Cornel West is tired.
We don’t usually get to see what happens to superheroes once they get old. Imagine fighting racism every day just to do your job. Imagine waking up and being one of the smartest Black men in America and your job still won’t recognize this. Imagine Harvard not giving West tenure because, well, who the fuck knows why Harvard wouldn’t give West tenure, but either way, he’s done fighting for what is handed to his white counterparts without a tenth of the work he’s put in. See, Nikole Hannah-Jones.
So, the professor—who has taught at Harvard’s law school, divinity school and the department of African American studies—called it quits at the university, but he shook a few tables on his way out. In a “candid letter of resignation” released Monday on social media but dated June 30, West noted that he was leaving the university with “precious memories but absolutely no regrets.” He also added: “I try to tell the unvarnished truth about the decadence in our market-driven universities! Let us bear witness against this spiritual rot!”
West noted that the university had never done right by him. In March, he said that he would be leaving the university because he had not received tenure. In his Monday resignation letter, he explained that after his committee recommended a tenure review, Harvard rejected it because...who the fuck knows why Harvard rejected it. West also claims that the university was insensitive to the death of his mother, which is grounds to punch the university in the face. So after four years of teaching at the university on his second go-round—West famously left Harvard once before after a dustup with then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers—West is out.
In March, it was announced that West would be leaving Harvard to return to “Union Theological Seminary, where he first taught 44 years ago,” the New York Times reports. The craziest part is that West was tenured at Harvard during his first term teaching there but after returning in 2017, the school refused to turn his non-tenured position into a tenured one.
In March, the NYT had this to say about West’s tenure woes:
After news of the tenure dispute became public, faculty members in the African-American studies department and divinity school, where he has his Harvard appointments, voted to begin the tenure process for him.
Word of his decision to leave Harvard spread quickly.
Walter Johnson, a colleague in the Department of African and African American Studies, said people were “shocked” and “deeply dismayed.” “He is an intellectual giant and moral polestar, and it is very sad for the university to see him go,” Dr. Johnson said.
Dr. West’s dispute over tenure put a new focus on complaints that Black and Latino professors are underrepresented in the ranks of tenured professors, not just at Harvard. It caused enough consternation at Harvard that the university’s president, Lawrence Bacow, told a faculty meeting last week that he was “firmly committed to the success of our Black faculty.”
Dr. West said in an interview with The New York Times last week that he did not know why his request to be considered for a tenured post had been rebuffed, but that he thought it could have something to do with his age and his support for the Palestinian cause, which he called a “taboo” issue at Harvard.
If only there were a current example of an overly decorated intellectual being refused tenure at an all white university...I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head, but surely West’s fight is an isolated one and not something that Black and Latinos face in the pristine halls of academia.
West is tired, and when you’re tired it’s easier to go back to the places where you feel wanted then continue to try and knock down the walls of racism begging to be let in.