Leaving for Princeton, West Says Too Much Made Of His Dispute With Harvard President
Harvard scholar Dr. Cornel West says the university’s president was largely responsible for his move to Princeton but that too much has been made of their dispute.
After giving a lecture late last month at Ramapo College’s conference “State of the African American Professoriate,” West spoke to reporters about “the push of Harvard and pull of Princeton” — and said Harvard President Dr. Lawrence Summers was the push. But he says Harvard’s tradition is bigger than any one faculty member or disagreement.
“Thirty years from now, when we’re dead and gone, Harvard will still be there,” West says. “I’m leaving Harvard with a tear, arriving at Princeton with a smile.”
West says he had not wanted to leave Harvard, and probably would not have accepted the appointment at Princeton earlier this month if Summers were not Harvard’s president.
Summers reportedly rebuked West for recording a spoken-word CD and leading a political committee for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s possible presidential campaign and not focusing enough on scholarship. He also reportedly accused West of allowing grade inflation in his introductory Black studies course (see Black Issues, Feb. 14).
Some in Harvard’s Afro-American studies department also have said Summers did not make a strong statement in support of affirmative action after taking over his post last year.
West, a distinguished professor in the department, spoke about the possibility of department head Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. following him to Princeton.
“You never know,” West says. “He’s leaning in that direction, but you have to let him speak for himself.”
Gates has said he will make a decision this summer.
West says he is excited about the recent expansion of Princeton’s African American studies program, which he led until 1994. He starts at Princeton in July.
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