campus. He has asked for some campus reflection on the issues raised by the controversy, that is what—if any—boundaries govern invitations to speakers on campus and what—if any—scheduling concerns are legitimate.

There is no question that this campus, like all others, needs to hear voices on the Israeli-Palestinian tensions that reflect Palestinian perspectives. What especially exaggerates emotions on this topic are the combined facts that Palestinians have suffered and are suffering many abuses and that anti-Semitism is increasing in America. Therefore reactions to speakers being invited and perceived censorship are stronger than they otherwise would be.

Clark’s Difficult Dialogues series next fall will focus on Israel and Palestine. We need to be good listeners to many perspectives. As the president has said, perhaps one of those will be Norman Finkelstein’s.

Sincerely,
Paula R. David
Vice President, Marketing and Communications


Letters to Clark University President Office – 6

04.12.2009 | Original

By Khusro Elley

Dear Sir,

Any conference on the Holocaust is incomplete without Prof. Finkelstein’s comments. Much as you seem to believe in diversity, you seem to turn the conference into a propoganda opportunity for those who would much rather present it in one light only. Far from bering an affront, I believe Prof. Finkelstein’s comments would add to our knowledge of that unfortunate event. I hope you will review your decision, in the interest of championing diversity and therfore the truth.


Letters to Clark University President Office – 7

04.12.2009 | Original

By Sally Eberhardt

Dear President Bassett,

I’m writing to you as a person concerned about the state of academic freedom in this country. We all depend on the critical examination of accepted ideas in a free society. Dr. Finkelstein’s presence on Clark’s campus would be an important part of that process. To refuse him access to your campus on the pretext of sensitivity to the Holocaust is to deny the scholarly status of his ideas as endorsed, for example, by Professor Raul Hillberg, to say nothing of the insult it does to the memory of Dr. Finkelstein’s parents who were both Holocaust survivors.

I hope you will reverse your decision.

Your sincerely,
Theaters Against War


Letters to Clark University President Office – 8

04.12.2009 | Original

By April Lambert

President Bassett,

I am writing to express my disappointment with your choice to cancel the Norman Finkelstein event. College campuses have an obligation to be active and open forums for a wide variety of topics, opinions, and speakers. It is our responsibility to fulfill that obligation by creating and maintaining an environment in which many topics will be discussed, many opinions will be stated, and many diverse speakers will be welcomed. I feel that your choice to cancel this event erodes that environment.

I am also extremely worried about the precedent that this decision sets. I am grateful to be in a community that is academically engaged and passionate about many issues and I know that this community is capable of handing controversial speakers and/or unfortunate scheduling conflicts in appropriate, mature, and respectful ways. We cannot begin censoring events, speakers, groups, etc on this campus even in the face of logistical difficulties. It will do us all harm and it will do this community a great disservice.

I am very disappointed and worried by this decision and I hope that a unilateral decision to censor a group’s event will not occur in this fashion again.

With respect,


Letters to Clark University President Office – 9

04.12.2009 | Original

By Dave Markland

Dear President Basset,

I was troubled to read that Clark University has chosen to cancel an appearance by respected scholar Norman Finkelstein. The fact that a Jewish intellectual finds himself censored on the pretext of protecting open debate on the shoah is an extreme irony which only serves to disgrace Clark University.

One wonders what the late Raul Hilberg would have thought. Hilberg, long the leading holocaust scholar (and a man whose political leanings were much the opposite of Finkelstein’s) was a professed admirer of Finkelstein’s work. I trust that Clark will not be banning all reference to Hilberg at the conference, though that would at least be consistent with your actions thus far.

The impulse to stifle debate is common amongst those whose views cannot sustain an open airing of the issues. The problem for Clark is that few people are fooled by this ruse and the school’s reputation will justly suffer as a result.

I encourage you to reconsider this affront to freedom of speech and inquiry and allow Dr. Finkelstein to speak.

Sincerely,


Letters to Clark University President Office – 10

04.13.2009 | Original

By Al-Habbo Abdelkerim

Mr. president,

This is an outrage. I get that the media being owned by major corporation won’t invite professor Finkelstein on their show (actually I don’t really get it). But an univerisity, as prestigious as Clark University, banning a eminient scholar on the grounds that his ideas might not be the one shared by the establishment is an outrage. The students you are educating are the future leaders of this nation. By cancelling Finkelstein’s invitation, I am regretefully announcing you that censorship is what Clark University is inculcating in its students. You are alienating the current student and prospective student by such behaviors. Just because a minority of vey influent people have a narrow-minded vision on what is the most tragic event in modern history (Palestinian crisis), you are ready to bet on the reputation of a 19th century institution. One last thing, ask yourself what Freud would have thought and I had hoped that academic freedom was already established after the Franz Boaz and Stanley Hall’s dispute. History is repeating itself it seems.

If it was up to me, you should resign.

Bitterly,


Letters to Clark University President Office – 11

04.13.2009 | Original

By Shadi Z. Ghrayeb

I’m very disappointed to hear you’ve banned Dr. Finkelstein from speaking at Clark University. Dr. Norman Finkelstein stands as a moral example that the quest for hope, justice, truth, and equality can and should prevail.


Letters to Clark University President Office – 12

04.13.2009 | Original

By Muttasem Razzaq

Your cancelling of Norman Finkelstein’s scheduled talk puts you and Clark University squarely on the wrong side of history. I read both the Boston Globe article as well as the Worcester Telegram’s article citing your move, but did not read anywhere why you thought it might offend people attending the Holocaust Conference. Simply put: what does the struggle for Palestinian rights have to do with the Holocaust?

The fact is, as you well know, that the truth about the Palestinian issue offends supporters of Israel because it sheds light on the lies that form mainstream discussion on the issue.

Your attempt to silence Dr. Finkelstein is much like Holy Cross’ decision several years ago cancelling Dr. Michael Prior’s talk, or last year’s cancellation of Joel Beinin’s talk in California, or Tony Judt’s talk in New York, or …, you get the picture.

The end result of your action is in fact irrelevant. More and more people are understanding the reality of life under Israeli occupation in spite of your attempts to silence the truth. Witness the fact that countless groups and organizations worldwide are preparing to bring War Crimes charges against Israel to hold it accountable for the atrocities committed in Gaza. People with open minds will get different sources of information to structure their opinions.

What you have denied the Clark community is the thrill of watching someone speak truthfully. So go ahead and hide behind your lame excuses.


