Cornel West: An Interview
Academic Speaks Out on Conflict with Harvard's New President

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Cornel West

Cornel West

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.

Other Resources

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.