Don't Leave Us, Cornel

West is an irreplaceable part of the Afro-American studies department and the University

At tables outside the Science Center earlier this week, students were working feverishly to collect signatures for a petition to keep Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74 at Harvard. After a high-profile spat with University President Lawrence H. Summers this past fall, West has hinted that he may leave for Princeton University—where he taught before coming to Harvard—dealing a potentially devastating blow to Harvard’s vaunted Afro-American studies department.

West is a respected scholar and a mentor to many undergraduates. His loss would be one not just for the Afro-American studies department, but for the many students to whom he is an inspiration and an advisor. His books, such as Race Matters and The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism and Post Analytic Philosophy have established his reputation as a deep-thinking and perspicacious author. His works are cited in scholarly journals very frequently; one ranking cited in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has shown that from 1996 to 2000, he was the second-most cited black academic in the social science literature.

It is unclear if his disagreement with Summers is the sole cause of West’s possible departure—he has been in poor health and may have other personal reasons for considering a move. Nevertheless, it was reported in December that Summers offended West in a meeting last fall. West’s departure would certainly be a political setback for Summers, who has been trying to establish his credibility with the Faculty after a hard-charging start. Thus, the 400 signatures that students have gathered address both West and Summers, asking the former to stay and the latter to show his commitment to keeping the best professors at Harvard.

Indeed, coming on the heels of Carswell Professor of Afro-American Studies and of Philosophy K. Anthony Appiah’s departure for Princeton, West’s loss would be a serious blow to the Afro-American studies department. West is part of the “dream team” of black scholars that former President Neil L. Rudenstine brought to Harvard during the 1990s. His departure would leave serious doubts that the department could retain its remaining luminaries. The bad feelings between West and Summers were reportedly cleared up after a meeting between the two men in early January. We commend both for their willingness to mend fences, but now is the time for Summers to actively try to persuade West to stay.

Faculty members also sense the seriousness of the situation. In February, 167 Faculty from across the University signed a letter urging that the “dream team” be kept intact. That letter, which was sent to Summers, was not intended to pressure Summers into doing more, according to its authors. They say it was meant to show the Faculty’s support for a strong Afro-American studies department that includes West.

But in the end, students would be the ones most affected by West’s departure. His class Afro-American Studies 10, “Introduction to Afro-American Studies” is one of the most popular at Harvard. West is an outspoken voice in the black community and is one of the most prominent progressives on campus.

West’s presence at Harvard would be impossible to replace. We urge him to stay.

Dissent: Que Sera, Sera

In light of the petition being circulated outside the Science Center this week, it appears that Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74 may be preparing to leave Harvard for Princeton. In spite of the proclamations of the petition organizers and the Staff, his loss would certainly not be a blow from which Harvard could never recover. Although not all of West’s scholarship has been as risible as his attempt to record a rap CD, it has certainly not added enough to the world of academia to render his departure “potentially devastating” to the University.

It has been made increasingly clear over the past few months that West has become disgruntled with the current Harvard administration. As a result something of a media circus has swirled around West and his clashes with University President Lawrence H. Summers. West’s departure would at least put an end to these divisive and distracting conflicts and would allow both West and the Afro-American studies department to focus anew on intellectual, and not political, pursuits.

We do not desire West’s departure, but if he is determined to leave, we wish him the best of luck at Princeton. Harvard will easily survive his loss.

—Duncan M. Currie ’04, Brian E. Fallon ’03

and Anthony S. A. Freinberg ’04