Letters to Clark University President Office – 13

04.13.2009 | Original

What does a distinguished professor’s speech have to do with other events on campus? College campuses were once regarded a bastion of free speech, regardless of the type of things being said. This is precisely the type of campus climate that facilitates the dismissal of great academics like Finkelstein, a professor who consistently received the highest student evaluations in the political science department at Depaul University. This whole incident is a shame to your school.

Reply:

Dear Shalin:

My decision to decline to bring Professor Norman Finkelstein to campus next week was based upon mindful concern of a scheduling conflict with an institutionally sponsored event that had been in the planning stages for more than a year. This concern remains.

At no time did I indicate that Professor Finkelstein would not speak at Clark on another occasion. I also support a broad and deep engagement of the Clark community with the Israel-Palestine issues.

If our students wish to schedule the speaker here before the semester ends, or in the future, they can certainly work through the student planning process to make this happen. I would not oppose such a visit at all.

I have respect and often commend the activism of Clark’s bright and engaged students. I expect this administration and Clark’s dozens of student organizations will work together on these and other issues now and as we move forward.

John Bassett
President


Letters to Clark University President Office – 14

04.13.2009 | Original

By Will Brown

Mr. Bassett,

Although I am not a student at Clark University , it had been my intention to attend the talk Norman Finkelstein was scheduled to give on your campus later this month. It was with great disappointment that I learned of its cancellation.

Last December the IDF launched an indiscriminate assault on the already destitute and suffocating people of Gaza . They bombed civilian infrastructure–schools, hospitals and mosques. By the time a ceasefire was established on January 18th, roughly 1,200 Palestinians had been slaughtered, many of them burned alive by white phosphorous shells. One third of those killed were children. For decades the people of Palestine have endured oppression, humiliation and abject poverty under a brutal military occupation that stands in direct violation of international law.

Both of Dr. Finkelstein’s parents were survivors of Nazi extermination camps. The dedication of his book ‘Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict’ reads

“To my beloved parents, Maryla Husyt Finkelstein, survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Maidanek concentration camp; and Zacharias Finkelstein, survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz concentration camp. May I never forget or forgive what was done to them.”

Norman Finkelstein has dedicated his life to speaking out on behalf of silenced and subjugated people. It is a cause that has cost him a stable career and sentenced him to a lifetime of threats and slander.. Academia should champion those who have the courage to speak truth to power, not silence them.

You canceled Finkelstein’s lecture, claiming that it would be inappropriate for his talk on Palestinian rights to coincide with a conference on genocide because it “would only invite controversy.” How could anyone be deeply concerned about the memory of the Holocaust and simultaneously disdain Finkelstein’s tireless dedication to defending the factual record regarding atrocities going on in Palestine ? Human suffering is human suffering. Injustice is injustice. To me, the implicit message of this decision is that Jewish lives are worth more than Palestinian lives, that the devastation of the former merits a conference, while discussion of similar devastation experienced by the latter–devastation going on as we speak, enabled by our tax dollars–should be censored, or *maybe* just saved for another time. This is an affront to human decency and to academic freedom.

As a descendant of Jewish refugees, it is my deepest conviction that human civilization must learn from the Shoah that no people should ever be abandoned to systematic deprivation and destruction. It seems that for the establishment and Hillel at Clark University , the lesson of the Holocaust is that Jews should be entitled to special privileges because they have suffered, privileges including the right to inflict suffering on other groups and to do so without being subject to criticism or protest. I find such sentiments to be tragic beyond words.

Will Brown
Student, UMass Boston


Letters to Clark University President Office – 15

04.13.2009 | Original

By Maren Hackmann

President Bassett:

Your cancellation of Dr. Norman G. Finkelstein’s talk at Clark University is outrageous. An apology is in order — both to the student organizers and to Dr. Finkelstein himself. And, of course, the event should take place as scheduled.

It says on your website that in 2002 you launched the so-called President’s Lecture Series which “includes two-three lectures a year with eminent speakers in the sciences, arts, humanities and international relations.” It seems you don’t yet have a candidate for 2009. Why not invite Dr. Finkelstein? Surely you can find a date that’s a non-affront?

Sincerely
Maren Hackmann
Editor & Translator
Germany


Letters to Clark University President Office – 16

04.13.2009 | Original

Dear President Basset:

It was with great displeasure that I read of your decision to cancel Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture. I was displeased even further when I read of your justification for doing so. Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture had absolutely nothing to do with the Holocaust. Even if it did, even a cursory glance at Dr. Finkelstein’s work would have made it clear that Finkelstein is not in anyway a Holocaust denier or an anti-semite. As you may or may not know, Dr. Finkelstein is the child of Holocaust survivors and a longtime friend/colleague of the great Holocaust historian Raul Hillberg. These are not the credentials of a man bent on offending the sensibilities of the participants in Clark’s Holocaust Remembrance Conference.

While it is true that Dr. Finkelstein has written about the “Holocaust Industry,” that work was in no way disparaging to the victims of the Holocaust or controversial in the least from a scholarly perspective. If anything, the thesis of that work – that the victims of the Holocaust were being bilked out of large sums of money by the organizers of Holocaust reparations movement – should be recognized as sympathetic to the plight of the survivors and all those who perished during the war at the hands of the Nazis.

If you decided to cancel Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture knowing all of the aforementioned, then I can only assume that your decision was based on Dr. Finkelstein’s work concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict. It should be noted at the outset that the Israel-Palestine conflict is not to be conflated with the Holocaust. While there are historical connections between the formation of the Israeli State and the Holocaust, there is no currently relevant connection between the Holocaust and the current goings-on in the middle east. A lecture against the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories has absolutely nothing to do with the Holocaust and, if you feel differently, I would be interested to know exactly how you came to that conclusion.

Holocaust Remembrance reminds us of the importance of maintaining free speech and the free flow of ideas to ensure that a second catastrophe of similar proportions never occurs again. Your actions stand in contradiction to this principle. Indeed, if anything, your actions have strengthened those conspiratorial anti-Semites who believe in the age-old canard that Jews control American institutions and restrict/warp the flow of information to their advantage.

I hope my concerns are taken to heart and you reconsider your decision to cancel Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture.

Best Regards,


Letters to Clark University President Office – 17

04.13.2009 | Original

By S. Marciniak

Dear Sir

I have read your letter published in the Scarlet on April 9th and I am disappointed to learn of your institution’s decision to cancel Dr Finkelstein’s forthcoming speaking engagement. Even though this e-mail is unlikely to arrive in time to persuade you to revise this decision, it is important nevertheless for me to correct the mistaken assertion that Mr Finkelstein’s attendance is likely to cause an unacceptable degree of controversy.

