Cornel West Is Leaving Harvard For Union Theological Seminary in NY After Tenure Controversy

Cornel West Is Leaving Harvard For Union Theological Seminary in NY After Tenure Controversy

Cornel West, a non-tenured professor at Harvard Divinity School, announced in an interview with Boycott Times that he would join the faculty at New York’s Union Theological Seminary.

West, 67, graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in three years, in 1974. He earned his master’s and a doctorate from Princeton University, where he taught from 1988 to 1994. Early in his career, he taught at Union Theological Seminary and at Yale, where he had a joint appointment in the divinity school and the American studies department.

His departure will mark the end of his second tenure on the Harvard faculty. Since 2017, he has held joint appointments in the divinity school, law school, and the African and African American Studies department.

He told the Boycott Times, “I discovered that I can only take so much hypocrisy.” He added,  “I can only take so much pettiness in terms of ways in which I thought I was disrespected and devalued,” when he spoke about leaving Harvard.

Since mid-February, when he gave an interview to The Boston Globe, West has threatened to quit Harvard. He said that Harvard’s administration had turned down his offer for tenure consideration. According to the Globe, he was given an endowed chair with a 10-year contract and a pay increase, but “I wasn’t raised to put up with being disrespected or tolerate disrespect.”

A Harvard spokesperson refuted West’s account of events to the Globe but confirmed that his tenure application had been denied.

The divinity school’s media relations department issued a statement by Deans David Hempton and David Holland in response to an email expressing “sadness” over West’s departure. “He has made an enormous contribution to our curriculum and to our capacity to address issues of racial justice in the United States and around the world,” they wrote. “We had hoped to retain him on our faculty for many years to come.”

Students at Harvard backed West’s request for tenure, “we are keenly aware of how predominantly white institutions disregard the contributions of Black scholars,” doctoral students wrote in a letter. Only two of the divinity school’s 21 faculty members are Black.

Professors must demonstrate a track record of research and publication in academic journals to be granted tenure at most universities, and they are expected to supervise doctoral students who complete their degrees. Prophesy Deliverance!, West’s seminal work on black liberation theology, was published in 1982. He’s also the author of 20 other books. However, while a few are best-sellers, the majority are not considered scholarly works.

Also, he has spent most of his professional life juggling academics, advocacy, media appearances, and entertainment. In 2003, he made his film debut in The Matrix, and he has worked with musicians such as Prince and Bootsy Collins. He toured the country as co-chair of Senator Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign in 2019 and early 2020. When the pandemic hit, he told the Globe that he was teaching Zoom classes from his Cambridge home.

After a squabble with then-president Lawrence Summers, he left Harvard for the first time in 2002. Summers reportedly chastised West for recording a rap CD, advising Rev. Al Sharpton on a potential political run, writing trendy rather than academic books, and allowing grade inflation despite West’s “university professor” title. Summers was once described by West as “a legendary gangster with a high IQ, in service of the well-to-do,” according to the Huffington Post.




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