For immediate release
April 15, 2002
Jenny Lawhorn

Cornel West Outlines "Pull toward Princeton" and "Push from Harvard" in Exclusive Interview with NPR's Tavis Smiley

LOS ANGELES, CA-Professor Cornel West discussed his decision to leave Harvard University for Princeton University in an exclusive interview on The Tavis Smiley Show from NPRŽ that aired today. Dr. West characterized his departure in terms of a "pull" toward Princeton, "to me the great center for humanistic studies," according to West, and "push" from Harvard, detailing his conflict with Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers. "This is either a deliberate attempt to push me out...or just messing with the wrong black man, with the wrong person," West said. During the interview, West told Smiley that his colleague, Henry Louis Gates Jr., was "leaning toward" leaving Harvard as well.

"Lani Guinier is right when she says that a year ago I would not be going if it were not for the encounter with President Larry Summers," West told Smiley. "The level of disrespect, the level of being dishonored-his attack on me was the wrong person, the wrong professor, and the wrong Negro.... In one sense, Larry Summers is the Ariel Sharon of American higher education. He acts like a bull in a china shop; he acts like a bully in a very delicate and dangerous situation.... If you're going to make judgments about someone's scholarship then you ought to read their work.... He shouldn't go just on rumors."

West defended his academic freedom and his association with Bill Bradley, Ralph Nader and Al Sharpton, and said that Summers' request that West check in with him on his scholarly progress "was the main thing that upset me." Asked if he thought race was a factor in his conflict with Summers, West said, "I would hope not... I would leave that up to the soul of Summers' own self, his own heart."

President Summers declined to appear on The Tavis Smiley Show, but Smiley read a statement in which Summers expressed "sadness" at West's departure and thanked West for his contribution. Lani Guinier, professor at Harvard Law School, also spoke to Smiley about West's departure. "Cornel was given a hard time because he made a CD in which he was making his ideas accessible to a larger community," said Guinier. "That's really an important responsibility...that we not just think about these ideas for the benefit of ourselves or for a small group of students who make it into these elite schools, but that we also try to share those ideas with a larger public."

The Tavis Smiley Show from NPR, a daily one-hour magazine that engages national radio audiences with new voices and fresh perspectives, premiered on January 7, 2002 and now reaches listeners through 20 public radio stations, including WNYE and WNYC New York, WHYY Philadelphia, WEAA Baltimore, KTSU Houston and WCLK Atlanta. Listeners can find local broadcast times or listen the program on the Web at Audio from the show is available online after 12:00 P.M. EST.

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