I understand that Dr Finkelstein was scheduled to discuss the recent conflict in Gaza at your university. I had the benefit of listening, along with 150 others, to Dr Finkelstein’s talk on the same subject at the end of February at Kings College, London. If I may be permitted to attempt to encapsulate Dr Finkelstein’s argument, Israel’s invasion of Gaza was based on two principles: firstly to restore its “deterrence capability” ie Arab states’ fear of Israel following its recent failed engagements in Lebanon and secondly, to thwart the most recent of the Palestinian “peace offensives.”

The expressions I have placed in quotation marks are not Dr Finkelstein’s own words:”deterrence capability” was used by Ariel Sharon in 1967 and “peace offensive” by Avner Yaniv in 1982. I would also stress that at no point during the talk did Dr Finkelstein attempt to relate or compare the conflict to the Holocaust or to the Nazi Final Solution – the talk now appears online on Youtube.

I can understand the concern that to discuss the Gaza conflict in the wake of the event itself may touch many raw nerves amongst members of your institution. However, I would argue that it is immaterial whether one agrees or disagrees with Dr Finkelstein’s point of view about the reasons for the conflict. The critical point is that Dr Finkelstein in the talk I attended attempted to place the Gaza situation within the context of Israeli state philosophy and policy over the last 40 years. By premising his arguments on the available evidence, Dr Finkelstein promoted reasoned and reflective debate with his audience, not controversy.

There is a danger that the university’s preconceptions concerning Dr Finkelstein may persist and become ingrained, which this is the reason I am compelled to write to you in these terms. I therefore hope that by the time this matter falls to be reconsidered, a better informed and reasoned decision can be made.

Yours Sincerely
Mr S. Marciniak
London


Letters to Clark University President Office – 18

04.13.2009 | Original

By Timothy Newman

Dear President Bassett,

As an alumnus of Clark University (class of 2006), I am deeply disappointed to learn about your recent decision to cancel Norman Finkelstein’s speaking event at Clark.

I came to Clark University as a Making a Difference scholar and I was attracted to Clark because of its motto, “Challenging Convention, Changing our World.” Clark’s commitment to positive change in the world is embodied in the school’s mission statement which is to educated students “to be imaginative and contributing citizens of the world.” The mission statement also says, “The free pursuit of inquiry and the free exchange of ideas are central to that commitment.” I chose to attend Clark because of these ideals and I am proud to have attend this university.

During my years at Clark, I learned so much about the world through engaging in passionate and scholarly debates about the most critical issues facing our local communities and global society. Additionally, I learned a great deal about strategies to positively impact my community and create social change. Through participating in various student organizations and community projects, I learned so many lessons that I use every day in my current capacity as a Campaigns Director of a DC-based NGO working to protect workers’ rights globally.

So, it is with great dismay that I have learned about your recent decision to cancel the Norman Finkelstein event sponsored by Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights. It is clear that this move was a violation of academic freedom and free speech. Of course scheduling conflicts are unfortunate and controversy can be uncomfortable, but students (and all of us) benefit from openly engaging with difficult discussions. Your decision sets a dangerous precedent for silencing dissenting voices in a university that has long prided itself in challenging convention and dealing directly with important political issues. In my years at Clark, I planned a large number of similar events and attended many lectures given by speakers I agreed and disagreed with fervently and I never heard of the administration ever intervening in an event like this. For example, during my junior year, former CPA head Paul Bremer — an immensely controversial figure internationally — spoke on campus. Dissenters had the opportunity to share their opinions and the event went on as scheduled.

The other aspect of your decision that disturbs me is that it also discourages student engagment and organizing. Unilaterally canceling a student group’s event has a detrimental impact on the ability of students to organize on campus and excercise their rights. Participating in running campaigns and planning educational events at Clark was an important part of my education as a citizen and an organizing professional — and I think my efforts had a meaningful and positive impact on the Clark community. Your decision is hurtful to the development of students as active and globally-conscious citizens. Instead, it sends a negative message about how easily democracy can be undermined.

President Bassett, as a proud Clark University alumnus, I ask that you reconsider your decision and ensure that Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights are able to bring Norman Finkelstein to speak at Clark this semester. I also ask that you refrain from cancelling other speaking events planned by student organizations in the future and that you meet with CUSPR members to ensure that their concerns are adequately addressed. I will be paying close attention to this issue and I am sharing my thoughts with my fellow alumni as well.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Timothy Newman (’06)


Letters to Clark University President Office – 19

04.13.2009 | Original

By Kevin Greenstein

Dear President Bassett,

I am writing to express my satisfaction at you decision to cancel Mr. Finkelstein’s appearance at Clark It is gratifying to find at least a bit of compass left in university leadership, which has utterly folded in the face of liberalism and so-called free speech You will no doubt receive an inundation of criticism from a ready-to-go knee-jerk cluster of Finkelstein supporters This is only because assent is usually met with a lack of correspondence, and programmed criticism is always at the ready.

Thank you again for demonstrating some very rare sensible leadership on an American campus.

Kevin Greenstein, M.D.


Letters to Clark University President Office – 20

04.13.2009 | Original

By Joel French

Dear President Basset:

I am very disappointed to hear that you decided to cancel a visit by Norman Finkelstein, one of the world’s leading scholars on the Israel-Palestine conflict I am part of a group that hosted Dr. Finkelstein at the University of Alberta recently, and his visit was appreciated by many I recognize that his lecture was to take place shortly before another event and that the schedules were deemed to be conflicting, however, from my experience, frequent events with speakers like Dr. Finkelstein and others of his caliber can surely only further enrich the minds of students.

I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision for the benefit of the students of Clark University.

Thank you for your time.

Joel French
Palestine Solidarity Network – Edmonton


Letters to Clark University President Office – 21

04.13.2009 | Original

By Minna Virtanen

Dear President John Bassett,

I’ve never heard of Clark University before, but browsing your websites, I see it’s situated in Worcester, Massachusetts. The university is advertised with words: ‘Difficult dialogues -creating a culture of dialogue on campus’, and with your statement about how proud you are ‘that Clark University is featured in Loren Pope’s book Colleges that Change Lives’.

I understood that Dr Norman Finkelstein was supposed to give a lecture on Gaza at your campus, but his lecture was cancelled because of ‘unfortunate scheduling’ as it would collide with a conference on Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and because it may be viewed as an ‘affront’ to the Clark community and the invited guests. Unfortunate schedulling and insensitivity, Dr Finkelstein’s lecture?? Anybody who was awake during the recent Gaza war crimes, would see the irony of epic proportions.

The real question is: Is it really the right time to talk about the holocaust? Before the victims in Gaza have hardly turned cold in their graves? Talk about an affront.

