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DeNial at DePaul -- the Thomas Klocek Affair By: Steven Plaut
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, April 18, 2005

Catholic universities in the United States have shown a penchant for cultivating far-leftist anti-Semites and haters of America in recent years.  Perhaps the best known has been Notre Dame University, home of the extremist Kroc Institute, which attempted to sponsor Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss Arab anti-Semite with ties to al-Qaeda, for a three-year professorship in the US.  But in many ways, DePaul University is even worse.  

DePaul University is a large, if not particularly academically renowned, Catholic college in Chicago, nominally associated with “Congregation of the Mission,” more popularly known as the Vincentians.  Until recently, the main cause of controversy surrounding DePaul was its insistence on employing notorious anti-Semite Norman Finkelstein as an assistant professor in its political science department.  But a few months ago, DePaul took a giant step in implementing leftist suppression of free speech on its campus.

The immediate target of DePaul's suppression campaign was Thomas Klocek, a part-time adjunct professor at DePaul University's so-called "School for New Learning.” ("New learning" evidently is not something DePaul confuses with "learning,” as the events there show.)  Klocek's crime?  He was guilty of expressing support for Israel.

After 14 years of continuous employment at the Chicago-based college, Klocek was suspended with pay last September, and then stayed suspended - this time without pay - through the winter and spring quarters.  Klocek is guilty of nothing more than expressing pro-Israel views in the face of extremist Palestinian propaganda on DePaul's campus, including some by students and non-students proliferating the usual falsehoods and canards about Israel and Rachel Corrie. 

Klocek's campus courses have ranged from “Critical Thinking” to “College Writing” to “Languages and Cultures of the World.”  By all accounts, he was a popular teacher and his classes were always full.

Despite having an unblemished record during that span, DePaul summarily dismissed Klocek from his duties after the school claimed that he had "insulted" and "demeaned" several Muslim students at a campus fair for extracurricular groups. Klocek had publicly expressed his belief that "strictly speaking, right now there is no such place as Palestine on the map. The Palestinian people were simply Arabs who lived in the West Bank and Gaza."

With no current income, and facing the possibility of losing the health insurance he desperately needed for a serious kidney condition, Klocek decided to go public with his fight. The story made major headlines after the Chicago Jewish News ran a large expose of DePaul's auto da fe against Klocek.

The university contends that Klocek's case "is not a case of academic freedom, but a situation of inappropriate behavior outside the classroom by a university employee," in the words of the university spokesperson.  Meanwhile, at the very same time “Professor” Norman Finkelstein’s anti-Israel behavior did not seem to bother the heads of DePaul in the least. 


Robin Florzak, a PR official for DePaul, has been promoting the DePaul version of the First Amendment :


"After university administrators met with Klocek, DePaul took action to protect our students and maintain a professional standard of conduct at the university. As an adjunct instructor who is hired on an as-needed basis each term, Klocek does not receive the same privileges as full-time tenured professors."  Meaning, I surmise, that Finkelstein's crackpot views are protected speech at DePaul but Klocek's pro-Israel sentiments are not.


Thomas Klocek spoke with us and told us about how he ended up at DePaul in the first place: "I had studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood for eight years. Following that, I had a number of governmental and private jobs before applying to the University of Chicago for an M.A.-Ph.D. program.  My specialty has been Slavic languages and Literatures, especially Russian and Old Slavic.  I have served as a language coach for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during the 1980's and have translated various texts for publication both here and in Russia.  Presently I am completing my dissertation at the University of Chicago in the Committee on History of Culture, topic: Logos and its Impact on the Development of Medieval Slavic Culture.


"I came to DePaul at the recommendation of a Russian immigrant being tutored in English by a professor there.  In 1991 I was immediately accepted as adjunct and began teaching in the School for New Learning, a returning scholars program meeting evenings.  This fit in well with my research plans at the University of Chicago, as well as providing some financial support."


The administration says that Kclocek was dismissed because as he walked away from the students in question, he “thumbed his chin” at them.  It's a common Italian expression meaning, 'I'm finished,' 'I'm out of here.'  In a special letter to the student newspaper DePaulia, Oct.8, Dean Susanne Dumbleton first apologized for the incident and stated that the instructor was being dealt with in an appropriate manner. Then the crucial point followed, in which the Dean referred to Klocek's attempt to impose his “ERRONEOUS VIEWS” on the students.  This let the cat out of the bag.  This belied the claim by the University that Klocek’s case is about his supposed attitude, NOT the content of his statements.  In other words, support for Israel against Arab aggression and terrorism is “erroneous” and not to be tolerated on the same campus in which Norman Finkelstein is employed!


