West Returns to Plug Book

Former Harvard professor does not mention dispute with Summers at talk

After more than two years away from Cambridge, former Harvard University Professor Cornel R. West ’74 was back on campus Saturday promoting his new book Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism to a packed audience at the First Parish Church in Cambridge.

While West said that he was “blessed” to be back, he had nothing to say about his infamous clash with University President Lawrence H. Summers which sent him back to Princeton in 2002. Summers allegedly questioned West’s commitment to teaching and scholarship in light of his recent rap-album and advisory role on Al Sharpton’s presidential exploratory committee.

West, who once held the title of Fletcher University professor in Harvard’s African and African-American Studies Department, was one of Harvard’s coveted then-17 University professors. After the dispute with Summers, West left for Princeton’s African American Studies Department despite an outpouring of student support to get him to stay.

Students who attended West’s talk this weekend praised his public speaking abilities.

“I thought he was an impressive, incredible speaker who engaged his audience,” said Lindsay M. Burton ’07, a student in Afro-American Studies 10, “Introduction to African and African American Studies,” the course West used to teach.

Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky ’07, a Currier House Government concentrator who attended the speech said he wished he could have taken a class taught by West.

“He is one of the great humanists of our time...the fact that he’s no longer here seems to me to be an indictment of how the administration has dealt with faculty of color,” Gould said.

In an interview with the Crimson yesterday, West said the difference between the administration at Harvard and Princeton was “night and day”. “Shirley M. Tilghman is a visionary leader and Larry Summers to me is an unprincipled power player,” West said.

But on Saturday West had little to say about Harvard and, to the laughter of the audience, specifically declined to mention whether Harvard is now at its best. Instead, West issued a tirade against dogmas and fundamentalism.

Attacking the “vicious legacy of white supremacy,” he listed a range of ideologies, beliefs and “fetishes,” that he felted threatened American democracy, such as homophobia, imperial arrogance, male supremacy and militarism.

The speech, which lasted just over an hour, touched upon a wide range of subjects outside West’s academic area of expertise of religion and African-American studies such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and imperialism.

The audience was especially invigorated by West’s reading of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which he asserted that though he understood Israel’s quest for security, Israel would never be at peace by occupying and oppressing the Palestinian minority.

Referring to a question on cultural memory, West claimed the market today “distorts historical consciousness” by forever repeating the present. West, who has also released two hip-hop CDs, said that the music provided a more authentic form of memory and praised such stars as Kanye West and Snoop Dogg during his speech.