Also diverting the discussion from real issues, the real victims right here and now, to the historical victimhood of the perpetrators of these recent warcrimes (the holocaust which no-one in their right mind denies took place during the WWII) is giving consent to the warcriminals. Is this what you’re so proud of – college that changes lives? With all due respect, your timing stinks.

Minna Virtanen
Helsinki, Finland


Letters to Clark University President Office – 22

04.13.2009 | Original

By Troy Derek Hill

President Bassett,

As a Clark alumnus, I am often asked about my experience at Clark. It’s been a great pleasure to be able to offer nothing but praise for the University, and in particular, to be able to enthusiastically endorse Clark’s intellectual atmosphere. In my experience, the sense of social activism and intellectual engagement so common among Clark students sharply distinguishes them from the broader population of college students.

Thus, it is with deep disappointment that I became aware of your decision to stifle the campus’ intellectual discourse by barring Dr. Norman Finkelstein from speaking. As you surely know by now, Dr. Finkelstein is a renowned expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict, a widely respected scholar, and a stellar example of the values Clark ostensibly embraces – he is a fierce advocate for social justice, speaking truth to power, and intellectual accountability (Dr. Finkelstein’s critics are always given priority during post-lecture Q&A sessions).

Though his lecture at Clark was to address the Israel-Palestine conflict, Dr. Finkelstein has written widely about the exploitation of the Holocaust in the service of ideology, specifically as it is used to stifle dissenting perspectives and criticism of Israeli aggression. Nonetheless, I’m sure you didn’t intend irony when you cited the concurrent Holocaust conference being held at Clark, and rising anti-Semitism in America as sufficient grounds for canceling a lecture centered on Palestinian human rights. Frankly, I can think of nothing more insulting to Holocaust victims and their descendants than co-opting their tragedy to silence a political opponent. And your assertion that Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture would fuel anti-Semitism is equally offensive. When did advocating human rights become anti-Semitic? At what point did international law become the domain of anti-Semites? Conversely, when did Israeli war crimes become indistinguishable from Jewish identity? You should be ashamed. I have never felt such disgust towards my alma mater.

Discussions about Israel-Palestine, the defining crisis of our lifetimes, should never require official sanction. I strongly encourage you to clarify your statements and remedy this situation. A public apology to Dr. Finkelstein and the Clark community strike me as a bare minimum. If this stain on Clark’s integrity is not removed, I can assure you that my future donations and endorsements will go to more deserving causes, and that I will urge others to follow suit.

Sincerely,
Troy Derek Hill (B.A. 2006)
Research Assistant


Letters to Clark University President Office – 23

04.13.2009 | Original

By G. Turner

On an excerpt from the Boston Globe: “The dispute came to the attention of college administrators after Hillel, a Jewish campus group, objected to Finkelstein’s scheduled appearance.

Bassett met with MacMillan, two other members of the group, and a handful of other campus administrators, including public safety personnel, on Monday to discuss Finkelstein’s speech, MacMillan said.

At that meeting, the administration suggested that as many as six uniformed or plain-clothes security officers attend Finkelstein’s speech, in case the forum became violent, MacMillan said.”

What an appalling decision you have made.

What a disgusting rationale you have used in a feeble attempt to “justify” it.

Mr. Finkelstein’s speaking topic, Israel’s recent assault on Gaza (not the Nazi holocaust), is, in fact, relevant to the other planned conference at Clark University.

The barbaric attack on a caged and starving people was a part of the ongoing attempt to eliminate the Palestinian people.

The use of 155 mm white phosphorous (M825A1 – USA supplied), F-16 jet fighters (USA supplied), Merkava tanks, DIME weapons (GBU-39 – USA supplied), 120 mm flechettes, MK-82 bombs, Apache attack helicopters (USA supplied), etc. on civilians killing over 1,400 constitutes war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Keeping these and other facts from public exposure is the true reason for your denial of Mr. Finkelstein’s speaking engagement.

No criticism of Israel’s expansionist genocidal wars and brutal occupation will be permitted.

The government of Canada recently denied entry to Mr. George Galloway, M.P., United Kingdom, in order to stifle debate on the Gaza massacre.

What grounds did it use? The old stand-by of, “national security” and even more ludicrous, “fund raising for terrorists.”

Even the U.S. government was not that stupid.

Galloway’s denial and your denial of Finkelstein is part of an ongoing campaign to deny the truth and re-brand Israel.

It is a closing down of debate and opinion to ensure that only the dominant permissible narrative of the mythology of Israel is disseminated.

Eric Blair would be proud.

Mr. G. Turner
Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Letters to Clark University President Office – 24

04.13.2009 | Original

By Mark Lance

Dr President Bassett:

I have just read the published press report on your decision to rescind the invitation of students to Norman Finkelstein. I am hoping that you were misquoted, but since the reports came from reputable sources and were cited, I am writing under the assumption that you were not.

I say that I’m hoping you were misquoted, because the alternative is really very sad. The two reasons given – that the event would “conflict” with another event two days later, and that it would lead to conflict rather than understanding are simply too silly to be taken seriously. Even if the event had been at the same time as an event on the same topic, you know as well as I do that this happens all the time at universities. And at most it would justify a suggestion that students change the date. But since the events are not at the same time, you can’t possibly have this in mind. One can only surmise that the “conflict” in question is an academic one – that the views put forward by Finkelstein would be different from those put forward at the conference. But of course treating this to be a bad thing is anathema to all that a university is supposed to stand for.

No better is the explanation in terms of conflict. First, who are you to make such a determination and on what basis. Norman Finkelstein is a respected and established scholar whose presentations are highly academic, calm, and perfectly in line with normal academic practice. His views are quite different from the dominant ones in academia and the US political scene, but again, cf the ideals of a university. Perhaps you mean that there would be conflict because some on your campus promised it – promised to disrupt as is so often the case at his talks. If so, then you are simply caving to threats from university groups, and not even with the usual excuse of caving to threats because we both know that there is no real chance of Hillel and the ADL resorting to violence. Dr. Finkelstein has given hundreds of such talks, and been greeted at most of them with dishonest and propagandistic leafletting organized by Hillel and ADL, and occasionally been interrupted by similar groups. But never has there been the slightest threat of violence. But even if there was such a threat, you obviously have it in your power to respond to this in a way that doesn’t make a mockery of academic freedom.