Klocek tells us his side of the story:


"A Student Activities Fair was being held at DePaul on 9.15.04 at the Loop campus. It was open to all.  When the incident began, I had not identified myself as a faculty member.  I visited various booths and tables, among them 'Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).'   I gave them my email address and asked for some of their literature.  I then stood about reading this incendiary piece about Rachel Corrie and the Israeli bulldozing of Arab homes and properties.  Speaking with those distributing the material, I took exception and pointed out that there are a number of perspectives on the Middle East, among them a Christian one rarely heard about.  I stated that Christians antedated Islam in the area by eight centuries. I also stated that there is no such entity as Palestine on the current map and that U.S. newspapers only began using the term Palestinians some 25-30 years ago. One of the SJP members said that the Israeli treatment of ‘Palestinians’ is as bad as the way Hitler treated the Jews. I took vast umbrage with this scurrilous statement and pointed out that there is a qualitative difference between Israeli military forces seeking out known terrorists and people strapping on bombs and blowing themselves and others up in buses, cafes, and Seder dinners.


"The conversation became especially heated when United Muslims Moving Ahead (UMMA), a group next to SJP, joined the fray.  At no time did I threaten any of the students physically or verbally, but the volume of the talking turned loud on both sides. I decided to leave and it was at THAT time one of them asked me if I had any connection to the University.  I said yes and told him my name and School.


"Some few days later, the Dean, Susanne Dumbleton of the School for New Learning, called me in and had in her hand two letters, one each from SJP and UMMA. I never saw these but she appeared to read from them, outlining charges against me made by the student groups, among them that I was 'disrespectful' and that they were 'hurt and crushed' by my remarks.  She stated that I was to be suspended from teaching until further notice.  She also announced that the School would make a response to the school newspaper.  It should be noted that Dean Dumbleton had previously met with BOTH student groups AND their faculty advisors without my being present, and - when I asked her why - she replied that I was too 'passionate' about the subject."


Large numbers of bloggers and some DePaul faculty have come out in favor of Klocek and against his Inquisitors from DePaul.  Jonathan Cohen, a professor of mathematics at the university, said he sees the incident as something that sounds like "political correctness run amuck."  The university itself has been forced to acknowledge the growing outrage over its conduct.


"I decided to go public because the issue is much larger that my case, extending to the very heart of what it means to be a university," says Klocek.  "Free speech is an axiom of free people, it is as simple as that. If this can happen to me, is ANYONE on campus really immune?


"Reaction has ranged from silence to outright support from some courageous individual professors. There are many at the School for New Learning who have told me that they support my cause but are afraid of the Dean.  I have support elsewhere at the University but some are afraid to do this openly.  Public and media reactions have been encouraging.  The story is spreading through the internet blogs.  I do not know personally of any negative reaction other than that of the University and I have to date received no hate mail."


Perhaps more importantly, the Catholic Church as an institution is finally beginning to find out about the Klocek case, and several local authorities have indicated their sympathy. "What I need is for the Church to follow through on its teachings on both the role of education (specifically the university) and justice. They cannot simply preach to those outside the Church, but must have their clear message promulgated to their own institutions. I still await their open signs of support."

DePaul's sudden horror at the supposed "unprofessorial behavior" by Klocek is all because they claim he made an impolite hand gesture.  A gesture Klocek made to Muslim students who were calling him names. 


Note how dramatically the DePaul vindictiveness stands in sharp contrast with the university's record regarding Norman Finkelstein, arguably the most openly anti-Semitic Jew on the planet and one of the worst anti-Semites in American academia.  DePaul recruited Finkelstein as an assistant professor in political science after Finkelstein was fired from two New York-area adjunct teaching jobs (at New York University and Hunter College) because of his pseudo-scholarship and fraudulent rantings against Jews and Israel.  The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) openly calls Finkelstein a "Holocaust denier" and accuses him of pursuing an anti-Semitic agenda.  Finkelstein is almost universally regarded as a Holocaust Denier, a Jewish traitor and anti-Semite, and at the very least a fraud and pseudo-scholar.

Finkelstein makes Ward Churchill look like a careful objective scholar.  He is a disciple of Holocaust denier David Irving and claims Irving is an authoritative historian.  Finkelstein refers to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis as the "Six Million" in quotation marks, and says that nearly every Holocaust survivor is a fraud, a thief and a liar.  (Finkelstein's own parents are Holocaust survivors and Finkelstein has long tried to capitalize on this as a way to legitimize his own anti-Semitism.)  In his Die Welt interview he says: “Not only does the '6 Million' figure become more untenable but the numbers of the Holocaust industry are rapidly approaching those of Holocaust deniers."
  The psychiatry department at DePaul might have interesting things to say about this. 


Finkelstein may be most famous for his comments justifying Holocaust Deniers: "Indeed, the field of Holocaust studies is replete with nonsense, if not sheer fraud."


