Cornel West quits Harvard with blistering letter attacking racism and ‘spiritual rot’ at university

West warns ‘the shadow of Jim Crow’ still hangs over America’s elite school

John Bowden
Tuesday 13 July 2021 15:51
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Philosopher and activist Dr Cornel West has resigned from his position as a professor with Harvard University in a letter that slams the university for treating him and other Black faculty with disrespect, despite specific commitments made by the school.

In a letter sent to the school at the end of last month, and published on Twitter by Dr West on Monday, the acclaimed activist and orator wrote that Harvard officials reorganised his classes so that all courses taught by the first-ever Black graduate of Princeton’s doctorate philosophy programme would be considered to be under the umbrella of “Afro-American religious studies”.

Other transgressions of the university, alleged by Dr West, include refusing to let him take a previously agreed-upon yearlong sabbatical, poor salary conditions, and the accusation that university officials even failed to reach out with condolences after the death of his mother, just as they allegedly failed to do for after one of his colleagues experienced a similar loss.

The letter’s publication follows a public dispute between Dr West and the university over his tenure application, which was denied in February. Dr West has alleged that the denial stems from his public support for the Palestinian people and the “political prejudices” of Harvard’s administration.

It also comes just days after a similar controversy erupted at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, where journalist Nicole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times declined a tenured position at the school after members of the board raised concerns about her credentials and threatened to derail the process likely as a result of conservative backlash to her work on The 1619 Project, which looks at the role of race in America’s founding.

Ms Hannah-Jones, who like Dr West is Black, opted instead to take on a tenured position at Howard University in a move that was publicly humiliating for UNC and left professors and others at the school openly questioning the administration’s management.

In his letter, Dr West wrote that the actions of Harvard’s administration betrayed an “intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of deep depths” at the university.

“With a few glorious and glaring exceptions, the shadow of Jim Crow was cast in its new glittering form expressed in the language of superficial diversity,” wrote Dr West.

A university spokesperson declined to comment on Dr West’s letter when contacted by The Independent.

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