Rift Between Harvard Scholars, President Makes National News
Controversy at Harvard University made national news last month when reports surfaced that several prominent Black scholars were considering leaving over a rift with Harvard’s new president Dr. Lawrence Summers.
According to reports first published in The Boston Globe, Drs. Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates and Anthony Appiah, all professors in the school’s Afro-American studies department, were considering leaving Harvard and taking positions at rival Princeton University.
The group had reportedly fallen out with Summers, who they claimed had acted abrasively for criticizing West of acting in ways unbecoming of a Harvard professor.
Citing interviews with more than a dozen Harvard faculty, staff and administrators, the Globe reported the rift began when Summers declined to make a strong statement in support of affirmative action at a meeting with department members last summer.
Summers also reportedly rebuked West for recording a rap CD, for leading a political committee for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s possible presidential campaign, and for allowing grade inflation in his introductory Black studies course.
Summers said he meant no offense. “It’s a very unfortunate misunderstanding if my views have been perceived in other ways,” he said. Summers, however, released a statement expressing his commitment to diversity and his support of the Afro-American studies department.
The matter was fueled when the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton weighed in on the controversy. Jackson demanded a meeting with Harvard saying that the university’s commitment to diversity and affirmative action needed “clarification.” Summers agreed to a meeting, but no date was set.
Summers, however, did meet with Gates and West in efforts to calm the departmental uprising, and he spoke to another professor in the department, Dr. William Julius Wilson, by telephone.
Wilson, who had not considered leaving, said his talks with Summers were productive. But West was still weighing whether to leave for Princeton, according to Wilson, who talked to West after the meeting.
“I would not say things are settled,” Wilson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I would say they have improved.”
Gates, who is credited with building the department, said his meeting with Summers resolved any worries he had about his commitment to diversity.
Gates was recently named the 31st Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities. The lectureship is the highest honor the federal government bestows for achievement in the humanities. Previous Jefferson Lecturers include, among others, Toni Morrison, Gwendolyn Brooks and Dr. John Hope Franklin.
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