Is Tenure Bad for the Jews? This Enduring Practice Protects Holocaust Deniers and Stifles "Academic Freedom."

By Riley, Naomi Schaefer | Moment, September-October 2011 | Go to article overview

Is Tenure Bad for the Jews? This Enduring Practice Protects Holocaust Deniers and Stifles "Academic Freedom."


Riley, Naomi Schaefer, Moment


If you ask professors why they need tenure, the first words out of their mouths will undoubtedly be some variation of this phrase: "To guarantee academic freedom." I've asked this question dozens, if not hundreds, of times. I have asked professors at both ends of what amounts to a guaranteed job for life if, as the argument goes, they will be unable to speak or write freely without tenure. Will those with unpopular views--or views that upset the administration or the trustees or other members of the faculty--otherwise be run off campus? And if we allow such pressure to be exerted on our faculty, will the integrity of the university in America be compromised?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Three years ago, when I started a book about the institution of tenure, I made a promise to myself: I would severely limit my use of the words "Ward" and "Churchill." The case of Ward Churchill (the tenured ethnic studies professor whose shoddy scholarship was brought to light after he referred to the victims of 9/11 as "little Eichmanns") was invoked so commonly that his case started to lose meaning. Also, I figured he would be old news by the time the book was published. I guess the joke's on me: Six years after an investigation was launched into Churchill's work, and four years after University of Colorado President Hank Brown fired him, the Colorado Supreme Court announced that it would hear his lawsuit against the university at which he is seeking to be rehired.

But Churchill is only famous among the "tenured radicals" because someone actually tried to get rid of him. There are many more American academics who are still sitting pretty, long after their outrageous statements have been made public. Jews especially should be attuned to this problem, because among those afforded this ironclad protection are some notorious anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers.

Take the case, for instance, of Arthur Butz, who has been teaching electrical engineering at Northwestern University for more than three decades now. In 1976, he published The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry shortly after he received tenure. A couple of years ago, in interviews with the Iranian press, Butz was asked about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadine-jad's views on the Holocaust. "I congratulate him on becoming the first head of state to speak out clearly on these issues and regret only that it was not a Western head of state," Butz offered. For years Northwestern has been tacitly defending Butz's Holocaust denial as within the bounds of his "academic freedom. …

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