So neither of these explanations withstand a moment’s scrutiny, which leaves me with the sadness. It is simply impossible to read these excuses as anything other than shallow justifications for bowing to the demands of one ideological interest group to silence views that run counter to their own. If that is indeed what is going on here, you will have sold your ability to be taken seriously or respected as an academic for a very low price. The first job of a university academic is to uphold the ideals of the university. And the right of the university community to hear the views of scholars that they invite is paramount among those ideals.

I would be more than happy to find that the characterization of the incident is not as it was reported. Barring that, I will have to conclude that Clark “University” is a university in name only, not an institution deserving of respect from its peers and not one which shares our core commitments.

Yours,
Mark Lance
Professor of philosophy
Professor of justice and peace
Director, program on justice and peace
Georgetown University
(Affiliation for identification only. I speak here, obviously, for myself alone.)


Letters to Clark University President Office – 25

04.13.2009 | Original

By Michael Shanahan

Dear Dr Basset

I am writing to express my sadness at the decision to prevent Dr Finkelstein from speaking at the university on 21 April 2009. I understand that the lecture was due to take place under the auspices of Clark University Students for Palestine Rights. I read that you are quoted as saying that you do not believe that the invitation to Dr Finkelstein is intended as an affront to those planning a holocaust conference due to take place 23-26 April 2009 and I welcome such a firm statement of principle. However, you go on to claim that ” many in the Clark community and invited guests” think otherwise. With respect, I am left to wonder how you came to such a conclusion in the first place. In the last twelve months Dr Finkelstein has lectured at a number of different colleges in London University (and also at centres of higher education throughout UK) and no doubt there was at least a group that was very anxious that he did not have such platforms. Had they sought to apply the pressure you have clearly experienced then the whole idea of academic debate would have to be consigned to the dustbin of knowledge. Perhaps you should have reminded your protesting visitors that democracy does have certain disadvantages when it comes to promulgating ideas and that possibly they are not yet mature enough to engage in such a process, even though involved with a university of the stature of Clark. Father Holtschneider (President of DePaul) felt unable to resist the pressure of such as Alan Dershowitz over the tenure process of Dr Finkelstein and there is obviously a form of repeat process at the present time.

The thought occurs; whenever Dr Finkelstein has lectured here in UK he has attracted audiences in such large measure that a form of rationing by ticket has been necessary (based on first come first served of course). Looking now at the ‘similar conference’ you appear to be worried about (hosted by the university’s Strasser Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies) it might just be that an unflattering comparison could be made in terms of the interest shown on the days in question.

Yours faithfully

Michael Shanahan
London,UK.


Letters to Clark University President Office – 26

04.14.2009 | Original

By Samaa Elibyari

Sir,

I am truly astonished by the flimsy excuse you are giving to cancel Prof Finkelstein’s talk.

The planned seminar would have been the best time for his talk unless your college wants to promote one narrative, not dialogue and academic discourse.

Sincerely,


Letters to Clark University President Office – 27

04.14.2009 | Original

By Cameron Merrill

Mr. Bassett,

Concerning your statement on the cancellation of Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture, three glaring fallacies stand out:

1) Your description of the “untimely and unfortunate scheduling” of Dr. Finkelstein because of the coinciding Holocaust event fails to acknowledge that Finkelstein himself is a Holocaust scholar, not to mention son of two Holocaust survivors. By omitting this information, your statement implies that Finkelsteins’s “diversity of opinions on controversial topics” encouraged by your university could or would be derisive against Jews and thus are not tolerated.

2) In similar regard, it is widely known that Finkelstein’s lectures focus primarily on Israel and not the Holocaust, whereas your opinion that the speech would inhibit “dialogue and understanding” insinuates an aura of antisemitism surrounding Mr. Finkelstein. Were this not the case, any lecture on Mideast conflicts, as you term his topic, would be perfectly acceptable to coincided with a Holocaust convention.

3) Finally, it would seem that you missed the logical contradiction in your statement when you write, “…that having Professor Finkelstein speak on the same evening as our planned conference would only invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding,” after previously expressing your desire to “encourage diversity of opinions on controversial topics.” What many administrators and bureaucrats fail to notice time and time again is that tolerance depends upon divergence of viewpoints and the majority of controversies that arise are due to one side being given perferences over the other to express their views, as it seems you are doing.

The likely conclusion is that your decision has created more controversy on an even larger scale. And while truly unfortunate, the only message your statement sends is one of a degraded sense of tolerance and understanding that favors one student group over another.

meant very sincerely by a university student,

Cameron Merrill
University of Georgia undergraduate


Letters to Clark University President Office – 28

04.14.2009 | Original

By Zak Starr

Dear President Basset,

I am writing to you to express my concern and frustration as a Clark alum, over your recent decision to cancel the scheduled talk by Norman Finkelstein. You cited “unfortunate timing” and a desire not to “invite controversy” as reasons for doing so. I find it ironic that to avoid one controversy, Clark has perpetrated a much greater one. Censorship, in my opinion, is really controversial. We paid an accomplice to war crimes (Paul Bremmer) $40,000 to speak at Clark. Did that not invite controversy? I also believe that you are flat out wrong to assume that Mr. Finkelstein’s talk would not promote discourse and understanding just because it was scheduled to happen at the same time as an even with conflicting ideas. You are grossly underestimating the intelligence and open-mindedness of the student body. That is a shame.

You say that you have not barred Finkelstein from ever speaking at Clark, but you have just rebuked him in a most cynical way. If he does speak at Clark in the future, and is not again turned away, it will be with the knowledge that he is not wanted by some in our community. Almost more than the cancellation itself, the lack of candidness in explaining your decision is troubling. The fact that you have chosen to defer discussion on the issue until October creates the perception that there is something to hide. When I see my University in the news, I want it to be because Clark is “Challenging Convention and Changing our World”, not challenging dissent and changing it’s views on censorship.

Sincerely,
Zak Starr ’07


Letters to Clark University President Office – 29

04.14.2009 | Original

By Alexander Zaimi

Dear Pres. Basset,

I am writing in regards to your decision to cancel a visit by Norman Finkelstein to Clark University. Based on what I’ve read, you made this decision either before meeting with members of the campus Jewish group Hillel, who complained about Finkelstein’s scheduled visit to the campus. You have said that Finkelstein cannot speak at Clark University because his scheduled appearance coincided with a Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide. I really cannot understand why this is even an issue. Finkelstein was scheduled to speak on the subject of the Gaza Massacre, not the Nazi Holocaust. You also said that Finkelstein’s visit would invite controversy. This may be the case, but so what? Upholding free speech is far more important than the desire to avoid controversy. Finkelstein may be controversial, but he is also an internationally known scholar on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the exploitation of the Nazi Holocaust. His work on the ‘Holocaust Industry’ has been translated into at least 16 languages and this work made him well known in Europe. His works have been praised by such people as Noam Chomsky, the late Raul Hilberg, Avi Shlaim and Christopher Browning.

