Cornel West: An Interview
Academic Speaks Out on Conflict with Harvard's New President
Listen to the interview.
Search for more NPR coverage on the Harvard controversy.
January 7, 2002 --
It's the talk of the Ivy League. Reports are that Dr. Cornel West --
professor, theologian and social activist -- may leave Harvard University
amid strained relations with the school's new president. And West addresses the subject in a wide-ranging interview with
NPR's Tavis Smiley.
West, author of the 1993 bestseller Race Matters, is a leading
national voice in Afro-American studies. When The Boston Globe
recently reported on a confrontational one-on-one meeting between
West and President Lawrence Summers, black leaders Jesse Jackson and Al
Sharpton sprang to West's defense.
West's comments on the controversy come on the debut edition of The Tavis
Smiley Show, NPR's new one-hour magazine program.
In the interview, West discusses a meeting last month with Summers, who
arrived on campus in October after serving as Treasury Secretary during the latter days
of the Clinton administration. The Globe reported that Summers
upbraided West over his plans to play a role in Sharpton's campaign for the
presidency, among other matters.
West characterizes what transpired as an assault on his integrity. "In my 26
years of teaching this is unprecedented for me," he tells Smiley. "I've
never been attacked or insulted in that particular way."
West also discusses the possibility that he will leave Harvard for
Princeton, and that some highly esteemed colleagues might join him, praising
Princeton's leadership as "positive and visionary."
Summers met again with West and senior black faculty members on Thursday. He has said he does not want any of the members of
Harvard's well-regarded Afro-American Studies Department to leave the
school. He also issued a statement praising Harvard's history of diversity.
A spokesman for the university described the latest meeting as "a good conversation that cleared the air." West says he's still upset and the controversy is not settled.
Visit Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research Web site.
• Read West's text on race in America for the May 2000 meeting of the General Assembly of the International Press Institute.