Dr. Cornel West made headlines last week when Harvard University refused to grant tenure to the renowned scholar and activist. People across the world were shocked and West has threatened to leave the Ivy League institution. Now, West is explaining his latest quarrel with the school that he left once before over a disagreement with leadership. In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, West expounded on the matter and reiterated he’s not backing down.
According to West, his “ridiculous situation at Harvard” is not an isolated incident, but rather “a symptom of a much larger crisis in higher education.” He said Blacks in higher education are often overlooked and passed over for prestigious opportunities no matter how deserving they are, West said.
“First, Black scholars and too many others are too often disrespected, devalued, or dismissed. Second, the fundamental aims of the quest for truth, beauty, and goodness are too often trumped for the pursuit of donor money, public image, and consumer reputation,” West told the Chronicle.
West added many institutions of higher learning overlook the truth due to an “obsession with brand and market promotion.”
“This preoccupation with brand too often produces superficial talk about diversity without a genuine commitment to respecting the contributions of Black scholars and others,” West said.
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Though Harvard offered West a 10-year contract that included a pay raise and an endowed chairmanship, West said it is not enough. He highlighted other examples of brilliant academics of color who left Harvard and/or were denied tenure.
“Harvard — like many other places — has too often succumbed to hubris and hypocrisy, arrogance and pettiness. Combating racist treatment is a crucial litmus test; robust and respectful free dialogue on taboo issues is another,” West said. “In the past three years at Harvard, five major Black scholars have left and two brilliant scholars critical of the U.S. empire and Israeli occupation — a Black Dominican woman and a Jewish Israeli woman — have been denied tenure. I see a pattern here.”
West reiterated his position that respect is priceless and challenged Harvard to confront the tough issues and not succumb to fear when addressing taboo issues.
“I want to make it clear that big money and prestigious professorships (without tenure or through the back door) at Harvard can never replace genuine respect,” West said. “So, a free Black man like me has no place at Harvard, and Harvard does not deserve those few free spirits still there. Yet Harvard can change if it chooses to do so!”