You, as the chief representative of Clark University, should be delighted that your students would have the opportunity to meet such a distinguished scholar. If the campus Hillel group has a problem with Finkelstein, they would do well to debate him, not try to ban him from the university. I hope that you reconsider your decision and re-invite Finkelstein to your university. By doing so, you might upset some groups, but you will be praised by all those who champion free speech.

Best Regards,


Letters to Clark University President Office – 30

04.14.2009 | Original

By John M. Kuchta

President Bassett’s assertion that the presence of Holocaust scholar Norman Finkelstein “would invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding” is false because controversy directly inspires conversation. To consider controversy “dangerous” is patronizing to and implies doubt in the faculty and their students, because it presupposes that they cannot thoughtfully consider Dr. Finkelstein’s views.

At stake is not the privilege of CUSPR to bring a noted scholar to campus, but the integrity of Clark’s academic mission, which is founded upon the free exchange of ideas. We are not progressive if we do not act progressively when it is controversial, and we cannot respect the diversity of the community if the administration shows favor to any particular sect.

Women’s suffrage, reproductive rights, the abolition of slavery and the gay rights movement have each met controversy. Freedom itself has caused discord since before the American Revolution. In each movement, progressives have fought to consider unpopular ideas for the betterment of mankind. To imply that Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture is unfortunately timed is not only patronizing to the faculty and their students, but also implies doubt in their academic integrity. Clark is well-equipped to handle controversy and deserves exposure to the Palestinian rights movement. If President Bassett had the opportunity, would he prevent Dr. King from speaking for fear that there would be violence?

Open-mindedness is not a lack of skepticism, nor is it entertaining only those ideas with which you already agree. Open-mindedness is a willingness to challenge what you believe by considering new arguments presented with persuasive evidence. Open-mindedness and freedom of expression are necessary complements; you cannot have one without the other, and they are foundational to academic inquiry. Are you ready to consider that Israel may not be totally justified in all of its actions?

The founding fathers enshrined free expression in the Bill of Rights so that those in power could not silence political minorities. In fact, the right to free expression is the primary reason why so many have been able to thoroughly publicize the horrors of the Holocaust. Opposition to the presentation of ideas with which you don’t agree is antithetical to the mission of the university. If Clark forsakes freedom of expression, it does so despite itself.

According to Matt Byrne’s April 10, 2009 article in the Boston Globe, “The dispute came to the attention of college administrators after Hillel […] objected to Finkelstein’s scheduled appearance.” This suggests that the administration did not initially object to Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture, but Hillel convinced the administration to cancel it. According to CUSPR, John Bassett said the event came to his attention after Jack Foley, head of campus security, brought it to his attention. If this is so, what were the extraordinary security concerns of this event? What exactly did President Bassett say to the CUSPR executive board during their April 6, 2009 meeting? What were Hillel’s specific reasons for objecting to the presence of a scholar whose parents survived the Holocaust? If Hillel has compelling reasons to cancel the speech, why don’t they present the entirety of their correspondence with the administration on this matter?

Further, by canceling Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture, the administration has granted Hillel de facto veto power over who is allowed to speak on campus–power no student group should have, and a privilege which should enrage every student and professor regardless of political inclination. The problem with veto power is epidemic–if Hillel can silence Israel-Palestine conflict scholar Norman Finkelstein, can the Newman Association silence Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards? Can the Christian Students Union silence religious scholar and anti-theist Sam Harris? Can Republicans of Clark silence affirmative action activist and Columbia University president Lee Bollinger? The premise is absurd and insulting not only to those who might like to hear those people speak, but to the whole community. To cancel Dr. Finkelstein’s speech for “untimely and unfortunate scheduling” is to deny his detractors the opportunity to publicly challenge his views, and to deny everyone an open-minded environment in which higher learning can take place. Clark must be free to endure controversy and to challenge convention, because that is how we change our world. Clark University must not pander to those who use “anti-Semitic” to describe critics of Israeli foreign policy.

In all of this, we witness the defining moment of John Bassett’s presidency, and a defining moment for Clark academics at large. If we are dedicated to dialogue and understanding, we will bravely face adversity and demand that President Bassett allow Dr. Norman Finkelstein to deliver his lecture. Should an ideological conflict arise, we should see the unique opportunity to foster an incredibly difficult dialogue. Will we endure controversy to defend academic freedom, or compromise our integrity by catering to the petulant and intellectually bankrupt?

John M. Kuchta
Class of 2007


Letters to Clark University President Office – 31

04.15.2009 | Original

By John St Lawrence

Dear President Basset:

I heard Dr Finkelstein speak at Brown University last year, a school which doesn’t limit intellectual inquiry and “diversity of opinion” to the student handbook. Professor Finkelstein was a commanding presence with his enlightening and exhaustive grasp of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In the Q&A, we heard from a former Israeli soldier, students from Hillel, Palestinian students, and people from the Providence community. It was civil and informative and there was no police presence that I could see.

If your students have a problem with controversial ideas and are unable to tolerate ambiguity or dissent, then it is a reflection on you and your administration. You set the tone on campus and a lack of civility or tolerance is your responsibility.

You have done your students a disservice; and you should no longer be considered or ranked by the Princeton Review as one of the best liberal arts colleges. You don’t deserve it.

The most recent newsletter published by Counterpunch.org speaks of The New Campus McCarthyism. You should be the first to read it.

Sincerely,
John St Lawrence
Johnston, RI


Letters to Clark University President Office – 32

04.15.2009 | Original

By Ali Shokouhbakhsh

Dear President Bassett,

President, Clark University,

Mr, Finkelstein was planing to talk about Israeli massacre in Gaza not Holocaust. One more time Holocaust is used to silence critics of Israeli war crimes.

No integrity.

Regards,

Ali Shokouhbakhsh
Educator


Letters to Clark University President Office – 33

04.15.2009 | Original

By Eva Moseley

Dear President Bassett,

Today’s Boston Globe reports that the Clark administration has cancelled a talk by Norman Finkelstein because it would conflict with a conference on a similar topic that begins two days later, and because it would “invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding.”

In regard to the first reason, one could just as well say that it would augment or complement the conference being held by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. And in regard to the second, if Clark “remains committed to inviting a wide range of speakers to encourage diversity of opinions on controversial topics,” as your letter in the student newspaper avows, then it makes no sense to cancel a talk by someone who may “invite controversy.”

