One of America’s best-known intellectuals left America’s finest university due to their, “intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy”.
Dr. Cornel West, whose recurring message is of love and fairness, is an author, professor, and frequent guest on networks like C-Span, CNN, and HBO. He has taught at Yale, the University of Paris, and Union Theological Seminary.
Most recently, West was employed as the Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University.
After a brief comment about the weather, West’s letter of resignation states, “How sad it is to see our beloved Harvard Divinity School in such decline and decay”.
West mentions in the letter that he came to Harvard four years ago, accepting a salary smaller than he had made fifteen years before that, and without an offer of tenure, “after being a University Professor at Harvard and Princeton”.
In spite of having high hopes then, he found that, “the shadow of Jim Crow was cast in its new glittering form expressed in the language of superficial diversity”.
West says that all of his courses were categorized as Afro-American Religious Studies, including those as far afield as existentialism and American Democracy.
Personal complaints about salary and tenure are also mentioned as reasons for his departure. He references the apathy shown to him after the announcement of his mother’s death. He writes that he only saw two replies to the sad news, while commonplace announcements, like that of an upcoming lecture, can expect twenty replies in the same newsletter.
Refusing tenure to an enormously qualified black professor is a familiar story in the news. Nikole Hannah-Jones was denied tenure at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after the response from conservatives over her involvement in the 1619 Project, which examined the history of slavery in America. UNC reversed their decision and offered tenure, though the Pulitzer Prize winning professor declined, taking a position at Howard University instead.
West’s resignation letter to Harvard mentions that his empathy for the Palestinians is one reason for Harvard’s mistreatment of him and calls this “disgusting”.
Harvard University, the school traditionally considered as America’s finest, has faced other problems recently. In the the admissions scandal that unfolded over the last two years, a former fencing coach was accused of accepting $1.5 million in bribes to help applicants get into Harvard.
Two years ago, the school won a separate case in which a federal judge ruled against Asian American students who claimed discrimination based on the school’s admissions policies.
On Roland Martin Unfiltered, Dr. West expanded on his concerns, saying that they run deeper than just one ivy league school. When asked by a caller if black intellectuals and scholars should move away from schools like Harvard, going instead to historically black colleges and universities, West seemed to feel the answer was not so simple.
“We need to go to places where we are respected, where we can be in power,” West answered. “I don’t believe that every black institution of higher learning is respecting black folks the way they are.” He said that these institutions have produced magnificent figures, mentioning acclaimed novelist Toni Morrison among others, but that white supremacy ideology can sometimes operate in black contexts. The goal instead should be to seek out institutions that empower black people.
The 68-year-old West has stated that he intends to join the faculty at Union Theological Seminary.
Dr. West's MasterClass
MasterClass, a new competitor for educational companies like The Great Courses, has hired Dr. West to teach a streaming class on philosophy.
The subject Dr. West will explore is what it means to be human. His lectures range from courage, love, death, and how to navigate life and think more deeply in our day-to-day lives.
The new course is currently available to MasterClass subscribers.