Cornell West resigns from Harvard over “intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy”
Holding his tongue would be an existential crisis for a brilliantly outspoken thinker like Cornell West, and he let Harvard University have more than a part of his mind. In a brief but poignant letter dated June 30, West announced his resignation from Harvard University for essentially devaluing his work and his humanity.
In a clearly scathing letter posted to his Twitter account, West refers to a series of reprehensible behavior towards him and his colleagues perpetrated by the university as the reasons for his departure. After describing the university’s push for diversity as “superficial” and a version of Jim Crow-era oppression, West laments the university for bundling the courses he taught such as the American democracy, existentialism and the conduct of life under a narrow category of African-American clerics. Studies, ignoring their respective nuances of differentiation. His pay was also an issue, with West stating that he was receiving minimal pay increases even after giving two key-in speeches and an opening speech while teaching up to five more classes. Being overworked and underpaid is experienced by blacks flipping burgers and changing the minds of Harvard students.
A promised one-year sabbatical shortened to one semester was another of West’s gripes at work. But, what West seemed to attribute to “rot” and “spiritual rot” were transgressions against a more moralistic code. In February, West threatened to quit after Harvard rejected his request for tenure and instead offered him a 10-year contract, a pay raise and an endowed president’s post. He accused the university’s rejection of “political decision” in a series of tweets. In his resignation letter, he bluntly blames “the Harvard administration’s hostility to the Palestinian cause” for which he was ultimately denied the mandate, as West was outspoken about his criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian Authority. Palestine. And then it got really personal.
In the letter, the deciding factor for West appears to be disregard for his mother’s death in April. West only remembers receiving two public responses to his mother’s death from members of the Harvard administration, similar to what he saw Harvard sociology professor Dr Jacqueline Olga Cooke-Rivers, receive when his mother died. For him, this was nothing less than “narcissistic academic professionalism” when you consider his account that he normally receives at least ten times as many responses for any advertisement of professional achievement. This lack of human empathy on Harvard’s part was also a factor in his decision to leave Harvard for the first time in 2002 when the president of Harvard University Lawrence H. Summers failed to send West a recovery message until months after the professor underwent surgery for prostate cancer.
The letter also revealed that there were tensions in West’s relationship with Harvard that had never been made public, from the time he joined the school in 2016 after teaching there between 1994-2002. Even before West explains in detail why he was resigning, West pointed out that the salary he signed for was lower than his salary in 2002, when he last taught at Harvard as an Afro Studies professor. -american and a joint appointment to Harvard. School of Divinity. West left college that year to teach at Princeton University after an acrimonious relationship with Summers whom West called a “bully” in an interview announcing his initial resignation.
West’s current resignation is the sad song black educators sang this year, just from another twisted record label. Nikole Hannah-Jones announced his resignation from the University of North Carolina a week before West did the same with Harvard. Similar to West, Hannah-Jones was disgusted by the university’s politically motivated rejection of her application for tenure, a rejection that went against the history of the school of offering tenure to anyone who held his esteemed post at the university’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media as a Knight Chair in Racial and Investigative Journalism. The UNC only offered the position of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist after public pressure, so she decided to remind the school of its value by leaving it and preventing them from enjoying that value.
With West doing the same, black educators are not going to help build a future for institutions that cannot pull their politics out of the past and separate themselves from academia.