The real reason, if the Globe article is accurate, appears to be that Hillel “objected to Finkelstein’s scheduled appearance.” Hillel members are no doubt of the Israel-can-do-no-wrong school of thought and will put up with controversy about anything except Israel and Palestine. It is disappointing, to say the least, to see yet another university cave in to this sort of pressure. If that is not what happened, there are many of us who would like to know the real reason, as those quote in the article are so unconvincing. And let me add that I’m Jewish and as a child was a refugee from Nazi Vienna, one of the lucky few who escaped the terrible fate of so many Jews, and who believes that Israel should have learned from the Holocaust not to oppress another people.

Sincerely,

Eva (Steiner) Moseley
Cambridge, MA


Letters to Clark University President Office – 34

04.15.2009 | Original

By Claiborne Clark

The Anti-Defamation (sic) League is at it again. This time they are defaming Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Lansing State has shown backbone and I hope UNC does too.

You are also aware of the shameful action taken by the president of Clark University in canceling a talk by Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors. The ADL and the other usual suspects must certainly be behind this one too. Finkelstein, who had been invited by a student group which advocates for Palestinian rights, is the author of a book called “The Holocaust Industry” which argues that the Nazi Holocaust is being used in attempts to justify Israel’s harmful actions towards Palestinians who had nothing to do with the Holocaust.

Finkelstein asserts in his more recent book “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” that Israel uses accusations of anti-Semitism against critics of Israel. Clark University president Bassett said it was inappropriate for Finklestein to speak at the University at the same time a conference on the Holocaust is going on there. After the carnage in Gaza, which a Jewish Member of the British Parliament compared to the actions of Nazis, it is a profound shame that Finkelstein, the son of death camp survivors, is banned from Clark University. It seems to me that the actions taken against Finkelstein by the president at Clark University, and the defamation of Desmond Tutu by the Anti-Defamation (sic) League bear out the points Dr. Finkelstein makes.

It must be terrible to support something that has so little tolerance for truth.


Letters to Clark University President Office – 35

04.15.2009 | Original

By Chris Caesar

President Bassett,

As I’m sure you’re inundated with letters of protest and concern regarding the cancellation of Norman Finkelstein’s event, I wanted to extend my tremendous thanks for doing the right thing and allowing Dr. Finkelstein to return to the campus as soon as possible. While the university never explicitly ‘banned’ Dr. Finkelstein per se, many of us were concerned that the indefinite postponement of the event may have been an attempt to silence him.

Thank you for nevertheless respecting our concerns and acting with such haste in responding. Indeed, many Presidents would not be so gracious.

I’m afraid that a number of us nevertheless remain concerned that the university, in an official capacity, seems to have conflated Dr. Finkelstein’s criticisms of the Israeli occupation with an affront to the memory and legacy of the Holocaust. We’ve never really understood why the university foresaw any kind of “situational conflicts” between Finkelstein’s talk on Gaza (relying solely on published accounts by locally operating human rights groups like Amnesty, HRW, etc.) and a symposium on the Holocaust. I spoke to someone in the communications department, and it seemed that she could not explain it, either.

I would hope that the university would repudiate such a notion. Many Clarkies – myself included – have family histories in the Holocaust, and find the implication that one cannot simultaneously honor the memory of those who perished there and those currently perishing in Gaza utterly unacceptable – not to mention extremely offensive.

Perhaps we are misapprehending something about your decision to postpone Dr. Finkelstein’s talk, but I thought you should know many of us are heartbroken at the insinuation, along with it’s implications for intellectual development and critical dialogues at the school.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. We never meant to drag Clark through the mud or throw you under a bus – just do what a great school so thoughtfully prepared us to do as post-graduates.

Best and warmest regards,
Chris Caesar ‘06


Letters to Clark University President Office – 36

04.15.2009 | Original

By Tina Issa

Dear President Bassett,

You have clearly infringed on the freedom of speech of the students of your University by cancelling Norman Finkelstein’s speech. I would encourage your students whose rights you stepped on to take legal action against you for doing so. I understand from the articles that the Jewish Group, Hillel put pressure on you to cancel Professor Finkelstein’s speech. I really don’t understand what is happening in academia here in America, we the nation and pioneers of freedom of speech can no longer be described as such because of people like you and groups like Hillel. You are corrupting our Universities by not allowing both sides of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict to be told.

Professors like Finkelstein, Joel Kovel and others are being persecuted and relieved of their duties because they dare to use scholarly evidence, information that the entire world knows except for the United States of America, and tell the other side of the Palestine / Israel conflict. I have attended lectures by Mr. Finkelstein and find him to only use solid facts and evidence to prove his points, he is also an extremely intelligent and articulate person who earnestly wants the other side of the story told. Your students would certainly be enlightened by hearing him speak.

By censoring Mr. Finkelstein, you and Hillel are not helping the cause, you are enabling the problem to get worse, and it is not good for anybody for this problem to grow. Education and analyzation is the only way to ensure that this dire situation improves, but you, the head of an educational institution no less, won’t allow that to happen. Also, to cave in to a group of people instead of looking out for the greater good is cowardly to say the least.

Academia is not what it used to be, we have Professors being censored and ostracized for doing what they are supposed to do and we have students who are not allowed to explore and be educated, and we have bullies who dictate what the University can teach and say. Really what is the role of the University if it is not to educate, pursue the truth and explore all avenues of problem solving. It ceases to be an institution for learning at that point.

You can correct this by rescheduling Professor Finkelstein and allowing your students to learn. Shame on you if you don’t.

Thank you for your time.

Tina Issa
Chicago, IL


Letters to Clark University President Office – 37

04.15.2009 | Original

By R. C. Olwen

Dear Sir,

You made many words to mask a wellknown attitude towards warmongers: cowardice.

Do you have in your university library a book by the late Erich Maria Remarque? In English the title should be something like “Nothing New In The West” — I know that there is a translation.

Please read this war report from World War One. It was one of the books that helped end it, and formed the opinion that war is unacceptable for a civilization (together with the protests by civilians, there is still little research on them)

And then show that the world — and yourself — has learned something meanwhile and rescind the cancellation of the Finkelstein lecture.

The topic Dr. Norman G. Finkelstein has been lecturing for years now, and will continue to speak about is the war against the civilians in Gaza, and I do hope he can do so at Clark University April 23

Rune C. Olwen
Euro Region South Jutland

P.S.: Our last war against our neighbors was 145 years ago. Nobody nowadays can understand the hatred of these times, or the arrogance of the rulers; we put all that behind us and I do urgently wish that the Palestinians and Israelis can enjoy the same.


