Students, Faculty Laud West Decision

Approve Addition to Afro-Am Studies

Students and professors yesterday praised the appointment of Afro-American studies scholar Cornel R. West '74, saying it marks the rejuvenation of Harvard's Afro-Am department.

West, one of the premier intellectuals in the fields of Afro-American studies and religion, announced Tuesday that he would leave Princeton next fall for a joint tenured appointment in the Department of Afro-American Studies and the Divinity School. The scholar will begin teaching in 1995.

West rejected an offer from Harvard four years ago, when the Afro-American Studies Department had only one tenured professor. Professors said West's change of heart is symbolic of the department's transformation into one of the best in the country.

Since the arrival of DuBois Professor of the Humanities and Afro-American Studies Department Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s arrival two years ago, the department has been able to attract such national figures as filmmaker Spike Lee, visiting scholars Jamaica Kincaid and Anthony Davis.

"[West] helps us expand our resources considerably in Afro-American religion and Afro-American theology," said Dean of the Divinity School Ronald F. Thiemann. "He is a cultural critic who draws on the traditions of the Afro-American address broad public issues."


Thiemann said he sees West as an aid to the school's process of establishing a Center for the Study of Values in Public Life.

"His intellectual work will relate intimately to the mission of the new center," said Thiemann. "I hope that he will serve as an advisor to us as we build the new center."

Thomson Professor of Government Martin L. Kilson joined Thiemann in applauding West's appointment.

"Afro-American studies has been seeking an intellectual scholar like Cornel West for several years," Kilson said."We've landed one."

And Mark Edwards, professor of the history ofChristianity at the Divinity School, said of hisown department, "We've gone from having arelatively weak program to a strong program injust a few years."

"Cornel West is saying things that people whoare not particularly religious still findinteresting and stimulating," Edwards said. "It'sunusual."

Undergraduate Afro-American Studiesconcentrators also expressed their excitement overWest's acceptance.

"I was one of the first students to see thehubbub," said Monica A. Coleman '95. "I saw Gatesrunning around saying `Yes, we're going to be ateam. We're number one."

She said West's presence will draw students andfaculty to the department and contribute to thebuilding of a graduate program in Afro-Americanstudies.

"Cornel West is going to bring a lot to theUniversity--his ideology, his social sciencebackground and his focus on popular culture andcurrent topics," she said.

Caryn F. Rivers '94 said West "has his fingeron the pulse of the community and he is really intouch with the trends and the psychology of whatis going on."

"He will add a new and fresh viewpoint to thedepartment and that is really needed for Blackpolitics in the '90s," said Kristen M. Clarke '97,who plans to concentrate in Afro-American Studiesand government