West described his conflict as part of a larger struggle in higher education.
“Its bigger than me,” he told the audience of about 200. “It has to do with city colleges, community colleges and state universities...with narrow patriotism, suspicious of dissent, and vicious forms of bigotry.”
Although West repeated charges he had already made against Summers in the press last winter, he also added a new charge last week. He said that Summer upset him by using profanity in reference to a “conservative professor” whom West said he considers a friend.
West did not mention the name of his colleague, but some speculated he was referring to Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield ’53.
Mansfield denied that he was the professor in question.
“I am a friend of Cornel West’s but I doubt very much that I’m the conservative he was referring to,” he said.
According to the Boston Globe, which first reported the speech, West said that in an October 2001 meeting, Summers questioned his scholarship, asked to monitor his research and requested West’s course records to check for grade inflation.
West also recalled that Summers called his album, Sketches of My Culture, “an embarrassment to Harvard.”
“I said to myself, I am a free and self respecting black man and I will not put up with that kind of attitude,” West said.
It was after that meeting, West said, that he knew he could not remain at Harvard for long.
West added that Summers charged him with missing weeks of classes and criticized his close association with the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Unlike West, who has publicly described the meeting several times, Summers has not spoken publicly about the conflict.
“I have not talked about the content of that meeting and certainly do not intend to start now,” Summers said in an interview this week.
West could not be reached for comment yesterday.
—David H. Gellis contributed to the reporting of this story.