Letters to Clark University President Office – 38

04.20.2009 | Original

By George Salzman

Dear Mr. Bassett,

A report by the anti-censorship sub-group Muzzlewatch of the organization Jewish Voice for Peace, tells of your action as follows:

The Clark Students for Palestinian Rights have circulated two petitions. One questions whether the president should be able to cancel events without first consulting event organizers, and the other asks whether Clark students can have productive conversations about issues with which they may not agree.

We consider this an abuse of academic freedom,” said senior Thomas MacMillan, president of the organization, which had raised half of the $1,800 costs associated with Mr. Finkelstein’s talk before Mr. Bassett canceled it. “Free speech is probably one of the greatest things we have in this country, as long as it’s not encouraging hate or violence toward someone else.”

The ACLU also wrote a letter to President Bassett in which they noted that this cancellation: “violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom, which are so fundamental to an institution of higher learning.”

Norman Finklestein commented thusly:

Part of the Clark University-Boston Globe disinformation campaign is the pretense that I was scheduled to speak on the Nazi holocaust. In fact I was scheduled to speak on the Gaza massacre. Isn’t it too perfect that Clark was using The Holocaust as a pretext to silence criticism of Israel?

I urge you to apologize to the students and to Mr. Finkelstein, and to encourage them to hold the event, albeit at a later date than originally planned.

Sincerely,
George Salzman
Prof. Emeritus of Physics, Univ of Massachusetts-Boston


Letters to Clark University President Office – 39

04.20.2009 | Original

By Charles Parsons

President Basset:

You have betrayed the very concepts which you have espoused such as “diversity of opinion” when you rejected Proffessor Finkelstein’s invitation to speak at Clark University. A discussion regarding the World War II Holocaust has no meaning unless the lessons derived from it are applied to present day situations. To deplore the past and ignore the present is hypocrisy under the cover of feigned concern. Clark University could have accomplished much more had it honestly dealt with the present treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis within the context of the Holocaust. Otherwise, the University’s conference regarding the Holocaust is nothing more than a guilt trip to support the unsupportable in Israel.

Charles Parsons
Lake City, Michigan


Letters to Clark University President Office – 40

04.21.2009 | Original

By Aamer Khan

Dear President Bassett:

Your cancellation of Dr Norman Finkelstein’s speech is a serious violation of academic integrity.

I submit to you three (elementary) propositions that (I hope) can function as a starting point for discussion:

1. Clark University is university before it is a business. A university is a zone where free expression is sacred. Therefore academic freedom should trump all other considerations short of interfering with other peoples freedom.

2. The President of Clark University is a scholar before he is a politician. Therefore defending the right of scholarly expression trumps seeking popularity with powerful constiutuencies.

3. Freedom of expression is not a tactical device that we use to criticize others when others censor speech that we have no strong opinion about. It is an absolute standard that we apply to ourselves in order to tolerate speech that we may strongly disagree with, and even find offensive. If freedom of expression does not mean that, then what value does it have?

These propositons lead inelectably to the following conclusion

Your action has dishonered your office, your university, and your standing a member of the Academy.

Please point out any errors in my logic. If you cannot find any, then please admit your mistake, and rescind your cancellation of Dr FInkelstein. It takes a big man to say he was wrong.

Question: Is free speech a vacuous intellectual slogan or an ideal we should strive towards especially when it is inconvenient?

An observation: Free speech is a constitutional freedom that should not be taken for granted. The current understandings of free speech were the result of many years of struggle and bloodshed not just in our republic, but the civilized world. They can easily be lost or eroded if citizens lose vigilance. Take for example the well documented abuses of the Bush administration with regard to some key constitutional protections.

Regards


Letters to Clark University President Office – 41

04.25.2009 | Original

By Michael Shanahan

Dear Dr Bassett

I was pleased to hear that Dr Norman Finkelstein is to speak at Clark University only a little after the originally planned date for the event. Your lecturer has, as I am sure you are aware, a world-wide reputation for his erudite and scholarly approach to the subject in question. I see, in passing, that such as Baruch Kimmerling (late Professor of Sociology, Hebrew University) , Daniel Boyarin (Professor of Near Eastern Studies, University of California, Berkeley), Avi Shlaim (Professor of International Relations, Oxford Unioversity), Sara Roy (Senior Research Fellow, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University) and Noam Chomsky (Institute Professor, M.I.T) have lauded his many and varied contributions to the Israel-Palestine issue.

It may be that you have not previously had the opportunity to hear Dr Finkelstein (although I see he has spoken twice at the university) and hopefully your engagements will allow you to attend in person if that is your wish.

Yours faithfully


Letters to Clark University President Office – 42

04.25.2009 | Original

By Chris Caesar

President Bassett,

I appreciate the candor of your email, and am quite relieved to hear the university decided to go forward with the effort. I can vividly remember when UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter was brought to campus in 2002, and how central Clark’s willingness to host controversial speakers so positively affected my intellectual development. Thank you for being so sensitive to our concerns.

We’re all still kind of unclear, though, as to what kind of courtesy would be jeopardized by Dr. Finkelstein’s appearance on campus. While we appreciate your response, a number of our questions went unanswered. Many alumni remain upset that the university seems to believe it is in poor taste (or even offensive) to discuss Gaza and the German Holocaust on the same campus. On a personal level, I can certainly understand you declining to comment on such considerations, though declining to do so will simply reinforce the perception that this was indeed the reason the university postponed the event.

We would simply like to let the President’s office know — should this, for whatever far-out reason, happen again — that there are many alumni whose lives and worldviews have been touched by the Holocaust, and not all of us share the view that criticizng the Israeli occupation is somehow disrespectful.to that memory.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.

Chris Caesar ’06

Reply:

Thank you for sharing your concerns. The students have arranged for Professor Norman Finkelstein to speak at Clark University on April 27, only four days later than the date originally discussed. Clark is dedicated to full and free inquiry on all controversial issues, especially including the relations between Israel and Palestine. My decisions along the way in this case were made in an attempt to balance two goods—free inquiry and common courtesy to visiting speakers. And, the decisions were always made with my primary concern being what is best for Clark University.

I freely admit that the process could have been better. I should have begun by consulting with the leaders of the sponsoring student organization, not by announcing a decision. I also should not have assumed that, because April 20-24 is the last full week of classes, nothing else could happen until fall. That assumption left too many people thinking that free speech was in abeyance for five months.

The students involved have conducted themselves in the best “Clark way” and I hope the result shows that one can achieve both goods.

Sincerely,
John Bassett
President
Clark University



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