Cornel West Resigns from Harvard Citing ‘New Glittering Form’ of ‘Jim Crow’ Via ‘Superficial Diversity’

cornel west
ZACH GIBSON/AFP via Getty Images

Philosopher and prominent civil rights activist Cornel West announced Monday that he is resigning from Harvard University’s Divinity School, which he says is in a state of “decline and decay,” adding that he had been working in “the shadow of Jim Crow,” which “was cast in its new glittering form expressed in the language of superficial diversity.”

“How sad it is to see our beloved Harvard Divinity School in such decline and decay,” West wrote. “The disarray of a scattered curriculum, the disenchantment of talented yet deferential faculty, and the disorientation of precious students loom large.”

The professor added that when he took an untenured position four years ago, “with a salary less than what I received 15 years earlier,” after being a professor at Harvard and Princeton, he hoped that he could still end his career “with some semblance of intellectual intensity and personal respect.”

“How wrong I was! With a few glorious and glaring exceptions, the shadow of Jim Crow was cast in its new glittering form expressed in the language of superficial diversity,” West continued in his resignation letter.

The prominent professor lamented having all his courses “subsumed under Afro-American Religious Studies, including those on Existentialism, American Democracy, and The Conduct of Life.”

West went on to allege that he had been given “no possible summer salary,” as well as “the lowest increase possible” to his salary every year.

And when he was recommended for a tenure review, the university rejected it over his support of Palestine, West said.

“[T]o witness a faculty enthusiastically support a candidate for tenure then timidly defer to a rejection based on the Harvard administration’s hostility to the Palestinian cause was disgusting,” West wrote. “We all knew the mendacious reasons given had nothing to do with academic standards.”

“When my committee recommended a tenure review — also rejected by the Harvard administration — I knew my academic achievements and student teaching meant far less than their political prejudices,” he added.

The professor also called out the alleged lack of empathy from his colleagues, mentioning that he had only received two replies to the news of his mother’s death in a newsletter.

“When the announcement of the death of my beloved Mother appeared in the regular newsletter, I received two public replies,” West wrote. “Any ordinary announcement about a lecture, award or professional advancement receives about twenty replies!”

“This kind of narcissistic academic professionalism, cowardly deference to the anti-Palestinian prejudices of the Harvard administration, and indifference to my Mother’s death constitutes an intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of deep depths,” the professor added.

West concluded his letter by saying he was resigning with “precious memories but absolutely no regrets.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.