The head of Princeton University's Center for African American Studies said that he expected Cornel West to maintain his links to Princeton despite his departure to return to Union Theological Seminary.
Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. (a 2011 honoree of The Root 100) described West's retirement as a major loss for his program and the school. "As an emeritus professor, he will remain connected to the university and to the Center for African American Studies — perhaps even periodically teaching a course every now and again," said Glaude. "Cornel has been a foundational figure to African American Studies: a former director of the program, a member of the committee that created the center and our first full appointment. And, perhaps more importantly, we are losing a master teacher. His presence in the classroom is legendary."
West, 58, one of the most visible public intellectuals in the country, announced his departure in the New York Times Thursday. He has been most visible in the past year as a fierce critic of President Obama, joining radio and TV commentator Tavis Smiley in "The Poverty Tour," which Smiley describes as an effort to "to unapologetically raise the issue of poverty in America higher on the national agenda."
His departure from Princeton is clearly amicable, unlike his exit from Harvard University after a public clash with then-Harvard President Larry Summers, who suggested that his scholarly work was suffering because of his public activities. West has written 19 books.
West is going home, in a sense, to where his academic career started; he was an assistant professor at Union Theological Seminary in 1977. He will teach philosophy and Christian practices. In addition to Harvard and Princeton, he has also taught at Yale.
Union's president, the Rev. Serene Jones, a former West student, says that the seminary is a good place for West to combine "his scholarly commitments and his activism."
Glaude said that he understood the move by West. "Cornel has decided to align his professional identity with his public witness," he told The Root. "And as his close friend for over 20 years, I look forward to seeing his witness in this new phase of his life."
Joel Dreyfuss is managing editor of The Root.
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