A committee of five academics—including the director of Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies—issued a petition earlier this week to limit “outside interference” in university tenure decisions and maintain “academic freedom” at institutions of higher education.

The petition, which currently lists 231 signatures including six Harvard affiliates, highlights pro-Israel groups as the main sources of tenure interference.

“These groups have targeted scholars who have expressed perspectives on Israeli policies and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with which they disagree,” the petition said.

The committee’s petition also quotes a paper by Harvard sociology professor Neil Gross as saying that “a greater percentage of social scientists today feels their academic freedom has been threatened than was the case during the McCarthy era.”

The professors on the committee said advocacy groups’ influencing tenure decisions is inimical to the values of the academy.

“Outside pressure does not belong in the consideration of the credentials of the university faculty,” said committee member Joan W. Scott of Princeton.

One of the cases cited by the committee was Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz’s lobbying DePaul University not to grant tenure to political scientist Norman G. Finkelstein.

At one point during the long spat between the professors, Dershowitz sent letters to DePaul faculty and administrators attacking Finkelstein’s scholarship and urging the university to deny him tenure. (MORE)


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