April 17, 2002

Cornell Reacts to West's Departure

Print More

Prestigious Prof. Cornel West recently returned to Princeton University’s Program of African-American Studies after serving as a university professor at Harvard University’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research for seven years.

Noliwe M. Rooks, associate director of Princeton’s program of African-American studies, welcomed West back to the faculty and program.

“He’s clearly one of the leading intellectuals in America at the moment and it’s just a great honor to have him back,” she said.

The contrast between how Harvard treated him and how Princeton courted him spurred his departure from Harvard, West said.

For the past six months, West and Harvard University president Lawrence H. Summers have been at odds about a number of issues. The animosity originated when Summers criticized West’s scholarship and political actions.

“Larry Summers strikes me as the Ariel Sharon of American higher education,” West said, recently quoted by the New York Times. “He struck me very much as a bull in a china shop, and as a bully, in a very delicate and dangerous situation.”

Despite their conflict, Summers wished West luck in his current position.

“All of us in the Harvard community are grateful to Cornel West for his significant contributions to Harvard’s academic life, especially the great inspiration he provided to so many students,” Summers said, reported by the New York Times.

Don Ohadike, director of the Cornell Africana Studies and Research Center, believes West’s departure was justified.

“Harvard should not have annoyed Cornel West – somebody who had been loyal to them, somebody who had served them for such a long time, someone who emitted the image of Harvard. [He] shouldn’t have been toyed with the way they did,” Ohadike said.

He thinks that universities should learn from West’s exit.

“This should be an eye-opener for all other universities for them to realize that senior scholars can exercise their right to leave if they are not satisfied with their treatment,” he said.

Harvard will suffer greatly from the loss of West, according to Ohadike.

“[His departure] may even blacklist Harvard as anti-black and Princeton as the more progressive university,” he said.

Faculty at the African-American program at Princeton expect interest in the program to increase with West’s return.

“We are anticipating a great enthusiasm for his courses and just his presence on the part of the students,” Rooks said. “We are anticipating a great spike in the enrollment of our classes.”

Currently, it is undecided which courses West will teach.

Princeton hopes to expand its program of African-American studies into a full department within a few years.

Currently, the program does not have any directly appointed professors and does not offer an undergraduate major.

Kuame Appiah, the undergraduate director of Afro-American studies at Harvard, is also leaving Harvard for Princeton. According to the New York Times, he previously said his departure is unrelated to West’s exit. When contacted, he declined comment.

West has published the books Race Matters, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism and several works on religion. He was also an organizer of the Million Man March, among other efforts.

Archived article by Shannon Brescher