Noted and academic Cornel West has made good on his threat to leave Harvard University after he publicly called out the renowned Ivy League school for failing to give him tenure. West’s decision to leave Harvard was announced Monday on Twitter along with the publication of an interview with him by the Boycott Times, which describes itself in part as a “publication of global dissent.”
West, who said he would be taking his talents to Union Theological Seminary in New York City, told interviewer Mordecai Lyon that he thought Harvard had taken him for granted.
“I discovered that I can only take so much hypocrisy. I can only take so much dishonesty. I can only take so much pettiness in terms of ways in which I thought I was disrespected and devalued,” West lamented to Lyon, with whom he attended Harvard in the 1970s as a student.
West, a professor of philosophy at Harvard Divinity School, has been on his second stint at Harvard. He left his tenure-track position in 2002 and returned to Harvard in 2017 by accepting a non-tenure-track role.
But last month, West told the Boston Globe that his recent request to be given tenure were turned down and that he took the decision personally.
“It is once again this issue of just not putting up with being disrespected,” West said in the interview published on Feb. 19. He added later: “But I wasn’t raised to put up with being disrespected or tolerate disrespect. I don’t try to negotiate respect.”
West suggested Harvard was being “childish” and explained to Lyons that his decision to leave the university came amid what he described as “Magnificant support” among his fellow professors.
“But,” West said, “we are in such trouble that we don’t have time for this kind of a childish myopia of a highly commodified and bureaucratized Harvard that finds it difficult to follow through on its own seeking for Truth, not just intellectually, but institutionally.”
Union Theological Seminary, which counts the recently elected Georgia Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock among its alumni, said it was “thrilled” at the return of West, who had his first job there out of college at the age of 23.
“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. West back home to Union where he started his teaching career, at this time of momentous challenge — and opportunity, and especially as the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Professor,” Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, said in a statement. “Dr. West lives and breathes the values that Union aims to instill in all of the future leaders, scholars, ministers, and activists we educate. His esteemed legacy of engaging the most pressing problems facing our world — including racism, poverty, sexism, and so much more — is an inspiration to all, and illustrates the power of faith to create profound change.”
West suggested Harvard low-balled him when it came to compensation and said going to Union Theological Seminary was a natural move for him.
“So, for me, it’s a going back home so I don’t have to be worked like a mule but underpaid and undervalued at Harvard,” West told Lyons. “Those days are over.”
It was unclear if West considered leaving Harvard for any other institutions. After West went public with the Globe interview, Black-minded social media users suggested he should look into working at a historically Black college or university that could greatly benefit from such a high-profile professor.
Regardless, West said people shouldn’t think he’s treating Union Theological Seminary as a second choice and promised to prioritize marginalized people in his work.
He said it wasn’t “a move out of default. Not at all. I’m going with a smile. I’m going fired up. And I’m going with my focus on oppressed people around the world.”
Read the full Q&A with Cornel West at The Boycott Times by clicking here.
While colleges and universities are hiring an increasing number of minority professors, very rarely are they put on a tenure track.
“Just as the doors of academe have been opened more widely than heretofore to marginalized groups, the opportunity structure for academic careers has been turned on its head,” a study conducted by TIAA Institute said in part. “The available jobs tend, less and less, to be the conventional ‘good’ jobs, that is, the tenure-track career-ladder jobs that provide benefits, manageable to quite good salaries, continued professional development opportunities — and, crucially, a viable future for academics.”
The topic was also explored when the Florida Journal of Educaional Administration & Policy published a report in 2011 that found similar results as TIAA. In addition to “barriers to tenure and promotion [serving] to disrupt the ability of faculty of color to perform in their faculty roles satisfactorily,” the report addressed how “academic bullying has also served to limit faculty of color in their ability to attain tenure and promotion on traditional campuses.”