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Cornel West Says Harvard Denied Him Tenure Consideration, Calls It 'Political'

"It is once again this issue of just not putting up with being disrespected," the prominent racial justice activist and scholar told The Boston Globe.

Author and racial justice activist Cornel West said Harvard University denied his request to be considered for tenure, calling the school’s decision “political” in tweets published early Friday morning. 

“After being tenured at Yale, Harvard, Princeton & Union Theological Seminary, the recent Harvard denial of a tenure process strikes me as a political decision I reject,” the prominent social critic tweeted. 

West, a professor of the practice of public philosophy, with a joint appointment between the Harvard Divinity School and the department of African and African American studies, also suggested in an earlier tweet that the school’s decision was influenced by his outspoken criticisms of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. 

“Nothing stands in the way of my profound love for & solidarity with oppressed peoples wherever they are!!” he added.

West has indicated that he has considered leaving the Ivy League school over the situation, according to The Boston Globe, which first reported on his tenure track status.

“It is once again this issue of just not putting up with being disrespected,” he told the newspaper. (West left Harvard to teach at Princeton in 2002 after clashing with then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers.)

West, who returned to Harvard in 2017, told the Globe that he recently asked to be considered for the tenure process after a positive review.

“What I’m told is it’s too risky,” West said. “And these are quotes. It’s too fraught. And I’m too controversial.”

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan Swain referred HuffPost to the Globe’s reporting on his statements addressing the process West underwent:

“Harvard spokesman Jonathan Swain said he could not comment on the specifics of the offer the university made to West but gave details on the process he recently underwent.

“Following normal procedures, a faculty committee from both schools to which West is affiliated recently recommended his reappointment at his current rank, a decision endorsed by the deans of both schools and the university provost, Swain said. West was notified and the university hopes he accepts, he said. 

“West was also recently appointed to the Victor S. Thomas Professorship of Public Philosophy, an endowed chair position, at the Harvard Divinity School, the university said.”

Swain also told the publication that the faculty committee that was responsible for reviewing his reappointment does not have the authority to conduct a review for tenure. 

Black professors, activists and public figures on Twitter responded to news of West’s denial of tenure consideration, saying that it exemplifies how Black scholars often endure racial discrimination while working at white institutions. 

“It’s a reminder that folks will always find a way to try to demean Black scholars,” historian and University of Pittsburgh associate professor Keisha N. Blain tweeted in part. “Tenure and promotion are weapons schools use against us.”

Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor at Wake Forest University, in a Twitter post Friday, called West a “trailblazing public intellectual deserving of tenure in any American university.”

Harvard came under fire over its tenure process in December 2019, when ethnic studies and Latinx studies scholar Lorgia García Peña, who is an Afro-Latina from the Dominican Republic, was denied tenure. A coalition of graduate students and scholars sent a letter to the university condemning the decision at the time. 

“Denying tenure to a faculty member of color who is actively serving on the committee for new hires in Ethnic Studies undermines Harvard’s commitment and betrays efforts to advance diversity and inclusion at this institution,” the letter read in part. 

Peña addressed the controversy over West’s tenure status Friday on Twitter.

“So Harvard doesn’t think @CornelWest deserves tenure,” she wrote. “I’m feeling flattered to be in such great company. Sending you love, brother.”