In The Holocaust Industry, Finkelstein said, “’If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one,’ my mother used to exclaim, ‘who did Hitler kill?’" He added that most 'survivors' are bogus and that too much money is spent commemorating the Nazi genocide.


Finkelstein routinely libels Holocaust survivor, philosopher and writer Elie Wiesel in scurrilous terms.  Finkelstein is the star on every Holocaust denial neo-Nazi web site on earth, serving as the "Jew who proved there was never any Holocaust."  He has been denounced as a fraud and anti-Semite by Alan Dershowitz, historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Dennis Prager, Professor Omer Bartov from Brown University, the World Jewish Congress, and just about every other academic to comment on him, gentile or Jew.  Jonathan Freedland wrote in the British Guardian – a strongly pro-Palestinian newspaper - that Finkelstein was "closer to the people who created the Holocaust than to those who suffered it.”


The New York Times compared Finkelstein's book to the old czarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, ever popular with Saudis and Counterpunch columnists. 


According to Wikipedia, “Finkelstein has defended Hezbollah for armed resistance against the Israeli Army in Lebanon."   He describes Israel thus: "The Zionists indeed learnt well from the Nazis. So well that it seems that their morally repugnant treatment of the Palestinians, and their attempts to destroy Palestinian society within Israel and the occupied territories, reveals them as basically Nazis."   In The Holocaust Industry, he described Holocaust reparations as a corrupt "racket"… He has also challenged the characterization of the Holocaust as a uniquely evil historical event, and likened Israeli security to the Gestapo.  Finkelstein has openly endorsed Arab terror against Jewish civilians.


DePaul University’s President, Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, has been circulating a personal letter to anyone complaining about the firing of Klocek and the employment of Finkelstein.   There Fr. Holtschneider states: “We are confident that those who find his (Finkelstein) views distasteful, especially DePaul's longstanding friends in the Jewish community, will recognize the need for us to refrain from censorship in order to ensure that all viewpoints on a given issue at a particular moment in time can be heard.” 


Concerning Finkelstein, the same letter states in response to a critic:


"You noted the contrast between Mr. Klocek's situation and that of Dr. Norman Finkelstein, an assistant professor of political science at DePaul. While the incident involving Mr. Klocek had nothing to do with academic freedom, Dr. Finkelstein's position in the university community has everything to do with it. Dr. Finkelstein was hired at the recommendation of the Political Science faculty after extensive reference checks and an evaluation of the quality of his teaching. The faculty were aware of his published works that have provoked disagreement from many quarters, but also recognized that mainstream publishers, publications and reviewers have taken his research seriously, if critically.   Dr. Finkelstein has fulfilled his teaching responsibilities and presented his views at forums alongside other faculty who hold opinions that differ from his, thus contributing to the marketplace of ideas where concepts rise and fall on their merits. "


The "mainstream" reviewers and publishers of whom the President speaks, who take Finkelstein's rantings seriously, are all anti-Semites, Holocaust Deniers and Neonazis, like Jeff Rense, the Barnes Review, and the many "Holocaust Revisionist" web sites, and the web site of deported Nazi Ernst Zundel.  I doubt the good friar could name any serious mainstream academic historians who regard Finkelstein's "book" as scholarly research.    


Finkelstein, by the way, is not the only stain on the DePaul frock.  DePaul last year hosted an "art exhibit" consisting of "Palestinian art" and Israel bashing in its Richardson Library.  It featured, among other things, a venomous attack on the late Yitzhak Rabin for supposedly abusing Palestinians.


Is the First Amendment dead at DePaul?  "I ended up in a conversation about Israel with the students because their position is so blatantly one-sided that I thought they should have an opportunity to hear alternatives," Klocek says.  "This is, I think, the essence of what a university is about, the free exchange of ideas.  It seems almost fashionable to be anti-Israel on campus these days, and my conversation with the student radicals simply demonstrated this beyond reasonable doubt."


Given the sensitivity of the Church today to charges of anti-Semitism and the sincere attempts by the Vatican under the late John Paul II to atone for centuries of Church persecution of Jews, the employment of Finkelstein by DePaul as an "academic" is an open outrage and insult to the world, and especially to Catholics. DePaul would never hire a "professor" who claimed that it was actually Jesus Christ who had crucified Pontius Pilate, so what is a buffoon like Norman Finkelstein doing on its faculty?


Klocek sums up his plight thus: "DePaul has what is called their Vincentian Mission, named for St. Vincent DePaul, admittedly a good and even holy man, who cared for the poor of Paris. The University has used this exalted statement as an excuse for a fashionable political correctness and I have been one (but I am certain) not the only victim."

[If you wish to tell the officers at DePaul what you think, their contact information is available here.]

Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.

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